TOKYO — Amid growing dissatisfaction with the slow pace of recovery, Japan marked the second anniversary Monday of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing and has displaced more than 300,000.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the government intends to make "visible" reconstruction progress and accelerate resettlement of those left homeless by streamlining legal and administrative procedures many blame for delays.
Emperor Akihito, speaking at a somber memorial service at Tokyo's National Theater, said, "I pray that the peaceful lives of those affected can resume as soon as possible."
At observances in Tokyo and in still barren towns along the northeastern coast, those gathered bowed their heads in a moment of silence marking the moment, at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the strongest recorded in Japan's history — struck off the coast.
Japan has struggled to rebuild communities and to clean up radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, where reactors melted down after its cooling systems were disabled by the tsunami. The government has yet to devise a new energy strategy — a central issue for its struggling economy with all but two of the country's nuclear reactors offline.
About half of those displaced are evacuees from areas near the nuclear plant. Hundreds of them filed a lawsuit Monday demanding compensation from the government and the now-defunct plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., for their suffering and losses.
Throughout the disaster zone, the tens of thousands of survivors living in temporary housing are impatient to get resettled, a process that could take up to a decade, officials say.
"What I really want is to once again have a 'my home,' " said Migaku Suzuki, a 69-year-old farm worker in Rikuzentakata, who lost the house he had just finished building in the disaster. Suzuki also lost a son in the tsunami, which obliterated much of the city.