KOBE, Japan (Xinhua) – A series of ceremonies were held in Japan’s Kobe and neighbouring areas on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that claimed the lives of 6,434 people in 1995.
As early as 4.30am local time, thousands of people gathered in Higashi-yuenchi Park in central Kobe despite the drizzle and cold weather. About 10,000 bamboo lanterns were lit, featuring the pattern of “1.17” to commemorate the date of the deadly earthquake.
At 5.46am, the exact time when the massive earthquake struck the city 20 years ago, an unusually large number of 14,000 people mourned in silence in the park, praying for the souls of the earthquake victims.
“I lost my mother in the quake. Now I have become a hairdresser, because I loved my mother’s hair when I was a little girl. I will live my life to the fullest out of love for my mother,” said 26- year-old Natsuki Meida in an eulogy on behalf of the families who lost their loved ones in the earthquake.
“We were born in the year that the earthquake happened and grew up along with the city’s reconstruction. We will always remember the lessons learned from the earthquake and pass them on to the next generations,” said Kazuaki Ogawa, one of the new adults who turn 20 years old this year.
As with last year, a separate set of bamboo lanterns were lit in honor of victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
Hayato Yoshitake, a high school student who came to attend the ceremony from Fukushima Prefecture, said residents of Fukushima empathise with people in Kobe, as Fukushima was hit hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and was in reconstruction now.
Two decades after the earthquake, infrastructure and businesses in Kobe and surrounding areas have been rebuilt, yet traumas remain.
“People still suffer from loss of their loved ones. There are more work needed to be done,” said Miyake Kotaro, a student from Kobe University attending the ceremony.
About noon, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan attended a memorial ceremony at a facility in Chuo Ward of Kobe. At 12.00am, over 100 temples and churches rang bells, and ships at the Kobe Harbor whistled.
Memorial ceremonies were also held in other cities in Hyogo Prefecture such as Nishinomiya, Ashiya and Awaji.
On Saturday, about 110 memorial events were held in Kobe and neighboring areas, the largest number in recent years.
In northeastern Japan, residents in areas hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami such as the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, and Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture, also joined in praying for victims of the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake in a spirit of solidarity.