Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan is approaching the "final stages" of its effort to rebuild areas devastated by a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami in 2011, as the nation marked the eighth anniversary of the biggest disaster in its postwar history — which left more than 20,000 dead or unaccounted for.

A moment of silence was observed nationwide at 2:46 p.m., the fateful minute when the Great East Japan Earthquake jolted many parts of Japan and subsequently triggered a killer tsunami that engulfed large swaths of the Tohoku region, including the three hardest-hit prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.

Eight years on, Abe was confident like never before in the steadfast manner in which reconstruction is taking place. Whereas he previously said reconstruction was proceeding "step by step," this year he ditched the language of a gradual recovery and instead adopted a more definite tone.