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Disaster prevention education spreads from Kobe to the World

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Having experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, people in Kobe learned the importance of building ties among people and working together as a team by exercising their wisdom once a disaster strikes. Kobe, as a city that focuses on disaster prevention measures, is now playing an important role to pass on such lessons to younger generations that have no experience of the earthquake, as well as to people in other regions of Japan and other countries.

Mr. Nagata works as a producer engaged in various activities related to disaster prevention education based in Kobe. He was involved in the Iza! Kaeru Caravan, the Earthquake Expo, Itsumo Moshimo (always be prepared), a campaign to raise awareness of disaster prevention held by Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. (Muji), and many other events.

Designated as a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2008, Kobe, as a design city, has been promoting its education, interaction, and collaboration systems through design and art in a creative way.

The NPO Arts, one of the organizations Mr. Nagata belongs to, also works to create innovative disaster prevention measures, which only Kobe, a design city, can achieve, under the keyword “+Creative.”


I was frustrated that I couldn’t do anything, even though my hometown was completely devastated.

Born and raised in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, Mr. Nagata had often visited Kobe since his childhood, as a place not too far and not too close.
When I was younger, everyone went to Kobe on dates. Kobe has been so special that there is a project named “date. KOBE,” which promotes the city by introducing peoples’ memories of dating in Kobe.

Even though he moved to Osaka when he was in junior high school, his heart was still in Kobe. He graduated from a graduate school of Osaka University in 1993 and started to work at the Takenaka Corporation. In his second year there, the major earthquake struck on a winter morning.
I lived by myself in Nishinari Ward, Osaka, close to my parents’ home. During the big shakes which lasted for ten or more seconds, I was so scared that I pulled the blanket over my head and screamed, “Stop it! No way! What’s happening?!” I couldn’t even realize that it was an earthquake during the shakes, because I had never experienced such a major disaster.

In Nishinari Ward, the earthquake measured four on the Japanese scale of seven. Mr. Nagata immediately left for his parents’ home 10 minutes away by bicycle from his place.
The house where my parents, second oldest sister and grandmother lived was safe. Rather, they were very worried about my oldest sister living in Kobe at that time. On TV, we saw the building of NHK Kobe shaking heavily, and my sister’s house was right behind it. Of course, the phone was not working.

Mr. Nagata and his relatives of his generation went to Kobe by motorcycle. It was a few days after the quake when he finally could confirm her safety. On his way back, Mr. Nagata visited the Morigu area in Nishinomiya City, where he had grown up, to see for himself.
The whole town, where I had lived until junior high school, was destroyed. The market I often visited was also completely crushed. On my way back to Osaka, riding my bike, I couldn’t stop crying, experiencing a feeling difficult to describe. I felt like the proof of my previous life had vanished.

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He says that many of his colleagues at the Takenaka Corporation were engaged in disaster recovery projects. He wanted to be involved in those projects as well, but he was not allowed to do so, because he belonged to a different department working on other business.
Although I was born in Nishinomiya, had studied urban development at university, and was working for a general contractor, I could not participate in the recovery projects in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, when Kobe was facing its most difficult time. I had this feeling for a long time that someone said, “What are you doing?” even though no one actually said that. I had to follow the company’s decision, but I felt deeply guilty and frustrated, wondering why I couldn’t do anything to help.

Seeing my colleagues working feverishly on the recovery projects, I felt even more terrible, because those who were my seniors and peers looked mentally tired and worn out. I felt bad about not being able to work with them.

About ten years after the earthquake, Mr. Nagata seized an opportunity to fulfill his desire.


Working on disaster prevention education with the hopes of people in Kobe

image3Photo: Iza! Kaeru Caravan offers fun events, providing disaster prevention education at the same time.

After leaving Takenaka Corporation in 2001, Mr. Nagata founded iop City Culture Creation Research Institute, a design and production company, in Osaka (now based in Kobe). He was working as a consultant for urban development and a producer of shops and other architecture.

During that time, he received a request from the "Messages from Kobe: Tenth Anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake" Promotion Committee to plan and hold events aimed at children in various places in Kobe. The events were to show people both inside and outside the city how well children in Kobe were doing ten years on from the earthquake.
I thought that I had finally gotten a chance to fulfill my role. I was told that the events did not necessarily need to be ones looking back on the earthquake but needed to be ones looking forward with a lot of fun. I, however, believed that the events would be meaningless without looking back. Then I thought I would hold enjoyable events while looking back on the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake at the same time.

Mr. Hiroshi Fuji, an artist who worked together with Mr. Nagata on this project, came up with the idea to connect disaster prevention measures and art (a concept that includes design, art, and new ideas). Without Mr. Nagata’s regret that he couldn’t participate in recovery projects in the aftermath of the earthquake, the events may have been just for fun, with little disaster prevention education.

