The first thought that tumbled through architect Albert Abut's head as he sat in his car watching an intersection in Shibuya undulate last year during the Great East Japan Earthquake was "Is my family safe?" A quick call to his wife confirmed she and their 6-year-old daughter were fine.

His second concern as he watched the light poles sway was about the schools he had designed. But he knew their construction surpassed Japan's strictest safety standards.

His third thought was about the roiling intersection's asphalt.