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Residents survey the shocking damage below them from the top of a hill in the city of Kesennuma. (March 12, 2011, Miyagi Prefecture) (Photo by Koji Uema) 
Fukushima Anniversary

In pictures: A decade on, Japan cannot forget its 9.0 earthquake

A look back at the destruction that began at 2:46 p.m., March 11, 2011

Nikkei photographers | Japan

TOKYO -- Ten years have passed since a 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and triple meltdown mercilessly slammed Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, leaving northeastern Japan a cleanup job so massive that it continues today, especially around the crippled nuclear plant.

There are towns near the reactors to which former residents are still unable to return. Radioactive material remains piled up, and contaminated water poses a storage problem that the Pacific Ocean might be called on to solve.

There are millions of people in Japan's northeast, a region known as Tohoku, who cannot forget the series of events that began at 2:46 p.m. March 11, 2011. They can still tell you exactly what they were doing that minute, when the day began to turn their homes into rubble and rob many of them of their loved ones.

Almost immediately, Nikkei journalists in Tokyo began making their way north to talk to the survivors and capture images of their bleak new world.

Police, firemen, troops from the Self-Defense Forces, doctors, nurses and volunteers also made their way to Tohoku, showing bravery and a lack of concern for their own safety to help survivors overcome their fear, disbelief and hopelessness.

This photo essay includes a video that shows readers how to use the VR Nikkei app, which has a number of photo exhibits. The second virtual reality museum currently displayed on the app takes users through an exhibit that was held seven times through 2016 at Space Nio in the Nikkei Building in Tokyo's Otemachi district. Now, on the 10th anniversary of the big quake, we are holding the exhibit again, but virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

2011

(Photo by Yasuaki Sako)

The town of Watari remains partially submerged the day after a massive tsunami ripped through the seaside community. (March 12, 2011, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Shinya Sawai)

Utility poles and traffic signals wrecked by the tsunami are strewn across a street in the devastated city of Kesennuma. (March 12, 2011, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Takuya Imai) 

A man and a boy make a temporary trip home to pick up belongings. They had to flee back to their shelter after a tsunami warning sounded. (March 13, 2011, Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Koji Uema) 

People use a flashlight to read a list bearing the names of people who have visited this evacuation center. (March 13, 2011, Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Yusuke Hinata)

Miyoko Mitsuzuka cuddles her baby boy, who was born before dawn on March 12, the day after the earthquake. The midwife and other hospital staff used flashlights during the birth because the quake caused a blackout at the hospital. (March 14, 2011, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture)

 

(Photo by Ken Kobayashi) 

A Self-Defense Forces team strains to pull the roof off a collapsed home, as the desperate search for survivors continues days after the tsunami. (March 14, 2011, Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Yusuke Hinata) 

People help an old man escape after being trapped in a destroyed home. (March 15, 2011, Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Takuya Imai) 

People gather around a fire to keep warm. Many evacuation centers are unable to use heating appliances due to blackouts and fuel shortages. (March 15, 2011, Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Yusuke Hinata) 

A man is carried away in a wheelbarrow after being trapped under rubble at home for several days after the quake. (March 17, 2011, Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

Late in the evening, firefighters survey the vast field of destruction before them as they finally call an end to the day's search operations. (March 17, 2011, Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture)

 

(Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

At 2:46 p.m., precisely one week after the earthquake struck eastern Japan, members of the Ground Self-Defense Forces briefly pause their search and rescue efforts in Kamaishi, one of the hardest-hit areas, to observe a moment of silence. (March 18, 2011, Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Masayuki Terazawa)

By March 18, approximately 1,200 people had sought shelter in this gymnasium in Rikuzentakata. The gym at Daiichi Junior High School is the largest temporary shelter in the city. (March 18, 2011, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Kazumi Saito)

An ambulance lies crushed under a mountain of debris. (March 19, 2011, Miyako, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Kurahiro Seguchi)

A girl has her radiation levels tested at an evacuation center. People living near the shelter are coming for such checkups out of concern about radiation levels in the city. (March 20, 2011, Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture)

 

 (Photo by Yoshiyuki Tamai)

Nanako Nakamura, 75, gives thanks that she is alive. She broke her left leg in the tsunami, but was rescued by her husband. (March 20, 2011, Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Kurahiro Seguchi)

Mourners bid farewell to the dead at a temporary burial site. Most bodies are covered with sheets and have not been cremated due to a lack of coffins. (March 22, 2011, Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara) 

A vehicle lays barely visible beneath the surface of the Okawa River in the devastated city of Kesennuma. (March 22, 2011, Miyagi Prefecture)

 

(Photo by Yumi Kotani) 

A sightseeing boat lodged on the roof of an inn. (March 27, 2011, Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture)

2012

(Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara) 

The scars left by the tsunami still show along the coast of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. People who want to see the first sunrise of the year stand in line along the collapsed embankment. (January 1, 2012)

(Photo by Konosuke Urata) 

Towering above, an enormous quantity of untouched rubble, as high as the tsunami that hit the town on that day. (April 8, 2012. Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Masayuki Terazawa)

The cherry trees around Yonomori Park are in full bloom in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, an off-limits area following the nuclear power plant accident. Encouraging the townspeople, Mr. Endo, the mayor of the town, says "Those cherry trees will surely be waiting for us." (April 19, 2012)

