Although more than a year has passed since the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami struck Tohoku on March 11, 2011, Ivan Stout's memory of the moment when the Shinmarunouchi building in Tokyo's Chou Ward began to tremble is as vivid as ever.

While Stout, 33, had lived through the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 as an exchange student in Osaka, the fact that he was working on the upper floor of a skyscraper meant that the experience felt "very different and more perilous" this time around.

"I mainly just watched in shock, first at the buildings swaying from the earthquake and then at the tsunami, as we had several television screens on our floor," he says. "It then took an hour to contact my wife, who was located in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo, and confirm her safety."