The fear on the Japanese prime minister’s face was captured by television cameras as the earthquake struck. Parliament was sitting in Tokyo as it happened.
The chandeliers shook as the rumbling continued, causing damage in the city and far worse closer to the epicentre hundreds of kilometres to the north.
Several aftershocks have been felt and seismologists expect several more.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the quake had caused major destruction across wide areas.
“We’ve set up a task force to deal with the disaster and look to ensure the safety of everyone and look to reduce the damage to the smallest amount possible,” he said.
Japan’s prime minister already has enough political problems. Earlier he said he would not step down after it emerged that he had received political donations from a Korean national living in Japan.