Aftershock: A New Yorker on the dark side of Japan (eyewitness account of quake, from Tokyo)

[Photo: Citizens of Tokyo evacuate the city on train tracks, after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. REUTERS]

The only thing more disconcerting than the typical calm Japanese people so often exhibit in the face of all manner of outlandish occurrences is actually seeing the normally buttoned-up, retrained populace lose their cool en masse. That is truly scary. And that is what I saw happen Friday afternoon, when Japan experienced what some seismologists are calling the strongest earthquake to hit Japan in a thousand years.

How strong was the earthquake? I would like to now point out that even as I'm writing this at 1 a.m. Tokyo time (the major quake hit at 2:46 p.m.) we are still experiencing very strong aftershocks about once an hour. So excuse me if my observations are still tinged by frantic concern that the ceiling may still come falling down around my head.

It began as a light tremor, something that one becomes oddly accustomed to when living in Japan. But then the deceptively gentle tremor kept going... and going... and going. Until the bemused giggles of my Japanese office mates gradually turned into full on screams of fear as everyone tried to duck under the nearest desk. But what really brought the thought that this might be my last Friday was the fact that the quake didn't obey the rules of good luck and suddenly stop once we all ducked under the desks. No. The quake lasted a very, very long time. Read the rest