13 years ago this month, I was in Japan with a group of Germans. We visited Kobe, which had been leveled by a giant earthquake less than three years earlier. As we stood above the city at a lookout point, the German Consul said that everything we were looking at had been flattened. It was hard to believe that the Japanese had taken less than three years to put a whole city back together.
Roughly 7 years later, I thought of Kobe again when I visited my hometown of New Orleans four months after Katrina. I also went back four years later in November 2009. Too bad the Japanese are not in charge of rebuilding New Orleans.
Only a few weeks ago, there was a report of a sizable earthquake in Japan that had apparently caused no deaths and little damage. I wasn't surprised. Of all the countries I visited, I don't think any impressed me more than Japan. In the 1990s, they had toilet tanks with sinks on top (something like this) – while the tank was filling up, you could rinse your hands using the same water. Taxi drivers had buttons to open the back doors for you. Someone in our party left a briefcase in the train, and the thing was returned to us in a different part of the country several days later. While visiting a famous site, we found an expensive wristwatch sitting atop a railing. Apparently, it had been lost, and the finder put it there in case the person came back looking.
But a magnitude of 8.9 is too much. To get an idea, keep in mind that the largest earthquake ever recorded is only 9.5. According to this list, the Sendai earthquake that happened today is the seventh largest ever. Good luck, Japan.