28th anniversary of Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake marked in western Japan

Japan is marking the 28th anniversary on Tuesday of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which left 6,434 people dead.

The powerful quake jolted the western prefecture of Hyogo and nearby areas on January 17, 1995, causing scores of buildings to collapse and fires to break out across affected areas.

A memorial service at Kobe East Park in the prefectural capital, Kobe City, featured roughly 10,000 lanterns arranged to form the numbers "1.17" and the characters for "musubu," or "bond," in Japanese.

Officials hope that the events will help bring generations together so that the lessons learned from the disaster can be passed on to young people.

Participants offered a silent prayer at 5:46 a.m., the exact moment the earthquake occurred.

A man who lost his 20-year-old daughter gave a speech as a representative of the bereaved families. He said his daughter died, possibly without realizing her dreams, and he hopes to keep telling people about the meaning of life.

A 34-year-old teacher said he gives disaster-prevention lessons at a local elementary school. He said he was a first grader at the time of the quake, and vividly remembers the mess at home and black smoke rising from fires. He said he came to the event for the first time, as he wanted to see with his own eyes how many people are still mourning the victims. He added that he hopes to teach children the importance of life, as well as ways to protect themselves from disaster.

The annual event had been downsized since the onset of the pandemic. But this year, organizers decided to return to the previous scale, featuring double the number of lanterns used last year.

The city said about 5,000 people had visited the event as of 7 a.m. on Tuesday. That's 1,000 more than last year.