Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum:  A Moving Visit

“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

kobe-2016-earthquake-museum-1-early-morning-disasterkobe-earthquakeOn January 17, 1995 at 5:46 in the dark, cold morning, the city of Kobe and the surrounding area of Osaka, Japan, were rocked by a massive earthquake in what became to be known as “The Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake”.  The region, home to some 3.5 million people and an economic center of Japan, was devastated.  Electricity, water, gas, transport and most emergency services were left inoperable, many for weeks.  Innumerable structures were damaged or destroyed, directly by the quake, or by fires which raged the city afterwards.  Survivors were left to face the cold winter with nothing.  Worst yet, the quake destroyed 249,180 homes, and left 6,434 people dead and another 43,792 injured and in need of medical care.


Jody and I have a vested interest in learning about earthquakes; they are an all-too-common occurrence in Okinawa (see Love and the Ring of Fire for more).  The Kobe Earthquake Museum, more officially known as the tongue-twister “The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution” (DRI), was opened in 2002 to commemorate the tragic event and to educate visitors about earthquakes and disaster mitigation and prevention.  The museum includes a theater, life-sized dioramas, and expansive exhibits halls, all of which catalog the cataclysm in great detail.


maxresdefault-1Please note that this is not a casual stroll at your own pleasure visit.  Guests are queued for hard start times, where they are shuttled to the upper floors as a group to a movie screening.  Standing in the theater, a powerfully moving bass creates tactile soundscapes, and a 3-dimensional large screen supports stunning visuals, which when combined offer a fairly immersive experience of that fateful morning.  The roughly seven minute movie leaves most speechless.  But keep in mind that in reality the death and destruction depicted took only about 20 seconds….


After the movie guests are quickly herded through a life-size diorama depicting scenes of damage from the quake.  Personally, these types of displays are some of the most interesting, and I would like to have lingered here, taking in the experience.  Unfortunately, at this point you are on the museum’s time, and out you go.  Oh, and by the way, no photos are allowed in these areas (of course).


bn-gm010_0116j__j_20150116014629Next guests will find themselves in a large exhibition hall filled with photos, exhibits, and audio commentary detailing every aspect of the disaster and recovery you could imagine.  There are extensive displays on how the people and the government attempted to deal with the devastating effects of the catastrophe.  There are English-speaking docents here, and a free English audio guide is provided, keyed by numbers displayed on the various exhibits.  I must admit, the sheer amount of information presented here is overwhelming; it’s hard to take in so many accounts and data of such an event….  Two of the most moving stories I encountered, and will never forget, both involve the death of a loved-one.  In one, a man recounts that his wife was injured in bed when their home collapsed, and although she was still warm when he put her in his car, she was already cold when he went to remove her at the hospital.  Still more tragic, a sister recalls escaping the collapsed wreckage of her home and locating her sister, still pinned in place by debris.  As a fire started to consume the remains of their home, the sisters had to part, one telling her family to leave her to save their selves, the other having to listen helplessly to her sister die in the flames….


kobe-2016-earthquake-museum-rebuilding-and-recovery-montage-wmVisitors proceed down in the main building after the exhibit hall, where various other interesting information and simulations are provided.  Crossing a skybridge to a secondary building, the focus shifts to water disasters and how prepare, mitigate and respond more effectively and efficiently to such calamities.  Little things, like anchoring furniture resulted in many escaping the quake uninjured.  There was also a tongue-in-cheek traveling exhibit on, what else, but the potty!  Seriously, after weeks and sometimes months without potable water, human waste became a huge and dangerous problem during recovery efforts.  Games and experiments are offered throughout to help visitors learn about natural disasters and how to minimize risk and damage in future.  The focus in this second facility, however, seems to be more focused on children.


Jody and I spent a morning at the museum, more an archive of first-hand testimonials than almost anything else.  This catalog of suffering goes far in meeting the self-stated goal of the DRI:  ensuring that the lessons of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake are never forgotten.  We left impressed about not just the extent of damage and loss of life, but more indelibly imprinted was how quickly Kobe and the entire area recovered after the tragedy.  A revival made possible only through people helping people, which in the end, is all it takes to make a genuine difference.


