Japan Observes Anniversary of Deadly Quake, Tsunami

Posted March 10th, 2012 at 7:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Sunday marks the first anniversary of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan, leading to one of the worst nuclear crises in history.

A formal ceremony in Tokyo, the capital, will be the centerpiece of Japan's official remembrance, with speeches from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Emperor Akihito.

Public transport is expected to stop, and Tokyo's busy shopping districts will fall silent for a minute at 2:46 PM local time Sunday to honor the memory of those who died when the towering tsunami smashed ashore. Last March 11 the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off Japan's east coast. The temblor sent an enormous wall of water that swept seaside towns and villages. Nearly 20,000 lives were lost in the disaster.

The wave struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to melt down and leaving some tracts of land uninhabitable for decades because of radiation levels. A year later, people are still living in temporary shelters, many of them still unemployed as they struggle to put their lives back together.

As vigils and ceremonies take place to mark the first anniversary of the disaster, the nation continues to work on recovery.

Much of Japan's worst-hit areas are now clear of debris, but the extent of the damage is such that it may take many years before some regions can start rebuilding.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano recalls his visit to Japan a week after the disaster. He said the shortage of electricity and gas was felt everywhere and people were worried. He said upon his return to Austria he received many thank you notes from Japan which made him realize how encouraging his visit had been.

Memories of the disaster today bring tears to many eyes, but some Japanese people, like this Sendai resident, are optimistic.

“If we put in that little effort, dreams do come true and people would be able to return home. Through this disaster, I wish to teach my children that people can overcome hardships as long as you just keep smiling.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrote in the Washington Post Saturday that Japan will forget neither the nearly 20,000 people lost in the disaster nor the outpouring of support from other nations after the event. He said Japan is “deeply indebted” and “forever appreciative.”