Tens of thousands of cheering Japanese gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Monday to hear Emperor Akihito pray for a swift recovery from the March 11 disaster in his traditional New Year address.
"I felt pain last year as the East Japan Great Earthquake occurred," Akihito told the crowd, speaking in winter sunshine from a balcony protected by bulletproof glass.
"I'm worried that sufferers are in severe situations, but I hope recovery of the devastated areas will make progress this year," the emperor said.
More than 42,000 people, mostly elderly Japanese, were at the palace for the event, where imperial family members including Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako waved to the cheering crowds.
The 9.0-magnitude quake and monster tsunami ravaged the country's northeast, killing nearly 20,000 people, and crippling a nuclear power plant which has since been leaking radiation into the environment.
The emperor and Empress Michiko have made several visits to the disaster zone since late March, comforting victims at evacuation centres, as they did after past disasters including the 1995 Kobe earthquake.