When an earthquake hits, there’s a moment, a few seconds in, where you ask yourself, “Should I panic?” That was me on March 9, 2011, the Wednesday before “the big one.”

The 11:45 a.m. quake registered as magnitude 7.3, which I felt with a hard thump in my apartment in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, where I was living at the time. I ran downstairs to my landlord’s place in a panic, but he assured me there was nothing to be concerned about. He told me I’d know for sure when a real quake hit.

Two days later, at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, the real quake hit — a magnitude 9.0.