The Great Hanshin Disaster – Kobe, Japan


The Great Hanshin Earthquake or Kobe Earthquake occurred on January 17, 1995, at 5.46am in the morning. It came in at 6.9 and caused widespread destruction, especially in the closest city of Kobe, and claimed more than 6,400 lives. It would go down in history as the second worst earthquake for Japan in the 20th century, after The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but pales in comparison to the Tohoku disaster of 2011.

The quake itself only lasted some 20 seconds in total, but in that short time, it managed to cause a great deal of destruction throughout the Hyogo prefecture and its surrounding areas. Originating from Awaji Island, just south of Kobe city, it swept through in a wave of demolition rendering more than 400,000 structures irreparable, damaging many raised roads and railway bridges and left quays in rubble across the port city. It also caused widespread fires and left many homes without electricity, water and gas.

In the seriously affected areas, almost 1 in 5 buildings had collapsed, which meant more than 20% of commercial buildings in the CBD (Central Business District) and almost half of the housing in the same area could not be reused.

In Kobe alone, there were more than 4,000 casualties reported, and many other lives were lost throughout the suburbs or Hyogo and neighbouring regions. Additionally, more than 60 children we orphaned and over 300 lost one parent, a tragic loss for many families to bear.

Other facilities that were impacted included the container port, which was considered one of the largest in the world at the time, suffered from damage and many artificial islands in the area was flooded due to water breaking through to the surface.

The Recovery Effort

Over 1 million volunteers participated in relief efforts, travelling from all over Japan to provide assistance, this event is considered an important turning point in Japanese Volunteerism. Retailers like 7/11 provided essential supplies for those in need while companies like NTT provided free telephone-related services to affected areas.

However, hospitals in the area suffered to stay afloat as they were overwhelmed by demand from the number of patients. Furthermore, damaged infrastructure like roads constrained what supplies and medical personnel could reach the medical centres. It got so bad for some, that surgery took place in hallways and waiting areas within the hospital.

To improve relief and provision of much needed medical supplies to the Kobe area, the main highway was closed to private vehicles only during peak hours, and shuttle buses were used to support railway infrastructure that was still being repaired.


In memory of this horrific event, Kobe holds an annual event known as Luminarie, held in the first 2 weeks of each month of December, multi-coloured arch-style lights are decorated along one of the main streets leading from Kobe’s China Town to Kobe City Hall.

On the anniversary of this disaster, January 17 each year, a commemorative event is held in the early morning hours lighting up the numbers ‘1.17’ in Higashi Yuenchi Park.

Finally, around the main port of Kobe, you can find the remains of some damage caused by the large tremors, preserved as part of a larger Earthquake Memorial Park (pictured below).

So what should you do in the event of a large tremor while in Japan? you may be interested in our post that explains what you should do in the event of an earthquake.


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