Kobe, Japan: Running Through a City Once Devastated

Over 1.5 million people were living in the industrial and cultural city of Kobe when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit on January 17, 1995. More than 6,000 lives were lost and much of the city was cut off from gas, electricity and water. Many people lost their jobs and/or homes, while vacant lots were scattered everywhere across the city.

While a city cannot regain all of the things it lost, Kobe has re-emerged as a bustling city brightened by new lights in the 17 years since the disaster.

On November 20, 2011, the city held its first ever official marathon event. More than 20,000 runners completed the 42.195 km distance for “Kobe Marathon 2011”, running through famous tourist spots as well as former vacant areas. Among them were 641 runners who came from the Tohoku region, which had been devastated by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake this March.

Capturing the energy of a city that has fought to overcome a disaster rouses the spirits of its people, and encourages those who are in the midst of going through similar difficulties themselves. The event theme articulates the spirit of the organizers who decided to hold the marathon event at the very place where people had struggled to rebuild their city.

“Event Theme: “Thanks and Friendship”, We would like to express our sincere thanks to the people and communities in Japan and overseas who reached out to us in our hour of need, and are still reaching out to us as we seek to recover from the recent disaster.

Ahead of the start whistle, some runners and supporters expressed their feelings.

A runner from Tohoku answered in a video interview [ja]:


Kobe is a place that went through the same experiences. I will run with the other runners today with this in mind.

A supporter described her pleasure that the formerly devastated city held such a big event:


@juju_fleur: Kobe marathon is about to start!! This city, once devastated by an earthquake, is about to hold a marathon event with 25,000-runners. My heart is full as we remember those days. Runners and staff members, do your best!! ! I’ll be there to cheer you on.

Runners from Tohoku were running with green ribbons. The PR Twitter account from Kobe City tweeted to increase extra cheering for the green-ribbon runners.

@kobecity0311神戸市広報専門官 松下麻理
【神戸マラソン】ランナー快走中!緑のリボンをつけて走っておられる方は、被災地から来られたランナーです。大きな声援をお願いします! pic.twitter.com/5cl5mCgT

@kobecity0311 Mari Matsushita, public relation officer of Kobe city:
[Kobe marathon] Runners, on a good note! When you find runners with green ribbons, give your great cheer to them. They are from Tohoku! pic.twitter.com/5cl5mCgT
A runner from Tohoku

A runner from Tohoku

A short video of the event has been uploaded to YouTube, where a runner from Tohoku is expressing his impression of the event.


Our town still doesn’t have buildings or traffic lights, but I can now imagine how our town will surely be rebuilt down the road, too.

We can also feel the atmosphere of the event from many blogs. This blogger wrote multiple entries on participating in the marathon:

「 神戸 ありがとう  東北は負けません 」

「 東北、頑張れ~! 」 「 スーパーマン~、頑張って~! 」
「 神戸がついてるよ~! 」

sakae’s niponipo blog:
I met a runner in a Superman costume. The famous red cloak carried the message, “Thank you, Kobe. Tohoku won’t give in.And many supporters in the sidelines cheered for Superman – ‘Go, Tohoku!’, ‘Go, Superman!’, ‘Kobe is with you!’. I wonder what scenes he encountered during the 42km in Kobe? What was going through in his mind as he ran towards the goal? I hope Superman went back home with a sense of fulfillment for finishing the marathon big hopes, warm memories and a strong resolve to keep pushing forward.” 

Ryuji Watanabe from Fukushima Prefecture, one of the many people who completed the marathon, wrote down his memories on the website “Koide Dojo”, the runners’ group to which he belongs:


I think I succeeded in ‘running to rebuild’ and delivering our energy from the Tohoku region. Throughout the event, so many people encouraged me by saying things like ‘My friend, you’re pudgy but doing great!’, ‘Breathe, breathe, breathe!’,‘Go, Fukushima!’ and so on … I found myself in tears. I was running and crying so hard at the same time. I realized yet again that the support of other people is what keeps me going.

Meanwhile, the revitalized city of Kobe does not mean that people have forgotten the earthquake that hit 17 years ago. They still have scenes of those days clearly in their mind.

@uraimayumi:ヘリが沢山飛んでる。神戸マラソンの準備なんだろうけど、震災を思い出してしまった‥ twitpic.com/7fms8u

@uraimayumi:So many helicopters are hovering, looks like the preparation for the marathon event. But it makes me recall the days of the earthquake. twitpic.com/7fms8u

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