The small kindnesses from Japanese people who had lost everything during last year's earthquake and tsunami will stay with Urban Search and Rescue leader Jim Stuart-Black forever.

Mr Stuart-Black was at a remembrance ceremony at outgoing Japanese Consul General Hachiro Ishida's Auckland residence yesterday to mark the one-year anniversary of the disaster.

Nearly 20,000 were killed when a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Tohoku in eastern Japan, causing a 40-metre tsunami to wreak havoc along 550km of coastline. The crisis immediately deepened with the failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

New Zealand's contribution to relief efforts included a team led by Mr Stuart-Black. He flew to Minami-Sanriku, to work for nine days after the Christchurch earthquake.


What he found was people who wanted to make sure his team lacked for nothing even as they struggled.

"The entire eastern seaboard of the country was devastated, here's a country and a community that's got nothing.

"If you were talking to them just because you wanted to find out facts, you know 'when did you last see, where were you located' ... they'd immediately offer you fuel or whatever. It's hard to quantify that, you just had this real sense of openness.

"For members of the public who lost loved ones, coming up to you and saying 'what is the situation, what do you need? Can we give you something, do you need interpreters, do you need food?' It's humbling stuff. Amongst all that damage and devastation the thing that really stands out for us was the heart and the conviction of the Japanese people."

Mr Stuart-Black said the two countries had trained previously together but neither group could have imagined the scenario where first a Japanese team travelled to Christchurch where a number of their nationals, mostly language students, lost their lives, before a return New Zealand team headed north.

Mr Ishida expressed his appreciation for New Zealand's contribution and said his country, which had a budget of 18 trillion yen ($265 billion) for its rebuild was recovering.

"Whatever difficulties lie ahead, we know that Japanese are a people who will rise again from the disaster. We do not plan to just restore what was lost, but to build towns and cities resilient to future natural disasters and to revitalise Japan."

He announced his pending departure from his post and said he'd be taking memories to treasure for the rest of his life.

Auckland mayor Len Brown, National and Labour MPs Simon O'Connor, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Jian Yang, Su'a William Sio and Louisa Wall also attended.