Tokyo: Japan marked the 15th anniversary on Sunday of the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Kobe and neighbouring cities, killing more than 6,400 people and injuring nearly half a million.
The anniversary came just days after a powerful quake hit Haiti.
People converged in a Kobe park before dawn to light thousands of bamboo lanterns in the shape of "1995" and "1.17" and offered silent prayers at 5:46 am, the time the temblor jolted the city.
In the Kobe quake, high rises and highway overpasses crashed down and fires raged throughout the major port.
But today the city bears few signs of the devastating temblor.
More than 400 people, including Crown Prince Naruhito, Princess Msako and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, attended the ceremony held in the city on Sunday.
"The image of the people trying to overcome difficulties is deeply etched in my memory," the prince said.
Hatoyama also said: "It is an important political role to make the nation well-prepared for a natural disaster and protect human lives."
When the earthquake hit, local and central government officials were harshly criticised for their slow response and inefficient work. But groups of first-time volunteers became the key to relief efforts.
Seiji Yoshimura was one of such volunteers who flocked to help out. Yoshimura later quit his job in Tokyo and formed the volunteer Response Association Kobe Genki Mura in Kobe to help victims and rebuild the international port city.
Other citizens` groups also began to spring up all over Japan and volunteerism wove itself more into the life of the society.
Yoshimura started Human Shield Kobe, another civic group, four years ago. It has responded to many natural disasters at home and abroad.
"I believe it is a responsibility of Kobe as a quake-hit city to use its lessons and experiences in other disaster-stricken areas," Yoshimura said.