This is an incredibly tragic event. Japan is a clean, efficient country, where people are polite to clumsy uncultured foreigners, and the trains run on time. Tens of thousands of people must have died, and a densely populated region wrecked. At least it gives us some perspective, there is more going on in life than our urinary system.
I live in an earthquake zone, so I read about them. There are earthquakes, and there is "the big one". If people live in concrete houses, like Iran, China, Turkey or Haiti, a smaller quake can be truly terrible. The big ones are subduction zone quakes, where the edge of one plate slides under another plate. The Japan quake was one of these where one plate slid about 60 ft underneath the other over a couple of hundred miles, and so was the one in Indonesia a few years back. The Alaska earthquake that flattened Anchorage in 1964 was one of those, a 9.2. I was in a 6.8, that was really scary. A 9 is unimaginable, it has to seem like the end of the world to those poor individuals that are caught in it.
Seismically, Japan is in a terrible spot. Japan is on the North American plate, the same as Alaska and the US, but on one side there is the Pacific Plate, and the other the Eurasian Plate. The San Andreas fault in California is where the North American plate is sliding south, next to the Pacific Plate which is moving north. It has a lot of earthquakes, but not exactly like the Japan one. The big subduction zone quakes that seem most likely to happen in North America are in Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. The last one in the Pacific Northwest was in 1700; some say there is supposed to be another one within the next 50-100 years, seems like the same risk as dying from a Gleason 6. I have earthquake insurance. The geography protects Seattle from tsunamis, they hit the Pacific coast but not so much in Puget sound--this one was only 6 inches at the waterfront. Portland is inland. Vancouver is protected because it's behind Vancouver Island. No nuclear reactors are built around here. Another side effect of living by a subduction zone is exploding volcanos, like Mt. St. Helen, Mt Rainer, Mt. Hood, etc. All of these things happen hundreds and hundreds of years apart. You're probably at more risk to get struck by lightening.