The Hyogo-ken Nanbu earthquake that struck the Kobe area of Japan on January 17, 1995, caused extensive damage to wooden housing structures, resulting in a large loss of life. As part of the Canadian Association for Earthquake Engineering reconnaissance team, the authors visited the disaster area a week after the earthquake to gain insight into the performance of timber structures. This paper reports their findings and discusses the reasons for the poor behaviour of the many buildings that were destroyed as well as the reasons why some buildings survived almost unscathed. A summary of Japanese code practices provides background to the discussions and allows comparisons with Canadian design and construction methods. Key words: earthquakes, seismic, timber, wood framed buildings, housing.