Tears were shed, prayers offered and vows were made to pass on lessons learned as Japan marked 10 years since a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeastern coast, with services to mourn the more than 15,000 lives lost held Thursday in the hardest-hit areas and Tokyo.

Residents in the severely affected prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., exactly a decade after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the Tohoku region, triggering a tsunami and the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The annual state-sponsored memorial ceremony in Tokyo, meanwhile, took place for the final time, in line with a Cabinet decision made last year. The government has yet to decide how it will mark next year’s anniversary, although opposition parties are calling for March 11 to be designated as a day for disaster prevention or reconstruction.

Japan earthquake pictures, video. Disaster in the Pacific 3/11/2011 | ABC NEWS
Japan earthquake pictures, video. Disaster in the Pacific 3/11/2011 | ABC NEWS

With the passing of the 10th anniversary, thoughts are turning to how to keep the memory of 3/11 alive moving forward. Grassroots movements promoting disaster awareness are facing funding gaps as governments tighten purse strings, and some groups are now looking to crowdfunding to cover expenses.

Children of elementary school age have little or no memory of the disaster, so schools are trying to foster understanding of the events of 3/11 and its aftermath through trips to the affected areas and student exchanges.

But for those who volunteered to clean up after the quake — including many expats — forgetting is not an option, writes Jordan Allen. “I still have dreams about it,” one volunteer explains, tearing up as he remembers how local kids offered him gifts at the end of each workday. “They’re trying to be positive, and they’ve lost their houses and they’re living in a gym. We were doing a miniscule amount of work — and it was too much, them thanking us.”