Japan remembers tsunami dead
Tokyo, March 11, 2012
With a minute of silence, prayers and anti-nuclear rallies, Japan marks on Sunday the first anniversary of an earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and set off a radiation crisis that shattered public trust in atomic power and the nation's leaders.
A year after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake unleashed a wall of water that hit Japan's northeast coast, killing nearly 16,000 and leaving nearly 3,300 unaccounted for, the country is still grappling with the human, economic and political costs.
Along the coast, police and coastguard officers, urged on by families of the missing, still search rivers and shores for remains even though the chances of finding any would appear very slim.
In the port of Ofunato, hundreds of black-clad residents gathered at the town hall to lay white chrysanthemums at an altar dedicated to the town's 420 dead and missing.
"I'm unable to wipe away the sense of regret of having lost my mother and wife because we underestimated the tsunami," said Kosei Chiba, 46, who owns a petrol station. "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."
Like the rest of the country, Ofunato will observe a moment of silence at 2:46 pm (0546 GMT) when the quake struck and then again, 33 minutes later when a 23-metre (75-foot) tsunami ripped through the town.
The Japanese people earned the world's admiration for their composure, discipline and resilience in the face of the disaster while its companies impressed with the speed with which they bounced back, mending torn supply chains.
As a result, the economy looks set to return to pre-disaster levels in coming months with the help of about $230 billlion earmarked for a decade-long rebuilding effort agreed in rare cooperation between the government and the opposition.
"In recent history, Japan seized rapid economic expansion from the ashes and desolation of World War Two, and we built the most energy-efficient economy in the world in the aftermath of the oil shock," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in an article published in the Washington Post.
"On the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we remember that today we face a challenge of similar proportions."
Yet people are increasingly sceptical about whether the political establishment is up to the task. Politicians and bureaucrats drew fire for the chaotic response to the crisis at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant and their failure to seize the moment and tackle a myriad of ills that have dogged Japan for two decades.
After a brief truce, politicians resumed business as usual: parliamentary squabbles that gave Japan its sixth leader in five years and now threaten to block important tax and welfare reforms and stall progress in dealing with other business. "There is no leadership," said Hiroaki Oikawa, 56, another Ofunato resident who lost his two fish factories and his home. - Reuters