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TOKYO, Japan — People across Japan fell silent on Monday as the country marked two years to the day since its northeast coast was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, setting off a tsunami that killed almost 16,000 and left more than 2,600 others missing.

At 2:46 p.m., the time the quake struck, survivors bowed and remembered relatives and friends who perished in locations that will forever be synonymous with the destructive force of the ocean: Kesennuma, Otsuchi, Ishinomaki and Fukushima, where the waves sparked a nuclear meltdown and rendered entire communities uninhabitable.

In Tokyo, emperor Akihito, who made a rare appearance at the height of the crisis to encourage a traumatized nation, returned to his theme of hope in a short address to 1,200 people packed into the capital’s National Theater.

With the empress, Michiko, by his side, he said: “We feel, with renewed resolve, that it is important for all of us to continue to watch over people and to share in their grief.

"I pray that the peaceful lives of those affected can resume as soon as possible.”

Japan tsunami: 2 years later

PHOTOS: Japan honors victims of 2011 tsunami

Photos by AFP/Getty Images