At age 79, Yoshiko Negita's mind is alert and her memory is laser-sharp. There is, too, a sense of urgency in her voice as this resident of Awaji Island in the Seto Inland Sea speaks to visitors at its Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park. There, preserved at an experiential museum, is an exposed section of the Nojima fault, whose sudden, violent movement caused the Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit the area in January 1995 and claimed more than 6,000 lives.

"Do you live in a wooden structure, or a concrete one?" Negita, wielding a pointing stick, asked a family with two school-age children last week as they entered a section of the museum that shows how to make homes quake-safe. "Let's start from the entrance area. Is your shoe closet fixed to the wall? It'd better be."

Negita, whose family are custodians of a Buddhist temple on this island of some 140,000 people, is one of the museum's 20 registered kataribe (firsthand storytellers) of the 1995 quake, which affected Kobe and other southern parts of Hyogo Prefecture, including Awaji Island. Negita herself was lucky to have been rescued by local firefighters after being trapped in the rubble of a shattered temple building for "3 hours and 50 minutes," she says.