Japan marks first anniversary of tsunami tragedy
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Japan marks first anniversary of tsunami tragedy

Life in Japan will pause today as the nation marks a year since a huge earthquake and tsunami killed 19,000 people and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands more. Japan remembers

world Updated: Mar 11, 2012 09:41 IST

Life in Japan will pause on Sunday as the nation marks a year since a huge earthquake and tsunami killed 19,000 people and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands more.

At 2.46 pm (0546 GMT) trains will stop, shoppers will stand still and people throughout the archipelago will fall silent to mark the exact moment nature's fury was visited on Japan, when the 9.0-magnitude quake set off a catastrophic chain of events.

At a national ceremony of remembrance in Tokyo, the prime minister and the emperor will lead silent prayers for those who lost their lives in the country's worst post-war disaster.

Small rural towns along the coast that were turned to matchwood when the tsunami rolled in, smashing whole neighbourhoods and wiping out communities, will hold their own emotional ceremonies.

In Ishinomaki, the families of some of those who died were due to visit graves to leave flowers in memory of lost loved ones.

Keishitsu Ito said the anniversary was an intensely sad day for him.

"My wife was washed away by the tsunami. I will put these flowers on her grave," the 80-year-old said.

"I am sad. I have no one to talk to anymore... or to argue with."

Bright sunshine on Sunday replaced the rain that has soaked the city for days.

A "reconstruction walk" through the city's main streets began at 10:00 am (0100 GMT), with participants marching silently in memory of those who died.

In Fukushima and the nearby city of Koriyama, tens of thousands of people were expected to gather in anti-nuclear protests, calling for the end of atomic power in the wake of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Among those protesting will be some of the nuclear refugees forced to flee their homes in the shadow of the plant as it began venting toxic radiation over homes and farmland.

The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) announced in December "a state of cold shutdown" for three runaway reactors that went into meltdown when their cooling systems were swamped by the tsunami.

But with radiation having leaked from the crippled plant for months, many parts of a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around it are likely to remain uninhabitable for years -- perhaps decades -- to come, scientists warn.

At TEPCO's Tokyo headquarters near the Imperial Palace, a small group of protesters unfurled banners Sunday morning demanding the shuttering of all nuclear plants in Japan.

Radiation fears across Fukushima and beyond were expected to swell the number of those taking part in the protests.

Setsuko Kuroda, an organiser of a two-day anti-nuclear protest in Koriyama said 20,000 people were expected.

"We demand all children are evacuated from Fukushima now," she told AFP.

"Some experts say one third of children in Fukushima were affected by radiation.

"Leaving the situation like this is like they are committing a murder everyday."

From early morning, Japanese television stations began showing special programmes to mark the first anniversary of the March disasters.

TV Asahi was due to begin 12 hours of special programming from noon, including live coverage of the national ceremony, along with news shows and features on the disaster.

The anniversary comes after it was revealed cabinet ministers had been warned of the possibility of meltdowns at Fukushima in the hours after the waves struck, but did not acknowledge this in public for two months.

First Published: Mar 11, 2012 09:05 IST