Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Emperor Akihito attended a national memorial service Sunday in Tokyo to mark the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, remembering the people who perished and consoling the survivors of Japan’s worst calamity since World War II.
About 1,200 people attended the service at the National Theater in Chiyoda Ward and observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., the time when the earthquake off Tohoku spawned the tsunami that wrecked the Pacific coast on March 11, 2011.
Among those at the solemn memorial were about 35 people from the disaster zone representing the families of the bereaved, the speakers of the Lower and Upper houses, Cabinet ministers, lawmakers and ambassadors.
The Emperor, who underwent heart bypass surgery last month, was reportedly keen on attending Sunday’s service. It was his first official function since being discharged from the hospital March 4.
“I believe that the road to recovery of the disaster area will be filled with difficulties,” the Emperor, accompanied by Empress Michiko, said at the ceremony. “I hope that all of the people of Japan will sympathize with the disaster victims and that persistent efforts will be made to improve the situation.
“I believe it is important not to forget the memory of this major disaster and we should pass it down to the coming generations, fostering awareness toward disaster prevention and aiming to become a safe country.”
The Emperor expressed deep gratitude to the people as well as to the international community for supporting efforts to rebuild the battered region.
The prime minister vowed to do everything in his power to speed up reconstruction so people will once again feel safe and live comfortably in their hometowns.
“I am filled with a sense of grief when I think about the regret for those who passed away and the deep sadness of families who have lost their loved ones,” Noda said. “We will stand by the disaster victims during these difficult times and work together to fulfill the historic mission of reinvigorating Japan through reconstruction.”
Among the survivors who spoke, Hiromi Kawaguchi of Iwate Prefecture lost his mother, wife and 4-year-old grandson. His family had celebrated his grandson’s birthday just a month before the quake and tsunami.
“They say it was a natural disaster, but when I remember that day, tears well up in my eyes and I think that neither God nor the Buddha exist in this world,” Kawaguchi said. “But we can’t continue just being sad. . . . Although it may take time, I vow to the spirits of the deceased that we will move forward one step at a time toward reconstructing our hometown.”
From Miyagi Prefecture was Eriko Okuda, whose parents and two children, including her son who had just gotten married and was expecting his first child, were killed in the tsunami.
She recalled the anger, sadness and despair she felt after losing almost everyone in her family.
But there was one sign of hope — her daughter-in-law survived and gave birth last July.
“I don’t think the sadness of losing loved ones will ever go away as long as you continue loving them. The bereaved families have no choice but to live with it for the rest of their lives,” Okuda said.
“That is why we need to become stronger. . . . I found the light of hope in despair — my grandchild’s growth has become my hope to live.”