Japan on Friday observed a moment of silence at 2.46pm (0546 GMT), exactly one week after a massive earthquake struck the country, unleashing a devastating tsunami on the northeast coast.

Elderly survivors at an emergency shelter in the town of Yamada in ravaged Iwate prefecture stood and bowed their heads, according to public broadcaster NHK. Many of them wore face masks and overcoats. Some wiped away tears.

The 9.0-magnitude quake - the strongest ever recorded in Japan - triggered a wall of water that smashed into the coast, destroying houses and sending mountains of debris inland.

The official number of dead and missing has topped 16 600. - AFP