Sunday saw Japan come to a standstill, as the country marked the one-year anniversary of 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami with carefully observed silences, prayers and anti-nuclear rallies.
Almost 16,000 people lost their lives last year, when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake produced a 75-foot wave of water that hit Japan’s northeast coast. 3,300 people are still unaccounted for, and rebuilding efforts are still ongoing – at a quick glance, towns such as Otsuchi have changed little since the disaster.
Authorities are still hard at work searching for the missing, with rivers and beaches scoured for remains that may bring unknowing families hope, or the final knowledge that their loved ones have perished.
In the port town of Ofunato, 46-year-old petrol station owner Kosei Chiba told MSN:
“I’m unable to wipe away the sense of regret of having lost my mother and wife because we underestimated the tsunami. We can’t just stay sad. Our mission is to face reality and move forward step by step. But the damage the town suffered was too big and our psychological scars are too deep. We need a long time to rebuild.”
Kosei was one of hundreds of Ofunato residents who gathered to lay wreaths of white chrysanthemums at an altar close to the town hall. Ofunato lost 420 of its residents in the tragedy.
Japan observed a minute of silence at 2:46 p.m. (12:46 a.m. EST) on Sunday, precisely one year after the quake struck. Across the nation, sirens sounded and huge bells at sirens rang out to mark the beginning of the organized silence.
In Tokyo’s National Theater, Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda joined hundreds of black-clad civilians to observe silence. And, 33 minutes later, Ofunato paused again to remember how a 75-foot tsunami leveled the town to its foundations.
Today, some 325,000 Japanese people remain in temporary housing, their homes wrecked by the disaster.