People across Japan prayed and stood in silence to remember the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the nation one year ago – a twin disaster that killed more than 19,000 people and unleased the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.
Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stood in silence with hundreds of other people dressed in black at a ceremony in Tokyo's National Theater.
Noda said the Japanese people have overcome disasters many times in the past and pledged to rebuild the area around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.
Along the Fukushima coastline, hundreds gathered in Iwaki city to observe their own moment of silence for lost friends and relatives.
One of the participants, Katsuko Ishii, said she still is unable to return to her home in Namie town in the devastated area.
"My home is in Namie town, and so we can't go home. There's not really any words for it," she said. "To be honest, we haven't really had any good signs."
Elsewhere along the coast, in the port of Ofunato, hundreds of black-clad residents gathered at the town hall to lay white chrysanthemums in memory of the town's 420 dead and missing.
Ofunato resident Katsuko Nori said he lost a good friend in the tragedy.
"It's been a really difficult year," Nori said. "I came today here to bow and pray for it to become just a little bit easier for us all."
Some 326,000 people who were forced to flee their homes across the earthquake and tsunami hit region still remain in temporary housing or live with relatives today, including 80,000 from the area around the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The 20-kilometer area around the nuclear plant remains off limits for habitation.
With AP and Reuters reports