Kobe Earthquake 1995
Took place on 17th January 1995
Measured 7.2 on the Richter scale
Killed more than 5,000
Damaged 56,000 buildings severely
Epicentre was on Awaji Island near Kobe and Osaka
The cause of the earthquake
Movement in the subduction zone of the Eurasian and Philippine Plates caused the earthquake.
 05:46 tremors spread from Awaji Island epicentre
 Airports and elevated highways collapsed
 Nearly 10,000 houses and other buildings were destroyed in Kobe
 Kobe-Osaka area is the 2nd largest centre of industry
 Kobe-Osaka has the second largest population in Japan
 Wall of fire, 300-500m wide swept the area
 77,000 people evacuated to makeshift areas
 Earthquake was shallow so its focus was on the surface
 City wasn't prepared as people thought Tokyo was in more danger than Kobe-Osaka
Japan quickley overcame this natural disaster but many human lives were lost helplessly to this huge devistation.
Kobe is primarily famous for the earthquake that devastated the city on 17 January 1995, killing 6,000 people. Fortunately the city has managed to rebuild itself over the past nine years, with some of the final rebuilding only being completed last year. As a result Kobe does look new and fresh. Although it is not a must see city, it is somewhere that is incredibly pleasant place to spend the day.
The nearest airport is Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and is probably best if you are only intending on visiting the Kansai region. If you are arriving in Tokyo, you will need to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Hikari stopping at Shin-Kobe station (taking around two and half to three hours). This is an expensive way to travel, but is spacious and comfortable. Unreserved tickets are cheaper, with reserved tickets restricting you to a particular car and seat (the car position is marked on both the car and platform), which along with your start and end time are helpfully marked on your ticket.
As it also affords some wonderful views of Japan's lush and varying countryside, including a great view of Mount Fuji, I would most definitely recommend a trip on Shinkansen as part of any visit to Japan.
As Kyoto does provide the perfect base for exploring the Kansai region, we took the JR shinkaisoku which cost 1,030 Yen and took approximately 50 minutes. This brings you into Sannomiya station, close to the tourist information centre, which is well worth visiting before you start sight-seeing. It would have been possible to take the Shinkansen, but for a journey of this short distance seemed a little pointless.
Most of Kobe can be reached on foot, although you may need to take a train out to the Port area. Be careful not to take the express train, as this will go straight through your stop.
- Phoenix Plaza/Earthquake Museum (500 Yen)
This museum is interesting, but in many ways frustrating. On entry to the building you should wait for the next tour to begin. You'll be taken into a room where an audio-visual cacophony assaults your senses to try and give you a feel of the scale of the devastation. More moving is the interesting first person of the earthquake and its affect on one young girl. Luckily English headphones are presented, but once past this point it becomes a lot more difficult, if like me, you don't speak any Japanese - nothing else written in English is provided.
Kindly we were provided with two English speaking guides, although at times their broken English did make it difficult to understand. I think they were probably unused to questions as at times they simply repeated earlier phrases.
The second guide also seemed surprised that we had any knowledge of earthquakes and how they happen. Our assumption is that, unlike in Britain, Japanese school children do not learn about earthquakes or world disasters; highlighting the further problem, that it seldom tells you something new.
No information was presented on what to do in an earthquake, and little was explained about how Japan is going about making buildings safer as a result of the Kobe earthquake.
There were a number of interesting interactive models, such as a demonstration of liquefaction of sand and water. You turn a handle which vibrates the sand and water mixture and watch the results.
- Shin-Kobe Cable Car or 'Ropeway' (550 Yen one-way)
Strangely, this cable car leaves from just outside the OPA shopping centre. You are directed through the shopping centre, which is useful as you can pick up a map for the Kitano area if you wish to visit it later.
The cable car ascends to a mountain ridge around 400 metres above the city, giving some fantastic views. Kobe is a pretty city, and you really will get no better way of having that demonstrated to you.
Once at the top of the ropeway, there is a small platform from which to take in more of the city's beauty. There is also a small shop and the Fragrance House, part of which looks a little overpriced. We purely walked around the house and began to make our way down the mountain through the herb garden.
- Nunobiki Habu-Koen (We didn't see anywhere to pay, but apparently it is 200 Yen)
This herb garden is made up of a variety of places, including a glass house that allows you to crush various herbs and smell them. The loveliest element is the gentle walk down through the area. I certainly enjoyed idly breaking off a tiny bit of herb and rubbing it between my fingers as I meandered through.
These gardens certainly make a refreshing change to the traditional gardens that you will see in many other tourist attractions in Japan.
