Best of 2011 in Pictures

January 9, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Clad in nothing more than narrow strips of loincloths, Japanese men of all ages and a few women in thin white robes, brave frigid temperatures during a performance ritual of purification at a Shinto shrine in the heart of downtown Tokyo. The intrepid group of 90 individuals submerged in a pool of near freezing water in their prayers to the gods for good health and safety of their families. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

January 10, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Girls all dressed in kimonos ride a roller coaster at a amusement park during a Japanese holiday known as “Coming of Age Day.”

February 4, 2011 – Takahara Township, Japan – A puff of smoke rises from Shinmoe-dake, a volcano on the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in southwestern Japan. (Photo by AFLO)

March 12, 2011, Iwanuma (Miyagi Prefecture), Japan – University Workers are rescued by boat just a day after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

March 16, 2011 – Tokyo, Japan – A woman hitch hikes on the side of the road following the recent earthquake and tsunami devastations which triggered dangerous nuclear explosions at the quake-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima causing radiation levels to spike in Tokyo. Many people are fleeing Tokyo as the level of radiation is known to affect human health…(Photo by Christopher Jue/AFLO)

March 22, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Shibuya, known as a brightly-lit fun town, now is darkened to save energy to prevent unexpected power outages. (Photo by AFLO)

March 15, 2011, Koriyama, Japan – Medical staff in protective gear check radiation levels on local residents in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture. A nuclear power plant, located along the Pacific coast some 35km southeast of Koriyama, has had a series of trouble in its reactors since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit northeastern Japan on March 11. (Photo by AFLO)

April 29, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – The Dalai Lama offers a prayer for victims on the customary 49th day of those died in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami during a public prayer service at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

May 6, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – An ambiance shot during the JBV Tour 2011 Phiten Beach Volleyball Tokyo Open at Odaiba Beach. (Photo by Jun Tsukida/AFLO SPORT)

June 3, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Japanese Prime Minister looking weary and worn out, attends an upper house budget committee meeting in the Diet in Tokyo, the day after he has survived a no-confidence motion brought against him by opposition parties. (Photo by AFLO)

July 17, 2011, Tokyo, Japan -Homare Sawa (JPN) (center) of Japan celebrates with the trophy after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 Final match between Japan 2(3 PK 1)2 United States at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo by Maurizio Borsari/AFLO)

July 2, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Asuka Teramoto (JPN), performs during the Artistic Gymnastics Japan Cup 2011 Women’s Team All-Around Balance Beam at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Tokyo. (Photo by AZUL/AFLO)

August 6, 2011, Hiroshima, Japan – Colorful paper lanterns are released on to the river running through the City of Hiroshima, offering prayers for those who died during the atomic bombing of the city. The skeletal A-bomb Dome lit up in the background as Japan observed the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing with a moment of silence and the release of doves in a memorial ceremony. The world’s first A-bomb destroyed most of this western industrial city, killing as many as 140,000 people in the summer of 1945. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

September 17, 2011, Yokohama, Japan – Children will also be able to play in an interactive Cup Noodle Park, which follows the noodle-making process from their creation in the kitchen to finding their way into stores during the grand opening of the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum. Visitors can learn about the history of the Cup Noodles product and partake in a session to make their own homemade instant ramen noodles at the museum’s “Chikin Noodle Factory”. The museum’s art director, Kashiwa Sato, is also in charge of graphic design for the massive Japanese clothes retailer Uniqlo. (Photo by Yumeto Yamazaki/AFLO)

October 6, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Japanese pay tribute to Steve Jobs at the demise of the Apple co-founder in front of its store at Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district. Jobs, who invented and masterfully marketed ever-sleeker gadgets that transformed everyday technology, from the personal computer to the iPod and iPhone, has died peacefully surrounded by family according to Apple. He was 56. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

October 20, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – A model walks down the catwalk wearing SOMARTA during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo 2012 Spring/Summer. (Photo by Christopher Jue/AFLO)

November 17, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Against the backdrop of Tokyo Sky Tree, Alistair Richards, right, Chief Operating Officer of the Guinness World Records, and Michiaki Suzuki, President of Tokyo Sky Tree, poses with an official certificate during a recognition ceremony at a downtown Tokyo hotel. Tokyo Sky Tree, a 634-meter terrestrial digital broadcasting tower in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, is now officially recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest free-standing structure. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

November 9, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Robot artworks by CRAFT FACTORY SHOVEL HEAD are displayed during International Robot Exhibition 2011. This show is held to showcase new robots and high technology equipments at the Tokyo International Exhibit Center. (Photo by Yumeto Yamazaki/AFLO)

(File Photo) Hiratsuka, Japan – In the file photo released on November 25, 2011 shows Shoji Tanaka, 66, Chief Executive Officer of Cosmo Power Co., Ltd., standing between two Noah’s Ark safety capsules in his company factory in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, October 20, 2011. Shoji came up with the idea to make Noah’s Ark after watching the torrential rain that hit Kyushu approximately 4 years ago. His primary vision for the company is to make products that can save as many people in the future from large natural disasters. The construction process to fully complete a single capsule takes one day but the company aims to make 20 per day. There are currently two models of the safety capsules that can fit up to 4 people (1,200mm) (priced at 315,000 Japanese Yen) and 6 people (1,500mm) (priced at 471,450 Japanese Yen). There has been a demand of buyers for Noah’s Ark from countries such as the United States, Brazil, China, Thailand, Bangladesh and New Zealand, however, the company is not ready to sell overseas at present. Shoji mentioned that he plans to make a more advanced model of Noah’s Ark in the near future. (Photo by: Christopher Jue/AFLO)

December 4, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – An electric vehicle made by a Japanese housing material maker is shown as more than 110, 000 visitors  attended the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

December 22, 2011, Tokyo, Japan – Singer Lady Gaga walks out from the Louis Vuitton Matsuya Ginza store in Tokyo. Gaga was in Tokyo to perform on a Japanese TV show on December 23, 2011. (Photo by AFLO)