- (Photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai)
It has been exactly one year since Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami that killed 16,000 and left 3,300 still unaccounted for. The country took a moment of silence to remember all those affected by the natural disasters.
"I'm unable to wipe away the sense of regret having lost my mother and wife because we underestimated the tsunami," Kosei Chiba told MSNBC. "We can't just stay sad. Our mission is to face reality and move forward step by step. But the damage the town suffered was too big and our psychological scars are too deep. We need a long time to rebuild," he said.
The earthquake, which registered at a 9.0 on the Richter scale of one to 10, set off powerful reactions across the country. A tsunami followed, which devastated the country and hit a nuclear plant, causing lasting damage to residents. Nuclear reactors released potent chemicals and unleashed criticism and panic on a scale larger than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
Reports state that areas around the Fukushima plant were only opened to mourners for a few hours, citing dangerous chemicals and air quality for humans. The damage from the Fukushima plant has also caused a deep economic depression.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrote an article addressing the issues still needing to be dealt with.
"In recent history, Japan seized rapid economic expansion from the ashes and desolation of World War II, and we built the most energy-efficient economy in the world in the aftermath of the oil shock. On the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we remember that today we face a challenge of similar proportions," he wrote for The Washington Post.
Problems at the Fukushima Plant led to protests of nuclear energy that coincided with the nation's moment of silence today.
"We are angry at Tepco and came here to show our anger," Tomoe Suzuki told Reuters at the protest. "The earthquake was something that was unavoidable because it was a natural disaster, but you can't stay quiet about Fukushima because it's a man-made disaster."
Japanese Emperor Akihito attended a memorial at Tokyo's National Theater. "I hope all the people will keep the victims in their hearts and work so that the situation in the disaster-hit areas improves," he told the crowd.
"Our forebears who built this country's prosperity have emerged from each crisis even stronger. We will fulfill our historic mission of realizing the rebirth of this nation," added Prime Minister Noda.