Letter from Japan


Saint Paul composer Raymond Berg arrived in Tokyo several weeks ago as part of the local team bringing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” to Japan. Of course, he had no idea he’d be stranded there today because of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that his Japan this week.

I reached Mr. Berg by e-mail with the help of his wife, Michelle who is back in Minnesota.

News Cut: How is it you happened to be in Japan?

Berg: I came to Tokyo several weeks ago as the musical director of a tour of the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, produced by a company out of New York called Broadway Asia. It included many of the performers from the Ordway’s production of this show this past December in St. Paul. We had been performing at an arts complex in central Tokyo called the Forum. The show had been going fantastically and we were heading into the second weekend of a two-week tour.

We have met many wonderful Japanese people such as the 5 local musicians who we were playing with. We had done considerable sightseeing in the Tokyo area and had some really wonderful times with those who were hosting us.

News Cut: What’s the situation where you are now?

Berg: I am currently in my hotel room on the 18th floor of a hotel called the Grand Prince Akasaka in the Akasaka district of Tokyo. This is a 40-story hotel. The situation at present is this: Our area and most of Tokyo is in good shape structurally (more on that in a minute). I have been out in the street in the day and a half since the quakes. Many businesses are open. Nearby there is an area of restaurants and bars, most of which are open and intact. That being said, the traffic is very light and street traffic much lighter than our experience of prior to the quake.

I think a lot of people are pretty freaked and staying at home. We are also seeing that many of the shelves in the convenience stores are nearly empty, especially of water and food.

The subways are running. As of yesterday the rest of our performances were cancelled due to concerns that the theater itself in the Forum complex might be structurally compromised. Apparently the Forum did not want to take any chances by presenting any more performances.

News Cut: Are you attempting to get back home?

Berg: Yes!! We have reservations on a Delta flight on Tuesday and are trusting that these will be honored and that we’ll be back in the States by Tuesday around noon (we gain the entire flight time on the way back). I have heard that flights are arriving and departing from Narita Int’l Airport, which is where we will leave from. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

News Cut: Can you tell me about when the earthquake struck?

It was truly surreal. I had just returned from a morning of shopping on the other end of the Ginza subway line (about 6-7 miles away) and had returned to my hotel room on the 18th floor. My room began to sway violently back and forth. I went out into the hallway where I encountered several housekeeping staff (no English at all).

Incidentally, while I write this I am feeling a strong aftershock. We have felt these consistently for the last several days. Anyway, for about 10 minutes I watched from an elevator foyer as buildings across from me swayed wildly back and forth. One building had two building cranes on its top which looked like marionettes flopping up and down and back and forth. That first quake lasted at least 10 minutes. Then everything grew strangely quiet.

I returned to my room. An announcement came on first in Japanese, then in English, saying “Stay in your room. The hotel is designed to withstand earthquakes”. (Small comfort). Suddenly after 10 more minutes the shaking and swaying began even more strongly. This time I hit the stairwell and came down the 18 flights onto the street. There were hundreds of people just out on the street standing and looking at the buildings. Some Japanese were wearing hard hats.

That second quake lasted even longer, perhaps 15 minutes and was stronger. Our hotel looked like it was doing the Twist, torquing back and forth.

A note on that: Not one building in our neighborhood showed any damage after the quakes. This district is relatively modern and has many tall buildings. The Japanese have done an amazing job of designing and building their newer buildings to withstand the shocks of earthquakes. As I sit now there is another tremor and the floor moves back and forth. Our hotel is about 25 years old.

News Cut: Is there anything you can do at the moment? Is the country moving at all?

Berg: What we can do for the moment is sit tight, hope for the best and keep ourselves busy. We are able to move around, but I have not been down in the subways since the quakes. When the quake struck, our company members were all over Tokyo and I can gratefully say everyone made it back to the hotel by about 8p.m. Friday night.

We have all of today and tomorrow to just kind of hang around and support each other. Many of us have gone out on short field trips but I’m not sure anyone is planning on any more serious sightseeing.

Most disturbing is the news about the nuclear power plants. It is hard not to dwell on that really scary scenario. Another note: several members of our company will not leave the lobby and certainly will not return to their rooms above ground. The ground continues to shake and pitch.

Update 6:11 p.m. Sunday 3/13 – Mr. Berg writes that it’s Monday morning in Tokyo and he’s been able to get on a direct flight to the Twin Cities, arriving on Monday morning (CT)