Various conditions have contributed to creating the disaster prevention program “Iza! Kaeru Caravan.”
※* For details on the activities of Iza! Kaeru Caravan, please see the article on Mr. Yusuke Murosaki, a staff member of +Arts http://1995kobe20th.jp/2015/03/2455/(currently in Japanese only)

After a while, Mr. Nagata founded the NPO Arts, and started to work as an advisor on disaster prevention for Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. and Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. (Muji), and also began to design Jishin Itsumo Note, a disaster preparedness manual. He was engaged in a variety of disaster prevention education programs. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011, five years after he began to work on disaster prevention education.
I wasn’t sure if people in the affected areas could use the Internet, but I hastened to publish Jishin Itsumo Note, a manual created based on experience gained from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, on the Internet. Considering what sort of information the affected people needed, I posted two chapters, “aftermath of the earthquake” and “evacuation life.”

image4Photo: The pages of “evacuation life” in “Jishin Itsumo Note” posted online explain the difficulties of living in shelters and how to go through evacuation in detail.

Seeing Japan’s situation at that time, Mr. Nagata strongly believed that he had to share Kobe’s experience with people across Japan since public awareness of disaster prevention was intensified.
I also posted information on measures to prevent furniture from falling and how to stockpile food, which I had written for the in-house newsletters of Tokyo Gas, with their permission.


From Kobe to Japan, and to the world—Bosai (disaster prevention) spreads throughout the world as a part of Japanese culture.

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Activities led by Mr. Nagata have begun to spread around the world. The Japanese word bosai (meaning disaster prevention) is now a universal term in this specialized field. Kobe’s disaster prevention and social welfare community project has been shared with the world as BOKOMI.

The Earth Manual Project Exhibition held from October 4 to 24 2013 at the Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO) showcased carefully selected examples of the “+Creative” approach to disaster preparedness measures taken by creators from all over the world, who are engaged in disaster prevention education and supporting disaster affected areas, under the catchphrase “a country of frequent natural disasters can also be a country of high disaster preparedness.”
When I visited places around the world to promote the Iza! Kaeru Caravan project, conversely I learned many things from new disaster prevention education systems. I realized that disaster preparedness is not something to teach, but something to learn together. The Earth Manual Project Exhibition was designed through my experience to serve as a guideline to face and get along with disasters.

image6Photo: The Earth Manual Project Exhibition showcases how wonderful the activities are, as well as reflecting the creators’ approach and philosophy across the entire venue

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image9Photo: There are manuals on measures taken in different disasters, such as floods, fires, and earthquakes, placed in a booth. Visitors can pick up ones they are interested in and compile their own manual.

The event was a big success. Not only people in affected areas, but also those who have not experienced a major disaster could have an opportunity to learn about progressive disaster preparedness case studies with interest.
The Earth Manual Project Exhibition was held after the Great East Japan Earthquake. I see disasters occurring around the world have become more serious. I believe that Kobe has an important role to play in conveying the experience gained through its major disaster to the world.

The programs developed by Mr. Nagata and his team are now adopted in 14 countries. Arts was awarded the Global Citizenship Prize by the Japan Foundation, an organization that helps strengthen partnership between citizens in Japan and overseas, recognized for its idea to share a common view of disaster prevention education with the world. Its projects are blooming around the globe, supported by Kobe’s lesson, Mr. Nagata’s unique +Creative approach, as well as its activities to assist disaster affected areas in a humble manner.
I am engaged in disaster prevention education, keeping in mind the intention to deliver messages from people in Kobe, since I believe that I am responsible for representing their hopes.

In Jishin Itsumo Note, Mr. Nagata wrote as follows:

“When facing a major earthquake, a friendly hello to neighbors in daily life is the most effective measure for disaster preparedness, rather than an emergency pack or a helmet. Knowing how to use a hand towel is more useful than just having a disaster kit. Disaster prevention measures can be found in everyday life, not in case of emergency.”

The major earthquake that brought this wisdom has left deep scars on Kobe. Mr. Nagata and his team, however, work to solve social issues, leveraging their experience as a valuable asset.

During the interview, Mr. Nagata repeatedly stressed his sadness that he could not do anything at that time. I, however, strongly believe that his regret has led him to his devotion to his current major activities.

If there is any meaning in what Kobe faced through the devastating disaster, it must lie in playing a role to convey its experience for hundreds of years to come. I am sure that Kobe has the ability to do so.

“As long as one keeps giving one’s heart to one’s town, it will be of great assistance to that town someday.” This is the answer Mr. Nagata found out over the course of 20 years.


(Interviewed and written by Mami Asai)
This article was created with the cooperation of greenz.jp.

Hirokazu Nagata

Hirokazu Nagata was born in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1968. After graduating from a graduate school of Osaka University in 1993, he joined the Takenaka Corporation. During his career there, he experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. He left the Takenaka Corporation in 2001 and founded iop City Culture Creation Research Institute, a design and production company that is engaged in three fields, town development, architecture and art. He has been working mainly in Kobe as the chairperson of the NPO +Arts since 2006 and as the Vice Director of Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO) since August 2012.

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