MARCH 17: The magnitude 7.3 tremor struck the same region where a major earthquake triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster 11 years ago.
Two people died and at least 90 were injured, officials say.
In some areas it was too forceful for people to stand, and buildings rattled in the capital Tokyo, AFP news agency reports.
The quake took place at 23:36 (14:36 GMT), at a depth of 57 kilometres (35.4 miles), Japanese authorities said.
Aftershocks were said to be possible in Fukushima, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures.
Immediately after the event, Japan’s meteorological agency issued an advisory for tsunami waves of one metre (3.3ft) for parts of the north-east coast, but Japanese broadcaster NHK is now reporting that it has been withdrawn.
Local electricity providers said about 700,000 homes in Tokyo and 156,000 in Japan’s north-east had been left without power immediately after the shock, but supplies have since been restored to many households.
A number of people across north-eastern Japan were hurt by falling objects or in falls, and in the city of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, local media reported that one man in his sixties had died. The second death was reported in Miyagi Prefecture.
A bullet train north of Fukushima city was also derailed by the quake, according to its operator. There were no immediate reports of injuries from that incident.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the government was still trying to assess the extent of any damage, and authorities said emergency services had been inundated with calls.
In Ishinomaki, a city official told AFP he had been woken up by “extremely violent shaking”.
“I heard the ground rumbling. Rather than feeling scared, I immediately remembered the Great East Japan earthquake,” he said, referring to the 2011 disaster.
Thursday’s earthquake happened almost 60km off the coast of Fukushima, not far from the epicentre of the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history, which killed 18,000 people when it struck eleven years ago.
The 2011 earthquake triggered a tsunami and destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant, sparking a major disaster after radiation leaked from the plant.
Nuclear authorities said that no abnormalities had been detected after Wednesday night’s earthquake at the damaged Fukushima site.