"It was a huge tremble, like nothing I had experienced before," Tadao Negami, a 69-year-old resident of Mishima city in Shizuoka prefecture told the AFP news agency.

"I couldn't stay seated on a chair. My daughter and my grandchildren were scared and surprised and they rushed downstairs."

"It was a huge tremble, like nothing I had experienced before"

Tadao Negami,
resident of Mishima city

The quake hit in the Pacific ocean, about 170km southwest of Tokyo, at a depth of 27km, according to the US Geological Survey.

Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning, but that was later lifted.

The Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka immediately shut down two reactors after the quake, operator Chubu Electric Power Co. said.

But a company official said no abnormal events were registered at the plant.

Government officials set up an emergency centre shortly after the quake, which was followed by 13 noticeable aftershocks.

Japan straddles the seismically active "ring of fire" around the Pacific ocean and around 20 per cent of the world's most powerful earthquakes strike the country.

In 1923, a magnitude 8.3 quake hit the Tokyo region, killing more than 140,000 people, many of them in fires that swept across the city.

Many seismologists believe the Japanese capital is overdue for a similarly powerful quake and disaster management drills are regularly carried out.