KOBE — Thousands of candles were lighted under predawn skies Monday and the eternal “Light of Hope 1.17” was set aglow to mark the fifth anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. About 1,500 people gathered at Higashi Yuenchi Park in Chuo Ward to offer a minute of silent prayer at 5:46 a.m., the time the quake hit the city five years ago. At 5 a.m., participants lighted 6,432 handmade candles, corresponding to the number of victims of the quake, and placed them in bamboo holders arranged so that, read from above, they spelled out “1.17” — a date the survivors will remember forever. The candle ceremony started in 1998. This year, similar ceremonies were held at about 20 different places around the country since Saturday involving 60,000 candles, according to organizers of the ceremony. In addition, citizens’ groups from the other 46 prefectures and 20 cities and towns brought candles to the site of the Light of Hope 1.17, a gas-fueled eternal flame, for the ceremonial lighting. After a minute of silent prayer, the eternal flame was set aglow in a corner in the park where a monument for the quake victims was unveiled Sunday. “We lost many lives and possessions in the earthquake, but at the same time, with help from other parts of the country and the world, we have hope for the future,” said Masami Horiuchi, an organizer of the Light of Hope 1.17 ceremony and a representative of a volunteer group in Kobe. “This hope is one of the most important memories that we must pass onto the next generation,” he said. “So I came up with the idea to ask people across the country to bring lights of hope here and make them burn forever as one light. “Everyone is mourning on the inside,” Horiuchi said. “But this light is not for the victims, but for the survivors, who need to keep living positively.” Hiroshi Kimura, 52, who was on Kobe’s Port Island when the quake struck, offered prayers to the victims. “As a survivor who experienced that disaster, I thought I had to do something for those who were killed,” he said. “We survived the jolting only by a little luck. Because I could easily have been killed, I find it is very precious to live even a single day,” Kimura said. Kimura still fears for his live when he feels a tremor. A wardrobe fell onto his chest in the Hanshin earthquake. “If it had fallen on my head, I may have been killed. Even after five years, the memory of the terror remains as sharp as ever,” Kimura said. “We Kobe citizens cannot start a new year until Jan. 17. A memorial service like this reminds us that we live together with natural disaster and that we always have to be prepared to protect ourselves.

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