A Sobering Visit To The Kobe Earthquake Museum

The narrator of the video said she fell asleep next to her sister like she had every night for the last 15 years. She woke up to rumbling in the wee hours of the morning and furniture crashing around the room. Her sister was trapped under debris. When she heard the rescuers searching for them, her sister told her to go first. She managed to get out before the building collapsed completely. She never saw her sister again. The teenager is now a woman and not surprisingly still traumatized by the events of that morning of January 1995.

What To Expect At The Kobe Earthquake Museum

The great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution is quite the name for the Kobe Earthquake Museum. The spiffy modern earthquake museum commemorates the tragedy of a short and brutal earthquake.

Earthquake Memorial Museum
The super modern Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Museum comprises of two buildings connected by a walkway.  After you buy tickets you are told to go to the top floor and work your way down.

You know my kids have been in Japan too long when they follow the straight yellow line that leads to the next building without deviation. 


Among the exhibits is an interactive video of an earthquake simulation complete with English translation.  You walk through a Kobe street that showed how the Eartquake affected it.

Then there was a video of the Kobe Earthquake with grainy CCTV footage. You got headphones that translated everything to English  The actual footage  being CCTV footage brings real immediacy to what you see. What you see are actual houses crumpling, bridges falling and trains crashing.

The most sobering realisation? You can’t  comfort yourself that the footage isn’t real because it was produced through Hollywood magic.

Over the images you hear the memories if the survivors. For example, a child being given a teddy bear by the Girl Scouts of America, a letter pinned to the front door by a son living in Osaka who rushed down to see his parents were safe, a husband who fell asleep downstairs remembering the wife who died sleeping in their bedroom and a family who survived with the only damage to their home being a set of broken golf clubs.

Overall we thought the message of the center was uplifting. This disaster happened but the 6000 people who perished will not be forgotten or have died in vain.

Some Interesting Facts about the Kobe Earthquake

The Great Hanshin Earthquake was short and catastrophic.

  • Over 100,000 buildings collapsed during the Kobe Earthquake leaving more than 6,000 people dead and 27,000+ people injured.
  • The earthquake lasted only 20 seconds but registered 7.2 on the Richter scale.
  • There were 35,000 people pulled out by rescuers from damaged buildings.
  • Just as devastating and hampering the response to the Kobe Earthquake, the post-earthquake fires raged out of control.
  • The Kobe Earthquake caused $132 billion worth of damage.
A diorama showing a house crushed by the Kobe Earthquake.

People did not feel the response to the Kobe Earthquake by the Japanese government was adequate.

  • There were 300,000 Earthquake survivors who had to be rehoused temporarily.
  • The Earthquake survivors had to cope with utility services being cut off
  • There were 1153 centers created to house the thousands of refugees. Many of the refugee centers were converted from schools.
  • Many of the older refugees just couldn’t cope with the change of routine and inconvenience. For example, we heard the story of a grandmother who refused to eat because the washrooms were so unclean.
  • In fact, many of the deceased and displaced were older residents who lived in buildings which did not meet the newer building codes.
A diorama of a refugee center

The Best Bits About the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum really well laid out and spacious exhibits.

The survivors stories really brings home the impact of what happened. For example  hearing a large number of people were impacted is not the same as being told even one person’s  story. It is the individual stories of loss, resilience and hope that you remember.

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum was upfront about the issues that plagued the response to the Kobe Earthquake. It was widely felt that the Japanese government was slow to react and disorganised. Many people spent extended time in temporary housing waiting for their permanent homes to be built.. There were lots of older people who felt isolated  when they were relocated to temporary homes far away from their usual lives.

Japanese signs
Signs encouraging the Kobe Earthquake survivors to persevere

Considering I find the Japanese to be wizards in efficiency (have you used their trains??), I was surprised by the grumbling. You heard the grumbling at how terrible the FEMA response was to the Hurricane Katrina disaster but even a country as super organized like Japan can get caught flatfooted in a natural disaster caused emergency.

What Could Have Been Done Better

We felt the Kobe Earthquake Museum would have been better if there were more exhibits written in English.

artist view Earthquake Museum
An artist’s rendering of the Kobe Earthquake Museum

There’s a film about the earthquake and tsunami that affected Fukushima in 2011.  This film runs every half hour. Although it is another major Japanese natural disaster, this part of the museum feels like an afterthought. The Fukuoka disaster feels disjointed from what the museum is trying to say about the Kobe Earthquake which is the focus of the rest of the museum.

Getting to the Kobe Earthquake Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Museum is closed on Mondays (and Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday).

getting to Kobe Earthquake Museum
Getting to the Kobe Earthquake Museum from either Nada Station and Iwaya Station

It is easy to reach the Kobe Earthquake Museum by train. The exit is Iwaya Station on the Hanshin main line  or Nada Station on the JR Line (handy if you are using a JR pass).  Exit the station and go downhill towards the sea and at the busy main street turn right.




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