Location:  Located in HAT Kobe, a relatively new city district east of the city center.  A ten minute walk from Iwaya Station on the Hanshin Main Line, or in a 15 minute walk from Nada Station on the JR Kobe.

Website:  http://www.dri.ne.jp/en


October-June:  09:30 to 17:30

July-September:  09:30 to 18:00

Fridays & Saturdays:  from 09:30 to 19:00

Closed on Mondays, December 31st and January 1st


Adult:  600 yen, discounts for secondary students, elementary & junior high students free

Okinawa: A Year in Review

  “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Well, when I wrote this we had just celebrated our one-year anniversary of relocating our domicile to Okinawa, and although it’s now over two months past due, I still thought it would be a good idea to do a “year in review” blog. So, here’s an eclectic summary of the King’s Flirtations with the Far East to date (as of this past August), along with a personally favorite blog selected for each month.


July 2013.  Preparations for our overseas move.

See Sayonara Amerika to read and see our Asian-inspired going-away blowout


August 2013.  Moved!  Rented our Florida home and moved overseas with our cat!

See Jody Drives Naked about used-car shopping in Okinawa.


September 2013.  Divine winds!  Experienced something like 8 typhoons in two months.

See Surf Nazis Must Die to read about a scuba diver’s angst with the powers that be on Okinawa.


October 2013.  Scuba Diving!  Kevin becomes a PADI scuba-diving instructor!

See Are You Breaking Up with Me on Mount Fuji for perhaps my favorite breakup story of all time!


November 2013.  Jody’s birthday!  Celebrated by exploring the northern reaches of Okinawa.

See Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys about my first foray to Okinawa in 1999.


December 2013.  Household goods!  Our forgotten “stuff” finally arrives on-island.

See Oh Christmas-Half-a-Tree to read about Christmas in Okinawa.


January 2014.  Kevin’s birthday!  Celebrated by our first off-island trip to Kyoto, Japan.

See Okinawa Kijimuna for Okinawa’s version of “Red Power!”


February 2014.  Contracted!  Dive the Blues Scuba gets well underway.

See Surprising Swastikas about an unlikely and unfortunate connection between East and West.


March 2014.  Earthquake!  Friends breaking bad on Okinawa.

See Cat Cafes in Japan to read about the special bond between the Japanese and their feline friends.


April 2014.  White Day and Zip-Lining on Okinawa.

See Timeless Townhouse for our rustically historical stay in Kyoto, Japan.


May 2014.  Iriomote!  Off-island weekend getaway to this remote nature preserve.

See Tainted by Tats to read about the stigma of body art in this corner of the Far East.


June 2014.  My daughter gets married!  A whirlwind trip home to the states and detour because of an unexpected hospital stay.

See Placenta: Prescription or Placebo to read about some strange herbal remedies popular in Japan.


July 2014.  Ishigaki!  Off-island weekend getaway to dive with manta rays.

See The Cat-Dogs of Okinawa to read about the special guardians of the Ryukyu Islands.


August 2014.  Okinawan World and Hospital Caves.

See Okinawan Hillsides & Hornets to read about my past explorations in the Okinawan jungles searching for traces of WWII.


Typhoons Take Two: Super Start with Typhoon Neoguri!

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  ~ Vincent van Gogh quotes

“雨降って地固まる; After the rain, earth hardens.”  ~ Asian Proverb

Super Typhoon Neoguri 5

Fear-300x219The headlines back home are laughable from the perspective of being squarely in the “strike zone” of what is known as “Typhoon Alley” in the Pacific Ocean.  The way we Americans like to anthropomorphize weather is a product of the media creating overly melodramatic headlines for which they then can provide the information and/or solutions, and the generalized population’s passive acceptance of the peril that they are told is lurking just around every corner….

Massive...and massively beautiful from the ISS.

Massive…and massively beautiful from the ISS.

the-culture-of-fear-9781572703544-e1383792768880Featured headlines such as “Super Typhoon Neoguri Takes Aim at the Ryukyus,” or “Typhoon Neoguri Lashes Out at Okinawa,” and even “Typhoon Targets Japan!” and characterized as “Breaking News!” do nothing to help diminish what I call America’s “culture of fear.”  Storms are storms, a force of nature (call them acts of god if you will), and they neither direct at us (mankind) nor intend us any premeditated harm.  Rather, it is in our own fairly fool-hardy ways that we open ourselves to – and fail to protect ourselves sufficiently from these particular insults of Mother Nature.  Perhaps the most inane banner yet so far:  “Super Typhoon Neoguri Strongest of 2014!”

