Photo/IllutrationA child prays at a memorial service for victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe’s Nagata Ward on Jan. 17. (Takaharu Yagi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KOBE--Thousands of people gathered here under gray skies early Jan. 17 to pray for the repose of the 6,434 victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck 25 years ago.

Bereaved families and others marked the somber anniversary at a memorial service in Kobe East Park in the city's Chuo Ward.

After offering silent prayers, the mourners lit 5,000 or so bamboo lanterns. They were arranged to form the letters “Kizamu" that reflects the survivors’ determination to never forget what happened, and the figures "1.17,” the date of the disaster.

The lanterns were made by volunteer groups and others around the nation. Residents of the Mabi district in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, where dozens of residents died in torrential rains and flooding in summer 2018, delivered 117 lanterns to demonstrate support for Kobe.

The gathering in Kobe East Park observed a moment of silence at 5:46 a.m., the time the earthquake struck.

Yoshihiro Ueno, 47, gave a eulogy at the memorial service on behalf of the bereaved families.

Ueno's 47-year-old mother perished in the disaster, and his father died of illness three years ago. Since then, Ueno and his wife have operated the sushi restaurant that his father ran.

“I have turned to the same age as you, mother,” Ueno said in his speech. “And at last, I am surpassing your age.”

“Everyone in the family will work hard day by day, so please keep watching over us from afar,” Ueno said.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake was the first earthquake since the end of World War II to occur directly beneath a metropolis.

Four cities in Hyogo Prefecture--Kobe, Nishinomiya, Ashiya and Takarazuka--and Awajishima island registered an intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7 for the first time in recorded history.

About 250,000 houses collapsed or were partially destroyed. About 44,000 people were injured.

According to the Kobe city government, about 7,500 people had visited the memorial service site set up in the park by 7 a.m.

Memorial services and related events were scheduled in many venues in Kobe and the surrounding region.

A memorial service held at Hyogo Prefectural Government’s Guest House was attended by Crown Prince Fumihito and his wife Crown Princess Kiko. The imperial couple honored the victims by presenting a bouquet of flowers.

(This article was written by Kae Kawashima and Takeshi Aose.)