Japan is marking the second anniversary of the devastating tsunami and earthquake that claimed 19,000 lives and caused the worst nuclear accident in decades.
A national ceremony organised by the government began in Tokyo on Monday to commemorate victims of the disaster.
Mourners across the country observed a moment of silence at 2:46pm, the exact time the tsunami struck, for those killed.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country’s northeastern Pacific coast on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami that destroyed thousands of homes and hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns and explosions in what has become the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.
The anniversary has highlighted the country’s continuing struggle to clean up the radition that was unleashed, rebuild communities, and determine new energy and economic strategies.
More than 300,000 people remain displaced and virtually no rebuilding has begun along the battered northeastern coast.
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from Otsuchi, one of the cities hit hardest by the tsunami, said that the government failed to deliver on its promises of a quick recovery.
“Most towns hit by the tsunami have seen very little progress in terms of rebuilding”, he said.
“There has also been a great deal of social despair. According to government statistics, some 2,300 people died over the last two years due to stress directly related to the disaster.”
In the devastated fishing port of Kesennuma, a thin blanket of snow covered the ground where houses and fisheries once stood.
Survivors live in temporary housing farther inland on higher ground, while others have decided to move away altogether.
Farther south, in Fukushima prefecture, some 160,000 evacuees are uncertain if they will ever be able to return to abandoned homes around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Two years ago, three reactors melted down and spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water after the tsunami knocked out the plant’s vital cooling system.
A group of 800 people filed a lawsuit on Monday in Fukushima against the government and Tokyo Electric Power, the utility that operates the plant.
It demands a compensation of $625 a month for each victim until all radiation from the accident is wiped out, a process that could take decades.
A change of government late last year has raised hopes that authorities might move quicker with the cleanup and reconstruction.
Since taking office in late December, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a point of frequently visiting the disaster zone, promising faster action, and announcing plans to raise the long-term reconstruction budget to $262bn from about $200bn.
On Monday, Abe renewed his pledged to speed up recovery efforts.
In a video message posted on the internet, he said: “I would like to convey my sincerest condolences once again to those who lost their dearest relatives.”