A year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan, a crowd gathered in Toronto for a memorial to show support for the country as it struggles to recover from the tragedy.

Many wiped their eyes while watching scenes of the destruction projected on a massive screen during the two-hour ceremony at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

All bowed their heads in silence at precisely 2:46 p.m. — the time the quake hit on March 11, 2011.

The anniversary brought mixed emotions for Mark Hirowatari, who remembers feeling his Tokyo office tower sway and fearing it was a terrorist attack.

Now living in Toronto, Hirowatari said the date is a reminder that Japan and its people will need help for many years to come.

"Obviously closure's not the thing because there's still so much more work that needs to be done," he said.

"It's not just now and it's not just done with. This is going to take decades to recover," he said.

Eiji Yamamoto, Japan's consul general, praised the outpouring of assistance that followed the disaster.

"We are very grateful to you for your sympathy and gracious support," he told the crowd.

"We will never forget the friendship you have presented in our time of need."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper lauded the country's "amazing resilience" in dealing with the desolation that still reigns in much of the disaster-hit areas.

"Our country continues to be inspired by how the people of Japan — with calm, ingenuity and practicality — are translating iron resolve into reconstruction and recovery," he said in a statement.

More than 19,000 people died

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake set off a massive tsunami that ravaged the island country's northeastern coast.

More than 19,000 people were killed in the disaster and many went missing.

The tremors triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant in Okuma, unleashing the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Efforts to rebuild battered coastal communities and clean up contaminated land have been sluggish, and about 325,000 people remain in temporary housing.

People across Japan marked the anniversary on Sunday with a moment of silence.