Kobe quake memory stirs envoy’s wife into action

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo

Kosei Murata, the wife of the Belgian ambassador to China, was a junior journalist based in Japan when the Great Hanshin Earthquake slammed the Kobe area in January 1995.

With that memory in mind, she immediately felt compelled to help victims of the March 11 devastation in northeastern Japan.

“As soon as I heard of the tragedy, I asked myself what I can do to help people in affected areas,” Murata said during a recent interview in Beijing.

Teaming up with the women’s committee of the Japanese Association in Beijing, Murata held a charity event at the Belgian Embassy.

The March 26 event drew about 1,500 people and raised more than 600,000 yuan, or about ¥7.85 million. The proceeds were sent to the Japanese Red Cross Society through the Japanese Embassy.

A native of Suzhou, west of Shanghai, Murata, whose father is Chinese and mother is Japanese, was raised in Jiangsu Province before moving to Japan when she was 18.

After graduating from Kansai University in Osaka Prefecture, she joined the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1993 and was assigned to the newpaper’s Kobe bureau.

“I really enjoyed my job as a journalist,” said Murata, who has Japanese citizenship. “I told my editors that I wanted to be a Beijing correspondent in the future.”

However, the work of covering the 1995 quake, which left 6,434 people dead, changed her life.

“After the quake, I was working 16 to 17 hours a day,” she recalled. “There were so many things I wanted to report, such as a story of a mother who lost her child in the disaster.”

After two weeks of intense work, Murata collapsed.

“While I lay in the hospital bed, I looked back at my life and many thoughts crossed my mind. I realized work is not everything in life.”

Murata left the Yomiuri in 1997 when her husband, Patrick Nijs, who was then the Belgian consul general in Osaka, was transferred to Shanghai. The couple have since lived in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Brussels before Nijs was posted to Beijing as ambassador in August 2009.

“The latest disaster has affected not only Japan, but other countries as well,” Murata said, citing public concern in China about radioactive contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“There is no border when it comes to natural disasters,” she said. “I truly hope Japan will recover from the calamity as early as possible.”