FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Candlelight ceremonies were held across Japan Sunday night, wrapping up a day of commemoration as the nation marked the first anniversary of its devastating earthquake and tsunami.

More than 300 people gathered for "Candle Night" in front of local government offices in Fukushima city hours after around 16,000 people held an anti-nuclear rally in Koriyama, central Fukushima.

Organisers laid out candles in the form of a Chinese character of "kizuna", which means bonds between people, while musicians, including popstar Mayo Okamoto, performed.

"I came here to make a wish; this tragedy will never happen again and I can go home as soon as possible," said Chieko Daito, 35, who was evacuated from Iitate after high levels of radiation were found there.

In Ishinomaki, one of the coastal cities hit hard by the monster tsunami, some 2,000 candles were lit on the ground, while white balloons shaped as doves were released into the dark sky.

In Morioka, Iwate, city officials and private groups jointly held a candlelight event calling on citizens to light more than 19,000 candles, one for every person listed as dead or missing in the catastrophe.

Exactly a year ago, a magnitude 9.0 quake sent a tsunami barreling into Japan's northeastern coast, swamping cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 220 kilometres (140 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

Three reactors went into meltdown, spewing radiation into the environment and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate a 20-kilometre no-go zone immediately around the facility.