AWAJI, HYOGO PREF. –The massive earthquake that rocked western Japan in January 1995 left a visible reminder of its cause: a ground-level fracture along one of the faults that shifted.
The movement of the Nojima Fault left its mark in the northern part of Awajishima Island, Hyogo Prefecture. After an on-site survey by specialists, 140 meters of the fracture was preserved at a museum on the island. Since it opened in 1998, about 8.6 million visitors have viewed the exhibit at the Nojima Fault Preservation Museum in Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park.
For the past 10 years, deputy curator Masayuki Komeyama, 48, has been telling visitors of his own experiences that day.
Visitor numbers have fallen since a high in 1998, the year of the opening of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, which links Kobe and Awajishima Island. At nearly 4 km long, it is the world’s longest suspension bridge.
Still, Komeyama believes there is growing public interest in the Nojima Fault.
“After the mechanism of an active fault causing a large earthquake became widely known, an increasing number of people are visiting us to learn how to prepare and respond to disasters,” he said.
After the quake took place, evidence was seen on the ground of movement along roughly 10 km of the Nojima Fault, which runs north-south on the island.
Early on Jan. 17, 1995, Komeyama was asleep in his fourth-floor apartment near the southern end of the fault.
“I heard the Earth rumbling from deep underground, followed by a powerful jolt from below,” he recalls. “It felt as if my apartment was falling down after being hit by a big dump truck or something.”
He threw himself over his wife and daughter, aged 2 months, and grabbed the edge of the bed.
“The shaking continued for about 40 seconds, but it felt longer,” he says. The kitchen was littered with broken dishes and he had to kick open the entrance door.
After taking his wife and daughter to an evacuation center in an elementary school gym, he visited the wooden house of his parents, only to find it collapsed.
As a member of a local fire brigade, he took part in rescue work. In the city of Awaji, 58 people died. The quake claimed more than 6,400 lives in all.
“At the time, I had no knowledge of the Nojima Fault and didn’t think a huge quake would hit Awajishima Island,” Komeyama says. “A friend of mine told me that he thought an airplane had crashed, judging from the big noise and jolt, as Kansai International Airport is located nearby.”
After hearing people say that there were bumps on the ground, he went out and discovered the sharp edge raised above the ground. “As the slip on the fault had caused that magnitude of shaking, I was scared by the Earth’s tremendous power.
“I want everybody to be careful not to forget the earthquake. If it’s forgotten, similar disaster damage will happen again,” Komeyama says.
“A large-scale quake could originate in the Nankai Trough” in the Pacific off Japan’s central to southwestern coast, he notes. “Natural disasters can’t be prevented, but I want everyone to think how the damage from a disaster can be alleviated.”