The following is an address by His Majesty Emperor Akihito on the occasion of a memorial service to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (March 11, 2016).
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Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Together with the people gathered here today, I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who lost their lives in the disaster and their bereaved families.
Five years ago today, eastern Japan was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami, which left more than 20,000 people dead or missing. I can never forget the image I saw on television that day of the black wall-like tsunami rushing over the Sendai Plain at tremendous speed. I remember the sense of despair I felt as I wondered how it was possible to evacuate people in the face of such a tsunami. The image of many fishermen bravely heading out to sea in order to safeguard their vessels is also etched deeply in my mind.
Our deepest gratitude goes out to the members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the fire department, the Japan Coast Guard, and those in central and local governments, as well as private citizens, who devoted themselves to search and rescue operations under harsh conditions without regard for their own safety or pain.
The nuclear power plant accident, which followed the earthquake and tsunami, has forced many people to leave the places they used to live because of radioactive contamination. Efforts are being made to improve the situation, but my heart aches to think of the people who are even now unable to go back to their own homes.
In the midst of this calamity, numerous volunteers engaged in support activities, together with the central government and local governments throughout the country, to help the afflicted people. Also unforgettable is the enormous assistance extended to us by more than 160 countries and regions, many international organizations, and U.S. forces stationed in Japan.
In the five years since then, people have worked together to overcome numerous difficulties and made great efforts toward reconstruction. As a result, progress has been made in various fields, such as the construction of disaster prevention facilities, the development of safe residential areas, and the rebuilding of local industries. However, many people continue to live under difficult conditions to this day, both in the afflicted regions and in the places where they have evacuated to. In particular, I am concerned that there may be many people who are still suffering unknown to us in places that tend to escape our notice, including the elderly as they advance in age year by year.
It is important that everyone's hearts continue to be with the afflicted, so that each and every person in difficulty, without exception, will be able to get back their normal lives as soon as possible.
Japan is blessed with beautiful nature, but at times that nature can reveal a very dangerous aspect. It is my heartfelt hope that the people of Japan make use of the lessons we learned at great cost from this disaster, cultivate in each person an awareness of disaster prevention, and hand down that awareness to future generations, so that we can make our country a safer place.
I would like to assure those people who are continuing to make tireless efforts while living in great inconvenience that our hearts are with them and, together with the people gathered here today, express my hope that days of peace and solace will return as soon as possible to the afflicted regions. In closing, I offer once again my most sincere condolences to all those who lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake.