The quake struck 382km northeast of Tokyo at 2.46pm local time (4.46pm AEDST), and was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks, including one of 7.4-magnitude about 30 minutes later.
The US Geological Survey rated the strength of the first quake as a magnitude 8.9, while Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 8.4.
Officials have warned of more tsunamis to come.
A massive surge of water has caused swathes of devastation across Japan, after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off shore, prompting a four-metre tsunami.
Footage from a helicopter on public broadcaster NHK Japan showed water washing away farms and homes in Miyagi prefecture.
Cars could be seen trying to drive away from the rapidly moving water.
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