On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck northeast Japan, unleashing a humanitarian and nuclear disaster. Four years later, Japan commemorates the casualties of that day and those who continue to suffer.
A moment of silence fell across Japan on Wednesday afternoon as its citizens remember the catastrophic events that unfolded four years ago when an offshore earthquake unleashed a tsunami, devastating the northeast coastline.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Ahikito led a memorial service in the capital city Tokyo, where family members of the victims will also be present.
What has become known as the Fukushima disaster began with an earthquake at 2:46 p.m. local time (0546 UTC) on March 11, 2011. The magnitude 9-quake struck roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Oshika Peninsula at a depth of 24 kilometers.
Some 20 minutes later, a tsunami swept across coastal towns from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Okinawa, killing more than 15,000 people. According to the National Police Agency, more than 2,000 residents from that area are still classified as missing.
A nuclear disaster compounded the horror when tsunami waves reached the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, triggering reactor meltdowns and explosions.
Uncertain path into the future
Four years later, tens of thousands of residents remain displaced due to the twin disasters. The Japanese government has poured billions into reconstruction efforts, but the bigger question is whether Japan should pursue nuclear energy - especially given its continued struggle to decommission the Fukushima reactors still inundated by contaminated water.
Ahead of Wednesday's events, the Japanese prime minister reiterated that Japan was better prepared now and would continue to rely on atomic power. The comments were delivered during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has urged Japan to follow Germany's lead in phasing out nuclear reactors over the next decade.
The German chancellor's message found resonance with Japanese Nobel-winning author and anti-nuclear activist Kenzaburo Oe, who called on Abe to rethink his government's position ahead of the fourth anniversary.
"Japanese politicians are not trying to change the situation, but only keeping the status quo - even after this massive nuclear accident, and even if we all know that yet another accident would simply wipe out Japan's future," Oe said on Tuesday.
kms/gsw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)