Somebody Better Tell Godzilla
Kobe Japan - In the early morning hours of January 17th, 1995 an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck this coastal town and the surrounding areas of the Kansai district. In seconds over 5,000 people were dead and damage was calculated at several billion dollars.
Takachi Owasiku (61) considers himself lucky to be alive. A manager at the Ezaki Rice Farm on Awaji Island, he was sleeping in his quarters when the earthquake started. He awoke to see the house coming down on top of him and quickly got underneath his bed. When it was over he found that he was untouched and could see the night sky over him. He quickly climbed out from the debris and looked toward Kobe.
"You can usually see the lights of Kobe from the farm but tonight it was dark." Owasiku wrote me, "I realized we just had an earthquake and wanted to go across the farm to see if others who lived at the workers quarters were OK. Without lights it was difficult to see but I started across the fields."
Unknown to Owasiku, the epicenter of the quake had only been 4 miles away under the Adashi Strait which separates Awaji Island from the mainland. Because of this, Awaji had seem some of the most violent earth movement and this had changed the landscape.
"I tried to walk around the fields," Owasiku continued, "but I was soon stepping through mud, water and rice stalks. With the moonlight I looked across one field and saw that it had been tilted up, over it's boundary. Just then I noticed the fires coming from Kobe and I stopped to look at them and imagine the suffering."
It was then that he saw the dragon.
"It came flying from a crack in the earth, that was maybe 10 meters (30 feet) from me. A huge thing perhaps 50 meters (164 feet) wide from wingtip to wingtip and 30 meters (100 feet) long. It was between me and the fires so I saw it as a silhouette. After it had cleared the ground it flew in a great circle all around me. It was beautiful, a golden color with rainbow scales that glittered in the moonlight. Once or twice it stuck out a long tongue like a snakes, to taste the air After it went over me it disappeared toward the mountains and I just watched it go. After a minute or so there was an aftershock and I saw the crevice the creature had come out of close. I stayed where I was and minutes later heard yelling and saw that it was some of the workers coming toward me. I asked if they saw it but they had seen nothing."
After reading Owasiku's account I contacted Professor Gerald Wheldon who teaches in the Geomorphologic Studies Center at the University of Southern California to get his take on it.
"Awaji Island was where the most severe movement of the underlying sediment occurred according to studies taken by us and the University of Tokyo geophysics lab." said Professor Wheldon. The largest measurements we took on the island showed a horizontal movement of 2 meters and a vertical movement of 1 to 2.5. While there was an immediate aftershock some 10 minutes after the first shock, it was too weak to cause that level of plate movement a second time. And anyway it wouldn't have closed the fault lines, it would have widened them more."
Owasiku believes that the dragon was a mythical Goddess named Otohime who is suppose to have turned into a dragon after the birth of her son. "She searches for her lost son," wrote Owasiku, "and perhaps she got caught in the earth sometime in the past. The earthquake was a terrible disaster for Japan and Kobe but it did do one good thing. It set Otohime free."
e-mail interview with Takachi Owasiku, November 19-24th, 1999
phone interview with Professor Gerald Wheldon, November 30th, 1999
photo courtesy of Takachi Owasiku