The Great Hanshin Earthquake, which devastated Kobe and its vicinity in the dawn hours of Jan. 17, 1995, and took the lives of 6,434 people, may seem like a distant memory today for many.

Babies born around the time of the disaster are turning 20 and attended coming-of-age ceremonies held this week, testifying to the passing of a whole generation since the event. But we still have much to learn from the experience of the first mega-quake to hit a large metropolitan area in postwar Japan.

The magnitude 7.3 quake, which hit at 5:46 a.m., shattered the safety myth of urban life in modern-day Japan — as symbolized by the collapse of elevated expressways and a large numbers of buildings — and exposed how defenseless we really in the face of natural disasters.