I think it is important to pass on what we have experienced.

Seiichi Sakurai – Director General of Kobe City Health and Welfare Bureauphoto

(Mr. Sakurai was manager of Kobe City’s Public Relations Division when the earthquake happened, and in 1996 he became deputy director general of livelihood restoration headquarters.)Following the then mayor of Kobe, Mr, Sasayama, and three other chiefs, I was the fourth to arrive at the City Hall and since all staff could not get to work I ended up becoming involved in disaster countermeasures with headquarters being set up that day. I lived in Nishi-ku and realized something had happened and decided to go to the station, but trains were not running, so I returned home and drove to work. On the way, I could see smoke rising in Nagata and I presumed the fire department was taking care of things. There was almost no traffic on the road and I thought maybe the tunnel I was about to enter had collapsed or something. So, I waited for another car and followed it, thinking that I’d notice anything wrong. I eventually came out at Shin Kobe.


The scene of what happened to the city was terrible. Buildings had collapsed and some were leaning over. Cars drove slowly hoping the leaning buildings would not collapse on them. It was like a game of Russian roulette driving through the city streets. I was shocked when I saw the state of the City Hall. Inside, ceilings had collapsed, desks were strewn everywhere.(You were chief of department chief public relations and on the disaster countermeasures committee, etc. I’m sure it was really hard for you, but what did you feel you had to do?)I felt it was important to let the people know that relief work was underway and help them feel secure, but I had no method of doing this. Normally, we would use the monthly newsletter, but that wasn’t possible. So, I asked people from TV and radio to pass on the information I thought was important. We searched for a printing office and found only one and had 2,000 copies printed. We then asked printers in Osaka to print the information attach it to wooden boards and had motorbike teams post them on elementary school fences and deliver them to shelters. We had this done almost every day for a while.


Immediately after the earthquake we didn’t have the means to provide information to the people. Unlike now, we didn’t have computer networking, and mobile phones were not so common then.In my interactions with the media I noticed a huge difference between the local media and that from outside. The latter didn’t know the real situation here and asked irrelevant questions, like why didn’t we use fire department’s announcement vehicles. All you had to do was see the road conditions to know the answer. After things had calmed down, I counted the number of business cards I had received. I had received about 500. Later I had a chance to talk to one of those reporters and told him I never got a chance to see his report on TV. At that time, I couldn’t return home and hardly got any sleep for 10 days, and when I did it was in the City Hall corridors.


The year after the earthquake I was in charge of people’s livelihood recovery. There were about 30,000 units of temporary house in Kobe city. One of my main jobs was supervising these. One of my greatest fears was fire breaking out in temporary housing. It would have been terrible to have people who had been saved in the earthquake to lose their lives in a fire. If one unit caught fire, a whole block would be burnt. Fortunately, the residents knew this and conducted patrols etc. However, as the number of people decreased, these activities declined. I was called out at night because of fires and even today when the phone rings I get flashbacks.


Another issue was the distribution of financial aid. At the time there were no national financial aid programs for individuals. However, we provided aid to elderly people, and then to middle-aged people. Both the City and Prefecture worked hard to get the national government to do something.The best way we could get support for reconstruction from the national government was by using land readjustment policy. We wanted to put this into action in stages but many problems occurred. Even now some people feel things went well, others don’t. Unfortunately, many people are forgetting what happened then, but I think it is important to pass it on.


Talk 2

Whenever I hear this song (Shiawase hakoberu yoni) tears well up in my eyes. The first time I got to know about this song was when I was collecting materials to prepare for a memorial ceremony for earthquake victims. I found it in a supplementary text for elementary schools and said to myself that his best expressed the feeling of the people of Kobe.


In preparation for a future disaster, disaster prevention and disaster drills had been the main focus of activities, but disaster mitigation is now playing an important role. A thing like the average citizen by securing his/her TV set so it won’t fall over is helping to prevent or lessen damage and injury. There are thing that individuals can do, things that can be done together and things that the local government can do. Of course, being prepared to act when a disaster occurs is important, but thinking on a daily basis about disasters and how to reduce possible damage and injury is also important.


I have a very vivid memory of how children had a big influence on adults. At a shelter, adults were talking about who and how the blocked and dirty toilets should be cleaned. Children in the shelter heard this, and in a newsletter they wrote, they said let’s clean the toilets and made rules and used pictures, for doing it. When adults saw this, they were moved and began cleaning the toilets. I really think children have the potential to get adults to do things. If children usually help out at home, they will do it in times like these.


Kobe has a sharing culture. For example, when people make ‘ikanago’ (tiny fish boiled in sweetened sauce), they often share it with their neighbors and others. This is one way people get to be friends, and I hope this tradition continues.When a major disaster occurs, the local government can manage to provide only major news and information, but what the people want to know are things like, which stores are open, which public bath is open, etc. This is very important information for them. However, the City doesn’t have the means to do this. However, community radio stations have access to this local information and can pass it on. Their role is very important. I remember when FMYY was being established. I was asked to come and talk with the people involved and I thought it was a great idea and wanted to support them as much as I could. Community FMY radio stations are very important to the local community.


In Kobe City’s disaster countermeasures division we have set out policies to help those who have special needs when a disaster occurs, but these depend a lot on the ability of the community to carry them out, so we do what we can to back up the communities. Cooperation is very important.