Photo/IllutrationMourners rub the names of their kin engraved on a monument for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, amid rain on March 11, eight years since the disaster. (Minako Yoshimoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Memorial services were held in many parts of Japan on March 11 to remember victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region eight years ago, leaving 18,430 people dead or missing.

In the hard-hit city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, crowds gathered in the morning to offer flowers to victims at a newly built memorial park with a monument bearing the names of 997 victims.

The city, situated on the Pacific coast of the region, was ravaged by the tsunami, leaving more than 1,000 of its residents dead or missing.

The park in the Unosumai district sits at the former site of a community disaster center where at least 160 people died in the tsunami.

In the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, residents unveiled a monument dedicated to tsunami victims at a memorial park where the city-run Ogatsu Hospital stood before the disaster. The tsunami destroyed the three-story facility in the Ogatsu district, killing all the patients.

The monument is shaped like hands in prayer and sits on a base engraved with the names of 228 victims.

Yuichi Matsumoto, 68, who lost his 88-year-old mother, Ritsuko, in the disaster, was visiting the monument to offer prayers.

"Even though years have passed since the disaster, I vividly remember the scene of Ishinomaki riddled with mountains of debris," he said.

Wiping away tears, he added, "I want to tell my mother that my second son built a house and my grandchild is in kindergarten and doing well."

Searches for the missing continue in the stricken areas, with the whereabouts of 196 people remaining unknown in Fukushima Prefecture.

From 11 a.m., about 60 police offers conducted a search along river banks in the Ukedo district of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. The area around the river was flattened by the tsunami.

With the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant about 7 kilometers north of the district, police could not conduct searches for nearly a month after the nuclear crisis unfolded at the facility owing to high radiation levels.

The officers took rakes to the muddy ground in the hope of finding clues to the whereabouts of those missing.

"The grief of families who lost their relatives will never be healed," said Namie Mayor Kazuhiro Yoshida.

In Tokyo, the central government held a memorial service at the National Theater in Chiyoda Ward, with Prince Fumihito, his wife, Princess Kiko, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, other government officials and bereaved families in attendance.

In his address, Abe said, “We will accelerate rebuilding from the disaster by providing seamless assistance to meet the varying level of needs of victims.”

Fumihito, who will become crown prince in May, noted that about 52,000 people continue to live as evacuees eight years after the disaster.

“It concerns and pains me when I think about people who cannot return to their homes because of high radiation levels, as well as the dwindling number of children and students and the impact on farming and fisheries due to persistent negative rumors,” he said.