(Photo by Yumi Kotani)

74 persons were killed or went missing at Shizugawa Public Hospital, which is going to be demolished. With his son, a man looks down at the town from the roof. He lost his wife, the boy's mother, who was working in the hospital as a nurse. (May 19, 2012. Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture)

 

(Photo by Akiyoshi Inoue)

Kadonowaki Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, has retained its appearance, damaged by the tsunami and a fire. In the schoolyard, boys play baseball in the summer heat. (August 9, 2012)

2013

(Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara) 

Bereaved families and others who attended a ceremony for townspeople taken by the tsunami. After the ceremony, they cross a main street devoid of cars. The town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, remains a hazard area because of high radiation levels. (March 2, 2013)

(Photo by Ken Kobayashi) 

Morning on the second anniversary of the disaster. A bouquet of flowers placed on the beach is lapped by gentle waves. (March 11, 2013. Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai)

2014

(Photo by Kosaku Mimura) 

In front of temporary housing, performers do the Omagari Hama Shishimai lion dance, a more than 300-year-old tradition, in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture. Braving a dusting of snow, residents pray for good health. (January 2, 2014)

(Photo by Nozomu Ogawa)

Yuichi Harada is the third-generation owner of a clock shop that has been in business for nearly 90 years in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. The clocks that stopped were still displayed on the wall in the shop which he had been kept from cleaning since the disaster. (January 15, 2014. Namie town, Fukushima Prefecture)

(Photo by Shinya Sawai) 

The South Rias Line of Sanriku Railway, which has resumed service on all lines. On the platform at Sakari Station, visitors wave flags to send off the commemorative train. (April 5, 2014. Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture)

2015

(Photo by Akira Kodaka)

The Takagimachi to Rikuzen'ono section of the JR Senseki Line, where there had been no option but a suspension of service, was finally restored and the service on the whole line was resumed. The new viaduct was constructed along a route safe from the sea. (May 30, 2015. Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture)

(Photo by Yumi Kotani)

"Heavy! Slimy!" This boy has got a high-spirited jumping salmon in a bear-hug. From the autumn of 2011 roe was collected and four years later, the salmon released then have come back to the Tsugaruishi River. (December 20, 2015. Miyako, Iwate Prefecture)

2016

(Photo by Ken Kobayashi) 

Dr. Masaharu Tsubokura, 34, measures a child's internal exposure level with BABY SCAN, a whole-body counter installed in the Minamisoma City General Hospital. A total of 100,000 citizens have been inspected, and excessive radioactive cesium was not detected in 99% of junior high school students and younger, and 97% of adults. (January 19, 2016. Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture)

2017

(Photo by Konosuke Urata) 

The former disaster preparation building in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, where 43 town employees died in the tsunami. Soil used to elevate the town's central area has been piled up higher than a three-story building. (February 25, 2017)

2018

(Photo by Shinya Sawai)

Bags filled with contaminated soil and other material are laid out in a temporary storage area and covered with green sheets. Heavy machinery operated constantly in the area. (March 7, 2018. Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture)

(Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara) 

A fishing boat moves through Ofunato Bay in the early morning with its engine humming. Construction of a sea wall around the coast is underway. (November 15, 2018. Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture)

2019

(Photo by Akira Kodaka)

The central control room of Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's Units 3 and 4, where responding workers were on the front line immediately after the accident. The instruments and operating controls remain as they were at that time. (February 12, 2019. Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture)

(Photo by Yuki Nakao) 

Spectators watch the Pacific Nations Cup match between Japan and Fiji, a prelude to the Rugby World Cup. About 13,000 fans gathered in Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, which was built in an area heavily damaged by the tsunami. (July 27, 2019. Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture)

2020

(Photo by Konosuke Urata)

Construction of public disaster housing is underway in the Oogawara district in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, roughly one year after the evacuation order was lifted in April 2019. Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant can be seen in the background. (February 18, 2020)

(Photo by Kento Awashima) 

About 1,000 tanks of treated water line the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The government is considering releasing the water, which continues to accumulate, into the ocean. (March 3, 2020. Fukushima Prefecture)

(Photo by Konosuke Urata) 

The day after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, a torch was displayed as the "fire of reconstruction" in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. People gather to watch the blazing flame. (March 25, 2020)

(Photo by Yumi Kotani)

As more than 10,000 fireworks are set off at a festival in the tsunami-devastated region of Sanriku, they silhouette the "Miracle Pine." (October 31, 2020. Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture)

(Photo by Nozomu Ogawa)

The home of Kazuo Sato, 79, in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, is located in an area to which it will be difficult to return and is set to host an interim storage facility. It was an agonizing decision to give up the home filled with memories of his son Kenichi, who was 41 when he was lost in the tsunami. (December 16, 2020)

2021

(Photo by Hirofumi Yamamoto)

A classroom at Futabakita Elementary School, where bags and other belongings remain 10 years after the disaster. Evacuation orders were issued because of the nuclear accident, and the children were unable to return. (February 8, 2021. Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture)

This video shows you how to navigate through "Memory: Things You Shouldn't Forget," an exhibition on the VR Nikkei app. Once you've downloaded the app, tap on the second exhibit, then hold your smartphone so it is in landscape mode. You can browse through the exhibit by using the controller at the bottom-left of the screen.

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