A soccer ball found washed up on the shores of Alaska's Middleton Island will be returned to its rightful owner: a Japanese teenager named Misaki Murakami, who lost all of his worldly possessions during last year's tsunami.
An engineer named David Baxter was beachcombing on Middleton Island in March, a year after the disaster, when he came across the ball. I was excited to see it and I thought it was possible it came from the tsunami zone, he said to AP. He picked it up, took it home and, with the help of his wife, set about finding its owner.
The writing on the ball led them to Murakami, more than 3,000 miles away.
Murakami, a high school student, was at home when the giant tsunami hit his hometown of Rikuzentakata on March 11, 2011. He ran to higher ground with his dog to escape the waves, reports Kyodo News, and survived the disaster. All of his belongings were lost and his home was destroyed; Murakami and his parents live in temporary housing.
The teen, who is now a second-year high school student, had received the soccer ball as a gift in 2005. He had been transferring elementary schools, and his classmates gave him the signed ball as a keepsake and goodbye gift.
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Misaki Murakami. Work hard! said one of the messages written in marker on the soccer ball. Another inscription mentioned Osabe Elementary School.
Those scrawls, which did not wash off during a long journey across the Pacific Ocean, relayed the information that allowed Baxter and his wife, who speaks Japanese, to identify the owner's name and location. They have since been in touch with Murakami, even speaking with him on the phone. The two are now making arrangements to send the ball back to Japan.
The March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami killed about 19,000 people in Japan and displaced thousands more. It also caused nuclear meltdowns and explosions at several power plants, which led to further evacuations. The Iwate prefecture, where Rikuzentakata is located, was one of the hardest hit.
Many of those evacuated lost all of their worldly possessions, and Murakami was one of them. That's why, although a soccer ball isn't much, the teenager is glad to have recovered one sentimental keepsake from his past. I've never imagined that my ball has reached Alaska, he said. I've lost everything in the tsunami, so I'm delighted.