Japan has marked the second anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that claimed some 19,000 lives. Anti-nuclear activists protested to demand an end to atomic power in light of the Fukushima disaster.
Ceremonies were held in the disaster zone as well as the capital, Tokyo, where Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko led a tribute to those who died.
To mark the exact moment that the undersea quake hit, the city's tsunami alarms were sounded.
"We were deeply moved to see how, in these difficult times, the people, whether in the afflicted regions or in the places where they had evacuated to, were bracing themselves against adversities and carrying on with their lives," the emperor said in a service at Tokyo's national theater.
"We feel, with renewed resolve, that it is important for all of us to continue to watch over these people and to share in their grief as much as possible."
Rebuilding in the wake of the disaster has been slow with 315,196 people officially without a home. A total of 15,881 people died in the disaster, with 2,668 remaining unaccounted for. While Japan has long been prepared for large earthquakes, the unexpected giant wave that came in the wake of the 2011 earthquake, off the northeast coast, proved disastrous to coastal communities.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news conference that he hoped the anniversary would serve as a beacon for optimism.
"March 11 has to be a day for hope," he said. "When it comes next year, it will have to be a day when people in the disaster zone can feel their communities are on the mend and their lives have improved greatly."
Anti-nuclear protesters took to the streets to the streets to mark the anniversary, which led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Environmental group Greenpeace said more needed to be done to help those affected. "They need proper compensation and support to rebuild their lives," it said in a statement.
The accident at Fukushima led to the evacuation of the area the area near to the nuclear plant. It remains unclear whether those affected will ever be able to return.
rc/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)