However, there was no sign of further damage along the coast or to the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, officials said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency lifted a tsunami alert for the region before noon after initially urging residents in the disaster area to stay clear of the coast.
The US Geological Survey estimated the magnitude of the earthquake at 7.0 and said it occurred at a depth of 18km off the northeastern coast of Japan just before 10am local time.
Nobuyuki Midorikawa, an official at Iwaki City, Fukushima, said: “It started as a small sideway tremble, then it grew gradually stronger.
“Having experienced that much devastation in March, this latest earthquake and tsunami alert made me feel we cannot let our guard down against [the] tsunami.”
Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the Fukushima plant, said workers closest to the coast at the power plant were briefly evacuated to higher ground before returning to work.
They said there was no immediate sign of further damage at the nuclear plant where workers have been struggling to keep an improvised cooling system operating to stabilise the reactors and control radiation.
Four months ago, the same area was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that left at least 21,000 dead and missing.
The March 11 disaster cut power to the Fukushima power plant and triggered a radiation crisis.
Up to 80,000 local residents were forced to flee as cooling systems at the plant were taken out and there was a meltdown in three of the plant’s six reactors.