People stopped to pray by a screen in the middle of busy Shinjuku.

This year marks eight years since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, when approximately 16,000 people lost their lives and thousands were reported missing after a devastating tsunami struck Japan’s northern Tohoku region.

In 2012, one year after the disaster, our Japanese-language reporter Mr Sato found a way to pay his respects in the middle of downtown Tokyo, not far from our office in Shinjuku. He was passing by Alta, an eight-floor shopping complex just up the street from Shinjuku’s Kabukicho entertainment district, when he discovered that the large screen outside the building was broadcasting images from the official memorial ceremony held in Tokyo that year.

▼ At 2:46 p.m. on 11 March 2012, people in Japan bowed their heads in silent prayer to remember the moment the earthquake hit Tohoku in 2011.

In the years that followed, Mr Sato made sure to visit the Alta screen on the afternoon of 11 March, but unfortunately, instead of a memorial ceremony broadcast, the screen merely stopped its regular broadcast for a minute at 2:46 p.m.

▼ The Alta Vision screen displayed its logo, rather than a broadcast of the memorial ceremony.

While this worked well to provide the silence needed for a minute of silent prayer at the moment of the earthquake, it didn’t have the same reverence as a memorial service, and Mr Sato lamented its absence from Shinjuku every year.

▼ However, when Mr Sato stopped by Alta this year, he was surprised to see this image on the screen.

After an absence of about six years, the Alta Vision screen was once again broadcasting images from the official memorial ceremony, which was being held at Tokyo’s National Theatre with Prime Minister Abe in attendance. Images showed an altar surrounded by white roses to honour the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

These images – unlike previous years, which showed only the Alta Vision logo – caught the attention of people walking by, many of whom stopped for a minute of silent prayer at 2:46 p.m.

As the minute’s silence took place and sombre images played out on the screen, Mr Sato was struck by the dichotomy that was playing out on the streets around him. On the one hand, there was a terrible sadness and a feeling of reverence that flooded through him as he bowed his head in front of the screen, but on the other hand, there were happy jingles singing out from other screens in the vicinity, reminding him of the way that life goes on, even in times of terrible adversity.

It was a strange moment, but also a very Tokyo moment, and one that made Mr Sato walk away with an even deeper appreciation of life and everything that comes with it. When he returned to the office, he seemed a changed man, and after donating to the recovery efforts by running a search for 3.11 on the Yahoo! Japan website, we all got together and took a moment to say a silent prayer for the victims, before taking a train to reflect upon life and reconnect with each other under the tsunami sign at Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing.

Photos © SoraNews24
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