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Disaster prevention initiatives with entertaining twists are becoming popular as the nation marks a quarter century since the Great Hanshin Earthquake on Friday.

The citizen-led “fun disaster” programs seek to pass on the lessons of solidarity and mutual assistance learned from the 1995 quake that rocked Kobe and surrounding areas, which waited days for rescue and relief as authorities struggled to grasp the extent of the damage.

On Saturday, children flocked to a festival-like disaster-prevention event that combined emergency relief education with workshops and games.

Hosted in a shopping complex in Kobe, the Iza! Kaeru Caravan event was abuzz with elementary school pupils making ponchos out of trash bags, tableware out of paper and chairs out of cardboard. They also held relay races and played games using makeshift stretchers made of blankets, as well as hit-the-target games using fire extinguishers.

It also featured a stamp rally in which special stamps were collected at designated spots along a course, with disaster prevention goods awarded as prizes.

Iza! Kaeru Caravan was conceived by Hirokazu Nagata, head of the nonprofit group Plus Arts. The group launched the program in 2005, devising activities based on knowledge and know-how accumulated by the survivors.

“We were criticized in the beginning, but we’ve received positive responses,” Nagata, 51, said of the group’s efforts to create what he calls “fun disaster drills.”

The event, which has been held over 500 times nationwide, is hosted by resident groups under Plus Arts’ guidance. Requests spiked after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami.

Last November, junior high school students from the Mabi district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, held an Iza! Kaeru Caravan after the area was hit by torrential rain in 2018.

“Children learn to act by themselves through this program,” said Kazunari Takayama, 29, a representative with the Okayama Next School Association. “I hope the junior high school students will be able to pass on their experiences and teach others how to deal with disasters.”

Osaka Kyoiku University’s Hirano Junior and Senior High schools have held their own disaster prevention events involving quizzes and physical activities inspired by Iza! Kaeru Caravan.

Their first event in 2018 was held with help from alumni and other supporters, including local governments and Self-Defense Forces personnel.

In March last year, some 1,200 people participated in the event.

“It’s a highly effective way to cooperate with the local community,” said Takuo Nonaka, vice principal of the junior high school. “Students feel their efforts paying off as locals use (their disaster prevention know-how.)”

The university plans to examine the effectiveness of the events by testing how much knowledge the children acquired through the program.

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