Back in 1988, I left a job on Wall Street to write for a living. Amazed that magazine editors would pay me to travel anywhere in the world so long as I could convince them there was a story to be told about the place, I began casting around for stories about places I wanted to go. The first place I wanted to go was Japan.
I proposed to a magazine editor a piece on what would happen in the world if Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake. Of course, I had no idea what might happen if Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake and no clue how anyone would even begin to guess. But I found one of these incredibly generous characters called magazine editors and asked one of them to send me to Tokyo for a few weeks to ponder the matter. And he did it.
The problem with this approach to the writing life, I soon found, is that at some point you need to write a story. What I had imagined more or less as a paid vacation in Tokyo soon became a sweaty search for an answer to what seemed even to me a preposterous question: What happens if this new center of global finance is wiped out?
I got lucky. It turned out that people inside Japanese government and finance had just begun to ask themselves the same preposterous question. An imaginative young geologist with Japan’s National Land Agency named Hideaki Oda had just finished a study in which he simulated a quake similar to the one that had destroyed Tokyo back in 1923 (and also in 1853, and in 1782, and in 1703 and in. . .).