The Tohoku region, Northeast Japan, was hit by a gigantic earthquake which occurred in the Pacific close to Tohoku, and subsequently by a giant tsunami. These hazards have caused huge damage on the eastern coast Japan. The earthquake’s magnitude was 9.0, the strongest ever recorded in Japan. The tsunami was also historical as its run-up height reached over 39 m. As of early May, 2011, over 24 thousand people were reported as dead or missing. Moreover, serious accidents at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants No.1 were caused by the effects of the tsunami. Therefore, the damage faced by Japanese people can be seen as a giant composite disaster. Although Japan, and the northeast of Japan in particular, has over a long time period increased its preparedness against earthquakes and tsunamis, huge damage still occurred. This paper considers why this tragedy occurred, and what unrecognized factors contributed to the high vulnerability of the area. To assist in answering such questions, this paper presents a timely report of the features of the earthquake and tsunami, the damage they caused, and the early efforts for recovery and reconstruction.