It takes a moment to realise what is happening. The ground under foot isn’t where you expected it would be, instead it seems to have moved somewhere else. You stagger a little and wonder if you are dizzy and about to faint. Then your brain catches up with the signals and you realise what it is.
The earth continues to dance and so you clutch a nearby pillar, feeling relieved when you see an elderly gentleman do the same, as this must be the correct thing to do. You have been in Japan long enough to worry about doing the right thing in public in an emergency situation, reluctant to be the visibly panicking foreigner. Except that when you see how concerned the gentleman looks, you realise that this is something beyond the ordinary, it is going on too long, the shudders are getting worse.
All the Japanese people around you look fearful, which makes you more afraid. In front of you a mother crouches down and clutches her very small child perhaps a shade too tightly as he begins to cry, not understanding why the ground is shaking, just that all the grown-ups are scared, so he should be too. You can empathise.
Then there is the aftermath. The news pictures on the screen in the station are like a bad movie, they flash from burning buildings, to rolling waves, to people trapped on roofs, to the Prime Minister looking grim and making an announcement. People gather silently to watch together, stunned by what is being beamed live around the world from elsewhere in the country, powerless to assist but unable to look or move away.
You want to take a picture, but feel terrible for the impulse to intrude at this moment of national tragedy. Until you see a press photographer standing on a railing to take a similar shot and so you risk just one.