- Walking to Shin-Kobe station
Once you have exited the gardens, it is possible to take a gentle walk further down across the mountain side. Unfortunately we missed the first part of this walk, and after 15 minutes of walking along the main road finally joined it near an observation area and some toilets. This walk takes in a rather beautiful set of waterfalls that feed into each other.
This area is an easy walk from Shin-Kobe station and is full of European style houses that certainly stand out against the other buildings. If you do pick up the map at the OPC department shop then you will be able to see the ones that are open to the public clearly marked. Unfortunately as this was the only day that we didn't make an early start, we were not able to take a look inside these buildings. Although because the English House had a bar inside, we did manage to take a quick peer of the ground floor before deciding a drink would be far too expensive. (A flat charge for drinking in the bar was charged and is something worth looking out for as it can make a quiet drink significantly more expensive).
A pleasant walk that takes in a fair few houses takes you from the station and up to Kitchano Plaza - an area that has further views of the city and will give you an opportunity to rest your tired feet next to bronze statues of musicians.
If you would like to walk through the bustle that is one of the only three China Towns in Japan, make sure you do it early. Unlike China Town in London, this one appears to start shutting down fairly early. By half-past nine there was very little worth seeing.
JAPANESE FOOD [Apologies - I'm going to repeat some of what I wrote on Kyoto here]
Sushi, tako-yaki (battered balls containing octopus), okonomi-yaki (a fried batter with seafood, vegetables and a special sauce that varies from region to region), tempura, soba noodles, ramen noodles, tofu - the list of great food goes on. The only thing that I would avoid is Oden which is a variety of fried food. The main problem with it is that it is often reconstituted fish which I found soggy and tasteless, even if it is cheap.
The particular speciality of Kobe is Kobe beef. This meal has the local beef in a variety of different guises. Be warned, although it is apparently gorgeous (I don't eat beef), it is an incredibly expensive meal (around 10,000 Yen) that demands a very empty stomach as it includes many different courses using the beef including rice and soup along with the carefully prepared steak. Good chains include A1, but we had to look a little further to find somewhere that provided another alternative for me. In the end we found a place suggested by the Kobe tourist information. This restaurant is found on Kitano Zaka and at first looks like a butcher shop. However, connected to the shop on two floors above, is an attractive restaurant that also serves seafood. Despite the sign being written in Japanese script, English menus are provided. As the food is cooked in front of you, there is also an entertainment value as you watch the master chefs at work. Unlimited tea and water also make for a pleasant dining experience where scallops were exceptional if incredibly expensive.
You'll probably find that lunchtimes are the ones you want a light snack. Convenience stores such as Lawsons and Seven Elevens seem to crop up everywhere. One of my particular favourites are triangles of rice wrapped in seaweed with fillings such as tuna (generally the blue label one!) Although eating food on the street is frowned on a little.
Different flavours of ice cream such as sweet potato and green tea are a refreshing change, along with a snack that contains similarities with slush puppies - ice flakes that have flavoured syrup poured over them.
Vending machines are found everywhere, including inside temple areas and have a variety of drinks you won't find in the United Kingdom, such as Melon or Grape soda which might be something different to try. (Although since returning I've been told that these flavours can be found in some Chinese and Japanese speciality shops.) Although we didn't find many in Kobe, there are also vending machines selling hot tea and coffee in cans.
MONEY IN KOBE
There is the odd International ATM, but I would still suggest that you take enough foreign currency to cover yourself as Japan is generally regarded as being incredibly safe, there is little risk of crime.
Provided you nod or give a slight bow (a greeting and sign of respect in Japan) to everyone, the people are infinitely helpful. There is a great urge to understand that can bridge the language gap. Although I would suggest that you take a good phrase book with the phrases written in the Japanese script as well as written phonetically in English, these basic words might be quite useful:
Arigato gozaimasu - formal thank you
Domo - informal thank you, excuse me
Dozo - please
Sumimasen - excuse me
Sugoi - great
Egoi - English
Hai - yes
As well as being very forgiving of the English not knowing their language, I found the Japanese to be incredibly helpful and friendly often volunteering help if they think you are having problems - although you should expect to be laughed at a little or questioned about England. The laughter tends to disguise their shyness but is much preferable to being scowled at or insulted as we British are particularly prone to do.
This trip was taken in August 2004. At this time of year Japan is very hot and humid. If you have fair skin it is essential that you use suntan lotion even when it is overcast. (That's the one time I got burnt!)
The exchange rate was: 197.245 Yen to the pound.