Tens of thousands of rescue workers are searching for survivors of powerful Typhoon Hagibis, two days after the storm hit Japan, killing at least 56 people.

Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, but brought hours of heavy rains even before it arrived, causing landslides and filling rivers until they burst their banks.

The destruction forced the organisers of the Rugby World Cup, which is being hosted by Japan, to cancel several games.

More than 110,000 rescuers, including 31,000 troops, worked through the night and into today, a national holiday, searching for people trapped by the disaster.

The death toll from the disaster has risen steadily, with national broadcaster NHK saying today that 56 people had been killed and 15 were still missing.

It cited its own tally based on local reporting. The government has given lower numbers but is still updating its information.

"Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting.

"Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Mr Abe said.

While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216km/h, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage, with 21 rivers bursting their banks.

In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.

Military and fire department helicopters winched survivors from roofs and balconies in several locations, but in Fukushima one operation went tragically awry when a woman died after falling while being rescued.

Elsewhere, rescuers used boats during an hours-long operation to retrieve hundreds of people trapped in a retirement home in Kawagoe, northwest of Tokyo, when floodwaters inundated the building.

One elderly woman wearing an orange life vest was carried from a boat on the back of a rescuer. Others were hoisted into wheelchairs and pushed along a muddy shore after arriving by boat.

Rescue efforts were continuing this morning, with local television showing soldiers rowing a rubber rescue dingy through floodwaters in Fukushima, while elsewhere workers removed dirt with a digger.

Elderly people are evacuated from a flooded nursing home in central Japan
An aerial picture shows floods in Koriyama, Fukushima

The death toll mounted throughout the day yesterday as bodies were recovered from flooded homes and cars, buildings caught in landslides, and swollen rivers.

The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least five Chinese crew members aboard a boat that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night.

"Twelve crew were on board. Five Chinese have been found dead," a coastguard official told AFP.

He said four other crew, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, had been rescued and search operations resumed at daybreak for the remaining three members.

"We plan to dispatch 11 boats, two helicopters and a dozen divers to the site. We are trying our best," he added.

This morning, some 57,500 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.

The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.

"Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagoya told national broadcaster NHK.

"I feel lucky I'm still alive."

The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By this morning, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.

The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.