Nine years after the Kobe earthquake in Japan, social issues are still prominent, and the rehabilitation process is still ongoing. The earthquake caused two major changes in Japanese society: an increase in voluntary and non-government activities, and the enhancement of cooperation between local government and the residents' association. People's participation in the decision-making process was a significant achievement. To sustain the efforts generated after the earthquake, the Kobe Action Plan was formulated and tested in different disaster scenarios. The current study suggests that civil societies in urban areas are sustainable if, first, the activities related to daily services are provided by the resident's associations; and second, these are linked to economic incentives. Leadership plays a crucial role in collective decision-making. Creation of the support system is essential for long-term sustainability of civil-society activities. These observations are exemplified in the case study in Nishi Suma, one of the worst-affected areas in the Kobe city.