Japanese gathered in Tokyo and along the country's ravaged northeast coast to observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm Friday, exactly five years after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck offshore and triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people. Some teared up as they held hands or bowed their heads in prayer on a chilly afternoon in northern Japan. Japanese Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, all in formalwear, led an annual ceremony in Tokyo attended by officials and survivors. Abe has pledged to bolster reconstruction work ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and to rush decontamination work in irradiated areas near the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant to allow more residents to return home.
Much of the Tohoku coast hit by the disaster remains empty except for mounds of dirt brought in to raise the ground level to minimize risks from future tsunamis before any rebuilding is done. Masaki Kamei, a doctor from Tokyo who has been visiting disaster-hit areas every year, senses life is coming back. "What's different this year compared to last year is fishermen have already gone out fishing by dawn ... and towns are already bustling about going on with their business," he tells the AP. "There is an expression: the hammering sound of reconstruction. That's how I feel, I sense the emphasis has shifted." (Last fall, a ghost town once home to 7,400 people was given the all-clear.)