Without a shred of a doubt, 2011 stands out to me — in a way that hopefully will never be surpassed — as the most catastrophic I have ever known.

March 11's magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake, followed by a monstrous tsunami and then three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is a related series of disasters arguably unprecedented in recorded history.

At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, my wife, Shiori Tsuchiya, and I were both at home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. I was sitting at the second-floor kitchen table addressing envelopes and Shiori was in the adjoining living room. For most of the next 3½ minutes we were huddled together under our sturdy wooden kitchen table while our house shook violently from side to side. We fully expected the whole building to collapse, and just hoped and prayed the table would offer enough protection to enable us to crawl out of the rubble.