Prayers, tears as Japan marks 1 year since massive earthquake

Japan remembers
Japan remembers


    Japan remembers


Japan remembers 04:21

Story highlights

  • For those who survived, life changed forever
  • A 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011
  • Japan holds a moment of silence at the exact moment the quake hit
  • The quake literally shifted the earth's axis

Japan gathered Sunday amid tears, prayers and a moment of silence to mark one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands, and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.

Throngs nationwide observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET), the exact time the earth shook on March 11, 2011.

At the main event at a Tokyo theater, hundreds bowed their heads in silence during the service.

"A lot of lives were lost ... I feel the grieving families' pain and I cannot express my sorrow enough," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at the ceremony.

Emperor Akihito, who is recovering from recent surgery, also attended.

Continuing challenges for Japan
Continuing challenges for Japan


    Continuing challenges for Japan


Continuing challenges for Japan 03:48
Belated tsunami victim's funeral
Belated tsunami victim's funeral


    Belated tsunami victim's funeral


Belated tsunami victim's funeral 02:29
Japan still grapples with disaster
Japan still grapples with disaster


    Japan still grapples with disaster


Japan still grapples with disaster 05:17

"I'd like to express my mourning for the people who passed away a year ago ... almost 20,000 died and others remain missing. Many of them were firefighters," the emperor said.

Government officials and victims' relatives laid flowers at a shrine set up at the front of the theater.

In tsunami-ravaged towns along the northeast, residents solemnly placed wreaths where homes once stood. Warning sirens wailed in some areas at the precise time the quake struck.

Clad in black, residents of Ofunato gathered to pay tribute to hundreds of the town's residents killed during the earthquake and tsunami. Some wept quietly.

The 9.0-magnitude quake shifted the earth's axis and unleashed a wall of water that swept away lives and homes. Million of people fled for higher ground. Nearly 16,000 people died and 3,000 others remain missing.

iReport: Tokyo memorial

For those who survived that day, life is not the same.

"On the surface, it is business as usual," said Nicky Washida, a British expatriate who's lived in Japan for 10 years. "We wake up, we go to work, we shop for dinner. We drink, we laugh, we care for our children. But running underneath the veneer of normality is the constant reminder that life has changed."

Washida said something as simple as buying food has changed in the wake of the nuclear crisis. She said she reads labels to ensure there are no chances of contamination.

As residents scramble to return to normalcy, Noda recently addressed rebuilding efforts, which represent Japan's greatest challenge since the end of World War II.

"The Japanese people are united in working with the government to put all our might toward working on the reconstruction," Noda said this month. "The debris cleanup, the building of temporary houses and daily support for the disaster victims -- we have been making steady progress on all those issues," he said.

Following the quake and tsunami, Japan found itself dealing with the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was knocked offline, resulting in a meltdown of three reactors, with radiation leaking into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea. While no deaths were attributed to the nuclear disaster, more than 100,000 people remain displaced from the towns where its long-lived fallout settled.

"While always keeping in mind the tremendous responsibility we have to maintain stable conditions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, we will continue to safely work toward the mid-to-long term decommissioning of the reactors," said Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant. "In addition, all TEPCO group companies will further intensify their efforts to care for the presently afflicted and provide the compensation due them in a swift manner."

One year on, Japan is far from dug out of the destruction wrought by the triple disaster, but the prime minister said he is committed to rebuilding and in re-energizing the nation in the process.

For some of the nation's youth, hope reigns amid the heartbreak and ruins.

"A lot of Japanese are very optimistic, so don't worry about (us) too much," said Kohei Maeda.

      Rebuilding Japan

    • This picture taken by a Miyako City official on March 11, 2011 and released on March 18, 2011 shows a tsunami breeching an embankment and flowing into the city of Miyako in Iwate prefecture shortly after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the region of northern Japan. The official number of dead and missing after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that flattened Japan's northeast coast a week ago has topped 16,600, with 6,405 confirmed dead, it was announced on March 18, 2011. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

      iReport: Share your stories

      Did events on March 11, 2011 affect your life? Share before and after photos of your area, or grab a video camera and let us know what life is like today.
    • An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12, 2011. Japan scrambled to prevent nuclear accidents at two atomic plants where reactor cooling systems failed after a massive earthquake, as it evacuated tens of thousands of residents. Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the plants, said it had released some radioactive vapour into the atmosphere at one plant to relieve building reactor pressure, but said the move posed no health risks. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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