On 3 March 2011, a massive earthquake hit northern Japan, triggering a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people and turned towns to matchwood.

The tsunami sparked the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Meltdowns in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant spewed radiation over a wide area of the countryside, contaminating water, food and air. More than 160,000 people were evacuated from nearby towns and some 10% still live in temporary housing across Fukushima prefecture. Most have settled outside their hometowns and have begun new lives.

Japan is mourning the thousands who lost their lives in the disaster. At 2.46 p.m (5.46am GMT), the moment the quake hit, bells rang out in Tokyo and people around the nation bowed their heads in a moment of silence. All of the trains on Tokyo's underground paused for a minute. At cemeteries along the devastated coastline, in front of buildings destroyed by the huge waves, and on beaches, families gathered to offer flowers and incense, bowing their heads and wiping away tears. Flags at central government buildings flew at half-mast.

Tsunami march 3 2011
Naoshi Sato, 81, offers flowers for his son Shoichi, who died in the disaster, in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefectureKyodo/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
A Japanese national flag hangs at half-mast at the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, as a clock shows 14:46, the time of the earthquakeToshufumi Kitamura/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
People observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm near the tsunami-devastated disaster prevention office building in Minamisanriku town, Miyagi prefectureKyodo/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
A woman in Tokyo cries as she observes a moment of silence at 2:46pm (0546 GMT), the time when the earthquake struck off Japan's coast on 3 March 2011Toru Hanai/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
Police officers search for the remains of people who went missing during the tsunami, in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefectureKyodo/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
Yoshie Satake, who lost her daughter to the tsunami, prays at Fukanuma beach in SendaiKen Ishii/Getty Images
Tsunami march 3 2011
Buddhist monks pray for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in front of the former municipal disaster prevention centre in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefectureJiji Press/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
A woman prays for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami at an altar in SendaiToru Yamanaka/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
A woman throws flowers into the sea to remember victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in SendaiToru Yamanaka/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
Buddhist monks chant prayers in SendaiToru Yamanaka/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
A woman looks out at the sea in SendaiToru Yamanaka/AFP
Tsunami march 3 2011
A man prays for victims of the earthquake and tsunami disaster at a park in TokyoToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan tsunami
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bows to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in front of an altar for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami at the national memorial service in TokyoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan tsunami
High school students light candles to pray for victims of the disaster at a park in SendaiToru Yamanaka/AFP

Five years on, the most heavily damaged communities have yet to be rebuilt. About 180,000 people are still displaced, including those reluctant to return to homes in Fukushima. Much of the disaster-hit Tohoku coast remains empty.

2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami: Time-lapse aerial footage shows rebuilding efforts five years on from disasterIBTimes UK
Tsunami march 3 2011
Employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) – the operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – take part in a moment of silence at 2:46pm local time (0546 GMT) in TokyoYuya Shino/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
Decontamination workers observe a moment of silence to mourn victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Namie, Fukushima prefectureKyodo/Reuters
Tsunami march 3 2011
The tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen from the airKyodo/Reuters

Residents of disaster-hit regions have criticised the government for rushing the reconstruction to showcase Fukushima's safety for the Olympics rather than for the residents. The government hopes to reopen all evacuation zones by next March, except for the dangerously contaminated surroundings of the plant.