As monster waves approached the coastal town of Obama in Iwaki city on March 11 five years ago, Ms Kiyoi Shida fled to the second floor of her house.
She clung onto a pillar as the water gushed in, washing away all her belongings.
There was nothing to keep her warm from the snow, and when she finally stepped out of her house to head to the evacuation shelter, the town as she knew it was gone, the 80-year-old told The Straits Times on Friday (March 11).
She was the last to reach the shelter, where she was reunited with her son, she said.
On Friday (March 11), Ms Shida joined about 50 others at a memorial event on the Obama coast held by non-profit group Nakoso to mark the fifth anniversary of a massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster in Fukushima prefecture.
They were among millions across bustling and rural Japan who came to a stop at 2.46pm local time on Friday (1.46pm Singapore time) - the exact moment five years ago when the magnitude 9.0 quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, triggering a 10m tsunami that smashed into north-east Japan coast.
It crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant, causing meltdowns in three of the reactors that spewed radiation over a wide area. A 30km evacuation zone covering nearby towns had to be declared.
Some 18,500 people died or are missing in the disaster, with another 174,000 residents displaced.
Another resident who attended the memorial ceremony in Obama town on Friday was Ms Midori Watanabe, 76.
"I am grateful to be able to continue living here, and we are waiting for everyone to return home," she said.
Some 100,000 evacuees have still not returned to their homes in Fukushima, according to Japanese media.
In capital Tokyo, Emperor Akhito, Empress Michiko and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bowed their heads in prayer and laid flowers at a ceremony.
Speaking at a news conference on the eve of the anniversary, Mr Abe said: "There are still many people living difficult lives in temporary housing and those who because of the nuclear accident cannot return to the places they lived."
But in what is seen as a sign that the country hopes to move on but has divided popular opinion, Mr Abe said Japan "cannot do without nuclear power" to meet its energy needs.
The goal of the Abe administration is to have nuclear power make up as much as 22 per cent of Japan's energy needs by 2030.