Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum: Shaking is a Part of Life in Japan

 Located along the waterfront in a newly developed district east of Kobe's center, the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum opened in 2002 to commemorate the event and educate visitors about earthquakes and preparedness and disaster prevention.
 The building itself is quite attractive and I understand it is built to be very earthquake-proof, despite all that glass.
In case you don't know or don't remember, on January 17, 1995, at 5:46 AM, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, a 6.8-magnitude quake only 20-km away from the city. It caused massive destruction, with 22% of buildings in Kobe destroyed, most train lines out of commission, and 1 km of the elevated freeway having collapsed.
This earthquake was about the same as the Northridge earthquake in intensity and proximity, but due to older building techniques on many of the structures in town, Kobe suffered much more. 150,000 buildings were destroyed and over 6000 people were killed. Electricity, transportation, water, and pretty much everything else was cut off to the city and many of the surrounding suburbs.
 Your tour of the museum starts with a video recreation of the earthquake. You'll see images of what it was really like to live through that event. I've been through the slightly-stronger Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and I know what it felt like. And while I remembered a bit of what I had seen in America after the earthquake, I originally thought the video was being overly dramatic, similar to a movie that might be found on a cable TV network or sold as straight-to-DVD.

But after the video and a walk through a simulated Kobe street right after the quake, you enter the main display area of the museum. And it is full of artifacts and photos from Kobe. I was really surprised seeing some of the photos of real destruction, exactly like I had seen in the movie. That's when you realize that the destruction from this earthquake was so much worse than the one I had experienced in California.
 You can stop at one of the dozens of information screens throughout the area, too. Sometimes these have testimonials or video footage. Others teach about preparedness. One theme I found throughout the museum is the need to be prepared for self-sufficiency after an earthquake. Without gas, electricity, or water, no means of transportation, crowded emergency rooms and a lack of support due to limited manpower, the communities worked together to provide for each other and help people survive. And this togetherness continues on today, helping elderly people and children (including 68 orphans and 332 children who lost one parent) left alone or afraid after the quake, and unable to function.
Despite the sadness of the event, the museum serves to tell a positive story: preparedness and togetherness help save lives. And while the museum can be moving at times, it helps those who have never experienced a major earthquake really get a feel for what it is like - and I don't mean the shaking itself. I found myself frequently reflecting back on my experiences in California and what I would do - or just be able to do - if I experienced another major earthquake.

The museum is open 9:30-17:30 or later (closed Mondays), but you have to arrive one hour before closing (and at a minimum it will probably take you that long to watch the movie and explore the museum). English language is decent, and there are tons of guides on hand to answer any questions you have. Admission is 600 yen. You can get to the Earthquake Museum from Iwaya Station on the Hanshin Line, a 10 minute walk away. There are several large buildings in this area, some with shopping and entertainment options, others with offices.

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art is a couple buildings down, which I wish I had been able to visit. It, too, opened as part of the rebuilding efforts in Kobe and is a very large contemporary and modern art museum.
And after all that, I think it's time for something really upbeat. Maybe you've seen this - it's been out a year. And it has over 100 million views. But it's still fun.

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