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 a powerful 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. Mainly, after The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but also pales in comparison to the Tohoku disaster of 2011.

The quake itself only lasted some 20 seconds in total. However, 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. It completely rendered 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.

The Path of Destruction

In the seriously affected areas, almost 1 in 5 buildings had collapsed. As a result, more than 20% of the commercial buildings in the CBD (Central Business District) were damaged beyond repair. The residential housing was in the same scenario, with more than half crippled by the disaster.

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

The major container port was another facility that suffered extensive damage. At the time, this port was deemed one of the largest in the world, and had a heavy toll on Japan’s trade. Many artificial islands in the area flooded too. This was due to water breaking through cracks in the surface.

The Recovery Effort

Over 1 million volunteers participated in relief efforts. People travelling from all over Japan came to provide assistance. This actual event was an important turning point in Japanese Volunteerism, due to the number of people and corporations that assisted. For example, retailers like 7/11 provided essential supplies for those in need, while companies like NTT provided free telephone-related services to affected areas.

However, the demand from the overflowing number of patients pushed the limits of the struggling hospitals. Moreover, 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.

Authorities closed main highways to improve relief and to ensure the needed medical supplies could reach the Kobe area. Shuttle buses were used to support the current train lines, because railway companies still needed to repair some of the damaged infrastucture.


In memory of this horrific event, Kobe holds an annual event known as Luminarie. It starts in the first 2 weeks of December each year. For the event, there are steel illuminated multi-coloured arch-style lights decorated along the main streets. This gorgeous display starts at Kobe’s China Town and finishes in Kobe City Hall.

On the anniversary of this disaster, January 17 each year, they hold a commemorative event to homour the lives lost. In the early morning hours you can see the numbers ‘1.17’ in Higashi Yuenchi Park.

Finally, around the main port of Kobe, you can find the remains of damaged concrete caused by the large tremors. The site is now a Memorial to remember the destruction and victims of this terrible disaster (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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