NAMIE, Japan - Japan on Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the quake-tsunami disaster which swept away 18,000 victims, destroyed coastal communities, and sparked a nuclear emergency that forced a re-think on atomic power.
Remembrance ceremonies will be held in towns and cities around the disaster zone and in the capital Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are to lead tributes to those who lost their lives in Japan's worst peace-time disaster.
Many local governments will switch on a tsunami alarm siren at 2:46 pm (0546 GMT), marking the exact moment a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake hit.
Its raw force unleashed a towering tsunami that travelled at the speed of a jet plane to the coast. Within minutes, communities were turned to matchwood, and whole families drowned.
Waves also crashed into the Fukushima nuclear plant, sparking reactor meltdowns and explosions, and setting off the worst atomic crisis in a generation.
The crippled plant remains volatile and experts say the complicated decommissioning process will take decades, as fears persist over the long-term health effects of leaked radiation. The accident forced tens of thousands to flee from areas around the shattered site.
Although no one died as a direct result of Fukushima, about 1,650 area residents died from complications related to stress and other problems following the accident.
A total of 15,884 people are confirmed to have died in the tsunami with another 2,633 still listed as missing. Searchers still find human remains.