It’s only the strongest…because…it’s the FIRST of 2014.  Dumbasses.

Yes, it’s the strongest.  Duh.  It also happens to be the first for Japan in 2014.  It could have been a really ridiculously bad thunderstorm and that headline would’ve still run….

The eye passing close to Okinawa, outlined just beyond the dark blue band

The eye passing close to Okinawa, outlined just beyond the dark blue band

Three typhoons at once!

Three typhoons at once!

Last year I wrote a blog about how typhoons are regarded in Okinawa after something like our 8th or 9th typhoon of the season.  In that treatise, I tried to capture the very basic differences in the Far East versus American West cultural perspectives and their resulting diverse approach(es) to weathering such tempests.  You can read that blog here:  Typhoons, a Divinely Okinawan Experience.

"Typhoon Alley"

“Typhoon Alley”

The satellite photos are dramatic, the surf is kicking, and the winds are literally rocking our seismically-isolated building-on-rollers.  The surfers have all exited the water, and there are no remaining visitors to our seawall.  Our balconies have been cleared, and remaining items are secured.  We have water, foodstuffs, and plenty of candles.  Although we do prepare, it is with a refreshing lack of panic that is largely absent in Japan…but happens to be the hallmark of enduring hurricanes in the States.

It'll be worse AFTER the storm passes....

It’ll be worse AFTER the storm passes….

We’re okay, and we’ll be fine.  This is the safest place we will ever live…especially when it involves withstanding a Super Typhoon!


Kevin & Jody, Okinawa, Japan

Love and the Ring of Fire: Earthquakes in Okinawa

6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her "rocks" off!!

6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her “rocks” off!!

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”  ~Voltaire

“I used to sleep nude – until the earthquake.”  ~Alyssa Milano

“Love is a burning thing, And it makes a fiery ring, Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire….” ~Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire




There’s nothing more I like than when Jody tells me that I made the earth move for her.  Mr. Cash was right about love and his ring of fire – although in our case, it’s more akin to being bound…oh yeah, in wild desire.  Thankfully, such playful physical restraint actually can help inhibit someone from falling unexpectedly, quite literally.  Say, like when terra non-firma actually does move during a quake.  And when it moves significantly enough to move us soundly out of sleep in the middle of the night to thoughts of immediate shelter and exclamations of “Oh Shit!,” it is quite surprising…and surprisingly frightening.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios...with the threat of actual dismemberment or death.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios…with the added threat of actual dismemberment or death.

379233-382883-350x350Actually, in a nod to Ms. Milano’s quote above, my immediate thought was of putting some pants on.  I might revisit the idea of sleeping nude, and certainly will consider more expanded and pragmatic uses of our bondage gear (wink)!



It is easily said that earthquakes are a fact of life here in Okinawa, but experiencing a moderately powerful earthquake in person is quite a different thing.  Okinawa sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the earth’s surface is fractured and the island is surround by 13 different fault lines, volcanoes are plentiful, and the ground literally shakes, rattles and rolls from time to time.

Our island chain has it's own named major fault!  Wait, that's bad....

Our island chain – the Ryukyus – has its own named major fault! Wait, that’s bad….

jssiart4This is my 5th year living on the island, however, and I honestly don’t remember anything other than the slightest of movement from my four previous years here.  Since returning this past August, we have now experienced at least three of what I will characterize as moderate quakes, with the one this morning certainly rating on the higher, more extreme end of “moderate.”  It was enough to rattle not only our condo’s furnishing and fixtures, along with the entire building, but our psyches as well.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school....  Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school…. Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

220px-Earthquake-protectorWe live immediately on the coast.  I’m not sure if our building’s foundation is on reclaimed land, as much of the coastline is in Japan and Okinawa.  That would be bad for us.  What I do know is that while Japanese domestic building code isn’t up to American standards in many respects, such as NOT requiring an elevator large enough to fit a gurney to evacuate us in the case of injury from…well…an earthquake, the code here has, for a long time (much longer than in the states even), required buildings to be “seismically isolated.”


