Japan memorialized the thousands of lives lost when a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the northern Pacific coast 12 years ago. The disaster triggered a nuclear catastrophe, which is still unresolved.
People across the country observed a moment of silence at 2:46 pm, the exact time the magnitude 9 earthquake struck. It generated tsunami waves more than ten meters tall.
In Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, people gathered on the high ground overlooking the coast to remember what they lost that day.
A 73-year-old woman said, "The place where I walked with my grandchild on elementary school sports day, it was all swept away."
Authorities say the toll of those confirmed dead or missing has topped 22 thousand. This includes people who died in the years following the disaster, from health problems or causes related to it.
People also gathered in Futaba, where the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is located. Hangai Nami, a 25-year-old former resident who now lives in Tokyo, said, "My friend's house and my own house are gone, and the places I know have completely changed. I feel like I'm in a different place from the town I knew, probably because of the reconstruction."
Kono Hiroyuki, a 56-year-old former resident who now lives in another city in the prefecture, said, "I think Futaba is still far from recovered. It will take a long time before I can live here again."
The town remained fully cordoned-off until last year. It partly reopened in August, but only a few dozen residents have returned.