As Walter Mondale watched the images from Japan's worst earthquake unfold on TV on Friday, his thoughts turned to the last big one. He was there.

The Kobe earthquake hit Japan in 1995 when he was living in Tokyo as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

"It was an appalling sight," Mondale said. "It was a shock to me."

People in Japan are accustomed to the threat of earthquakes, Mondale said, and many believed that it was only a matter of time before an even bigger one than Kobe hit.

He still has friends in Japan and wondered if any of them were in the quake's path.

Christopher Stevens was. The chief of finance and development at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was on a bus in Tokyo with 22 other prominent Twin Citians when the earth began to rumble.

"The buildings were swaying like palm trees," he said by phone. "We were under an overpass, and it was disconcerting, to say the least."

No one in the party was hurt, but Stevens engaged in some gallows humor with his tour mates -- a high-brow roster of collectors and trustees led by Walker director Olga Viso.

"In a loud voice, I stood up and said, 'Now is a time to consider putting the Walker in your estate plan,'" he said.

Cast members of St. Paul's Ordway Center for Performing Arts who are in Tokyo with Broadway Asia also felt it.

"Everyone is safe and accounted for," said Danielle Schumann, an Ordway spokeswoman.

The show, "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," was to run March 3-14, but the last shows are on hold.

Both the University of Minnesota and Winona State University have students in Japan. Winona State officials said their three students are accounted for. The U knows of 11 students there.

Japan will rebound, Mondale predicted. "They're very stoic, and they will dig themselves out of this," he said. "They are a resourceful nation ... You go back to Kobe now and it looks like nothing happened."

Staff writers Rohan Preston and Jenna Ross contributed to this report. Allie Shah • 612-673-4488