On the 15th anniversary of the Kobe Earthquake: My first activism in Japan: Eyewitness essays when I volunteered down there


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS now on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog.  As the Japanese media has been blitzing lately (dovetailing with the events in Haiti, although NHK refuses to put it as top news when there are Center Shikens affecting Japanese students out there), yesterday, January 17, was the fifteenth anniversary of the Kobe/Awajishima Earthquake that claimed over 6000 lives.

The Kobe Quake has special significance for me personally.  A third of my life ago, I was so enraged by the GOJ irresponsibility (an NHK program last night from 9PM cataloging the science behind the 15-second temblor still refused to mention how the highway overpasses also collapsed because of shoddy construction work (tenuki kouji); commentators blamed it all on sea sand vs. mountain sand) that I went down to Kobe for a couple of weeks at my own time and expense to help out as a volunteer.  I of course wrote the events up, and they are amongst my first essays charting my nascent activism in Japan.  Here are links to them all:

Artery site:


Thoughts just after it happened:

My eyewitness account going there:

Stupid Economist editorial on the event, with my letter to the editor:

Letters to the editor both as critical opinion and as eyewitness reports which got sanitized when published in the Hokkaido Shinbun (all at artery site):

Opinions as on the aftermath in the Western media:

In sum, the Kobe Quake gave me a major reason to stay in Japan:  I found fellow activist types who went down in the freezing cold to help out as best they could, for no other reason than because it gave them an inner glow as human beings.  That glow is still with me today, and it brought to an end the previous feelings I had about Japanese society (thanks to a stint as a Japanese businessman), where everyone was an economic animal and nobody cared about anyone else as long as they accrued wealth to themselves.  Interpersonally, I was wrong, and Kobe proved it.

But it was also my first taste of media-manufactured consent and control of public opinion.  Even fifteen years on, it’s a pity the media is still unwilling to face the truth and expose the people who made it worse through their negligence.

Enjoy the time capsule.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

2 comments on “On the 15th anniversary of the Kobe Earthquake: My first activism in Japan: Eyewitness essays when I volunteered down there

  • As a resident of Kobe, I’d like to thank you for this collection of your memories about the event. I’ve come to love this city in the short time I’ve been here, and while I was 6000 miles away and 6 years old when the quake happened, I am nevertheless deeply moved when I read about the event, the memorials, the troubles of the city since, and how it has remained in the memory and consciousness of the people of Kobe, however the city may have been rebuilt. Meeting a man who had lived through it and – on the verge of tears – told me his experiences especially brought the reality home.

    I like to think that that spirit you saw in Kobe – of human goodness and warmth – lives on in the city today.

  • I enjoyed reading your Kobe essay before, and it was a pleasure today to be reminded again of your good work there.

    This is a reminder to me that whenever possible, we as human beings should make helping people a priority, for both the benefit of others as well as the personal happiness it creates.

    Plus, when members of one “race” see members of another “race” helping in the spirit of altruism, it helps everyone realize we are all members of the Human race. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>