Our building is of the “menshin” flavor of quake resistance….

So what the hell does that mean?


Foundational rollers for seismic isolation.

img_antiseismic_rubber_10It means, in quite unembellished terms, that our building is shock-mounted (using large rubber pad-like dampeners, like a Harley’s engine, or most large floor-mounted machinery), and is on rollers.  “Ludicrous!” I hear you say!  But it’s true.  Between these two systems, the ground’s motion during an earthquake is nearly isolated from the building.  Nearly so.  Not enough, however, to keep us from really feeling those strong “s waves” this morning during the final 2 seconds of what was about a 6 second event.  A corny yet effective building “seismic isolation simulation,” something you mathletes and engineers will greatly appreciate can be found here.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds is self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds in self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

What does it all mean?  It means that even though our building’s integrity wasn’t threatened, we still got quite a ride being on top of Mother Nature.  Now she can really make the earth move…for everyone!!


106157e47ea703c91cdf21ab67b5af41e4cb5925b7ac17c3afbc84bfbc0d05a8Major earthquakes are followed by aftershocks:  the main shock of the earthquake doesn’t always discharge all that stress from the earth’s crust, unlike when the earth moves in more passionate but not necessarily more interesting “affairs,” for the guys at least (read in your inner voice using Austin Power’s accent:  “And I’m spent!”).  Aftershocks, some as powerful as the main earthquake, happen as the earth settles into a new equilibrium, which often cause buildings which were only initially damaged, to submit and collapse.  We had a powerful aftershock…or simply another quake at 11:00 am, strong enough to actually take some hanging art off our walls.

Eye-witness testimony.  Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed....

Eye-witness testimony. Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed….

It’s hard to describe the experience.  The noise this morning was most surprising to me.  You often hear of the train-engine descriptions of tornadoes, and we’ve all seen and heard the howling wind of hurricanes on TV as some dumbass weather reporter is looking for his big break by pitting his ego against Mother Nature’s.  But the loud rumble and higher-pitched rattles commingled into a growing roar this morning of tired ground and rock giving way to fatigued buildings complaining in their brick and mortar rendition of “don’t shake the baby.”

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents' babies....

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents’ babies….

Sedhigi Earthquake

See, dressing modestly CAN decreases earthquakes!

Of course my GI Joe militaristic training kicked in and I heeded the military’s advice:  panic!!  What a tick, that’s the first thing they tell us not to do.  Seriously, here’s their advice, straight from the Emergency Action Plan of Kadena AFB:  “DON’T PANIC!  STAY PUT.  TAKE COVER.  HOLD ON.”  There is nothing there about putting clothes on.  There should be.  I had only one leg in my jammies when the quake ended.  And, sadly, I didn’t even have time get to see if any of Jody’s womanly jigglely parts were resonating with the earth.

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan.  On 2nd thought, they would, literally so....

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan. On 2nd thought, they would, literally so….

What the scientists don't realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

What the scientists don’t realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

This all has me thinking.  Yes, of jiggling, but also about the future and fate of Okinawa.  Scientists, like all scientists like to do, are warning that the island is “overdue” for a mega-earthquake that could send a tsunami over coastal communities where we live and U.S. bases where thousands of Americans live and work.  A major quake here is “well overdue and can happen at any time,” said Takeshi Matsumoto, professor of earth science and disaster prevention at the University of the Ryukyus.  Matsumoto sits on a panel of six university seismic experts who re-evaluated the tsunami danger for the Okinawa prefectural government following the 2011 disaster on mainland Japan.  “At some point…a massive earthquake is inevitable,” he continues, speaking of a 1,000-year event, and goes on to point out that the island of Okinawa has no record of a large tsunami during the past millennium.

These "Rings of Fire" can make the earth move...in all good ways!

These “Rings of Fire” can make the earth move…in all good ways!

Like I said, any chance I get to make the earth move for Jody, I’ll take the credit!  While our interpersonal Ring of Fire is always looking to get more intense, let’s just hope that Mother Nature’s sex life doesn’t get intensely out of control over the next 2.5 years.  And just think, typhoon season is just a couple of months away…read about that here: Typhoons – A Divinely Okinawan Experience.