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Majority of Japan's 1995 Hanshin quake storytellers aged at least 70: study

People offer a silent prayer to the victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake with an image of "1.17" created by bamboo lanterns at an annual memorial event at Higashi Yuenchi Park in Kobe's Chuo Ward, in western Japan, at the time of the jolt, 5:46 a.m. of Jan. 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

KOBE -- Some 60% of those working as storytellers about the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake tragedy are aged at least 70, a joint study by the Mainichi Shimbun and a researcher at Kobe University in western Japan has found.

As Japan is experiencing an increasing number of natural disasters such as major earthquakes and typhoons, there is high demand for storytellers who can share their disaster experiences and give lessons. Organizations engaging in such storytelling activities are struggling to pass the baton to younger generations.

The Mainichi Shimbun and Kumiko Yamaji, a research fellow at Kobe University specializing in disaster sociology, jointly carried out a study in October-November this year, surveying the Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Awaji and the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution (DRI) in Kobe as well as 11 other groups taking part in storytelling activities. The study focused on works carried out by those organizations that have kept statistical data.

Of the 136 people working as storytellers about the 1995 disaster at the two facilities and eight organizations (as of the end of fiscal 2018 for DRI and as of October-November this year for the rest of the subjects), 83, or 61%, were aged at least 70 and 22 were in their 60s. Those in their 50s totaled 14 of the 136 storytellers, 10 were in their 40s and five were in their 30s. Only two people in their 20s, the age group in which those born after the earthquake are included, worked as storytellers. Several organizations surveyed in the study said training the next generation of storytellers is a major challenge they face to continue their activities.

Of the bodies surveyed in the study, the number of times that the two facilities and six organizations took part in storytelling activities in fiscal 2018 totaled 1,408. Since DRI opened in fiscal 2002, the number of times these organizations engaged in such activities has always topped 1,000 per year. They were most active in fiscal 2011, shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the nation, engaging in storytelling activities a combined total of 2,092 times. While the figure has since been gradually declining, it has hovered around 1,500. They are mainly asked to share their experiences with local elementary and junior high school students, children from outside Hyogo Prefecture on school trips as well as resident associations and administrative bodies.

Yamaji says there is a movement among high school students and other young people who are trying to carry on the work of storytellers. She added, "We will need programs that allow different generations, including those in their 20s to 50s who are busy with school and work, to volunteer as storytellers."

(Japanese original by Kimi Sorihashi, Kobe Bureau)

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