On 11 March 2011, an earthquake hit Japan with a magnitude of 9.0 – the biggest in the nation's recorded history and one of the five most powerful recorded ever around the world. Within an hour of the earthquake, towns which lined the shore were flattened by a massive tsunami, caused by the energy released by the earthquake. With waves of up to four or five metres high, they crashed through civilians homes, towns and fields.

At its highest, the tsunami reached over 40 metres in Miyako, Iwate prefecture. A report, released on 10 February 2016 stated that a total of 127,290 buildings collapsed, with a further 272,788 buildings 'half collapsed', and another 747,989 buildings partially damaged. Around 4.4 million households in north-eastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without water. The tsunami was the main cause of the loss of life that resulted from the disaster.

In March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency reported 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people still missing. This does not include the 228,863 people living away from their home in either temporary housing or due to permanent relocation.

Broken objects are still scattered among rubble that is yet to be cleared, particularly in the deserted town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture some four miles from crippled Daiichi power plant. There a total of 160,000 people were ordered to leave their homes around after the government announced the evacuation following the nuclear disaster. Many have not returned since. Those who have, were told to wear protective suits and were only allowed to return to collect valuable belongings before leaving again.

More than 250,000 photographs were found after the tragedy, not including personal belongings, household items and toys– all of which were displayed at collection centres for owners to recover. Volunteers began rinsing the dirt off the photographs, most of which were from family photo albums and of highly precious nature, so they could be easily identified.