It was just after midnight and I was dozing off at a capsule hotel in the city of Kumamoto on April 16 last year when the "Big One" hit.

Suddenly, I was bouncing around like a ball inside my small capsule for what seemed like an eternity. I grabbed my cellphone and rushed outside. Fire alarms were blaring everywhere and police cars were instructing people to evacuate.

I had just arrived in the city to cover the damage from a magnitude-6.5 quake that rocked the region two days earlier.