In photos: Japan marks a decade since tsunami, Fukushima nuclear disaster


Japan fell quiet at 2:46 p.m. local time to mark the minute that an earthquake began 10 years ago, before setting off a tsunami and nuclear crisis that devastated the country’s northeast coast.

One survivor said Thursday that he fears people are beginning to forget the disaster. Carrying bouquets of flowers, many walked to the seaside or visited graves to pray for relatives and friends washed away by the water.

Dignitaries and representatives of the survivors spoke at a memorial — but most watched the ceremony online or on television because of restrictions to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The 9.0 magnitude quake that struck on March 11, 2011 — one of the biggest on record — triggered a wall of water that swept far inland, destroying towns and causing meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. About 20,000 are estimated to have lost their lives due to the disaster.

Below, see how people marked the anniversary across Japan, the impact in the days immediately following the disaster and how things have changed since then.

Remembrance and protest

At Thursday’s national memorial service in Tokyo, attendees placed flowers in front of an altar for the victims. Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga were among those observing a moment of silence at the memorial. The government has said this is the last year it will organize a national commemoration for the disaster.

(Behrouz Mehri/Reuters)

In Natori, Miyagi prefecture, people unleashed balloons with attached messages.


In Futaba, Fukushima prefecture, people standing near candles watched as fireworks lit up the sky to mark the anniversary.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

In Hirono, Fukushima prefecture, paper lanterns were released into the night sky to mourn victims.


An anti-nuclear rally was also held in Tokyo in front of the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

(Issei Kato/Reuters)

Then and now

The days following the quake were terrifying for many in Japan and farther afield, as explosions released radiation into the air and technicians worked furiously to try to cool the power plant’s nuclear fuel by pumping in seawater.

This combination photo shows, on top, the tsunami-stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture on March 17, 2011, six days after the earthquake and tsunami, and the same view in February this year.


Ten years on, more than 40,000 people are still unable to return home, and areas near the wrecked plant are still off-limits due to contamination from the initial radiation fallout.

Here, a combination photo shows, on top, a road lined with cherry trees on April 19, 2012, in Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture, designated as off-limits due to radiation leaks at the nuclear power plant, and the same road in January this year after entry restrictions were partially lifted.


Roads, train lines, houses and other key infrastructure have mostly been rebuilt in the disaster-hit region at the cost of more than 30 trillion yen ($346 billion Cdn). 

This combination photo shows, on top, wreckage in Onagawa, a tsunami-hit town in Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on March 18, 2011, and a commercial complex built in the same area, pictured in January this year.


No-go zones

But no-go zones remain in parts of Fukushima, where shops and houses were abandoned and cordoned off and massive amounts of radioactive waste from decontamination pile up. 

Here, streets that lead into some residential areas are closed with barricades and are indicated with signs for the exclusion zone in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture, in February this year. The no-go zone sits on its northeastern corner within about 10 kilometres of the wrecked nuclear power plant.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

The inside of an abandoned restaurant is seen in the exclusion zone in Tomioka town.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

A community patrol vehicle moves amid deserted houses in Futaba town, Fukushima prefecture, in February. The houses are in the area that used to be designated as the nuclear disaster exclusion zone, but the part of the zone has been lifted since March 2020.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

A clock at a fire station in Futaba town shows a few minutes after 2:46, the time when the massive earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

Lives changed

More than 18,000 people died in the disaster, mostly in the tsunami, and nearly half a million people were displaced. The government recognizes another 3,700 — mostly from Fukushima prefecture — who died of causes linked to the disaster, such as stress.

Here, a woman who lost her husband and grandchild in the disaster prays in front of the grave in Miyako, Iwate prefecture, on Thursday.


About 10 kilometres south of the wrecked power plant, rice farmer Naoto Matsumura defied a government evacuation order during the disaster 10 years ago and stayed on his farm to protect his land and the cattle abandoned by neighbours. He’s still there, though dozens of neighbouring homes remain empty.

Below, Matsumura speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his home in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture, in February this year.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

Hazuki Sato was 10 when she fled from her elementary school in Futaba amid nuclear fears in the aftermath of the tsunami. Now a Futaba town official, she’s preparing for the coming-of-age ceremony that is typical for Japanese 20-year-olds, hoping for a reunion in town so she can reconnect with her former classmates who have scattered.

Here, she visits a playground she used to play at daily before the disaster in Futaba town in February.

(Hiro Komae/The Associated Press) 2021-03-12 01:57:27


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