Officials say an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 struck off the northern Japanese coast, injuring nearly 100 people.
The quake also triggered landslides and caused a blackout at more than 8,000 homes.
The Meteorological Agency says there was no danger of a tsunami, or seismic waves, from the 12:26 a.m. Thursday (11:26 a.m. Wednesday EDT) quake, which occurred at a depth of about 65 miles near the coast of Iwate, 280 miles northeast of Tokyo.
Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.
"We must grasp the extent of damage as quickly as possible so that we can immediately take necessary steps," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.
No abnormalities had been detected at the nearest nuclear power plant in the area, which continued controlled operations, according to local media reports.
Tomio Kudo, a grocery shop owner in the town of Hirono, where the shaking was most violently felt, was interviewed by public broadcaster NHK.
"Everything has fallen off the shelves, scattered all over the floor," he said. "Even a big refrigerator has moved about 30 centimeters (1 foot)."
National broadcaster NHK said some parts of highways had been closed to traffic and some rail lines were stopped after the quake in the region, which is mountainous and sparsely populated, Reuters reported.
Last month, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck sparsely populated rural areas in northern Japan, killing at least 12 people, leaving 10 others missing and injuring more than 300.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.