KOBE, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- On Thursday, the western Japanese city of Kobe marked the 18th anniversary of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake with a series of memorial ceremonies that attracted more than 5,000 people who prayed for the 6,434 victims killed by the disaster.
The annual ceremonies have started in the city and its neighboring areas in Hyogo Prefecture following a moment of silence at 5:46 a.m. local time, the exact time when the massive earthquake struck the city.
In Higashiyuenchi Park, where thousands of lit bamboo lanterns were arranged to form the date, "1.17," Keiko Fujimoto, who lost her 10-year-old daughter in the earthquake, made a speech on behalf of the bereaved families. She stressed that 18 years after the tragedy, she believes she is encouraged to go on with her life by her lost daughter's friends and teachers, many of whom have visited her annually at this time of the year.
"The basic feeling shared by the victims' families is always the same," Fujimoto said. "We absolutely cannot let memories of the earthquake fade away with time."
Also in the park was Kobe Mayor Tatsuo Yada, who told the attendees that Kobe's difficult experience and the lessons learned from the Great Hanshin Earthquake must somehow be passed on to future generations to persuade the world's people to respect human life, be considerate of others and adopt a spirit of cooperation as our common duty.
"Kobe is ready to make full use of its lessons from the earthquake by offering our recovery know-how to any disaster- affected place in the world," the mayor added.
After the speeches in the early morning sessions, Akihiro Mishima, an 18-year-old university student who has lived in Kobe his whole life, told Xinhua in the park that he decided to come to the annual memorial event for the first time after performing some volunteer work in the area devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
"When people face disasters like massive earthquakes, they cannot help but remember that humans cannot survive by themselves," Mishima said. "Working as a volunteer after the 2011 earthquake in northern Japan in particular taught me that my generation is the one that must tell later generations about our experience with earthquakes."
At the memorial monument site decorated with flowers offered by visitors, a 74-year-old man who lost his 30-year-old son when his apartment building totally collapsed in the earthquake also told Xinhua that he has never gotten over his grief. But he said when the day of Jan. 17 comes, he becomes full of gratitude for all the people who have given him the chance to return to the normal life he currently enjoys.
On Thursday, more than 20 various events are scheduled in Kobe until the evening hours.