Football lost in tsunami-hit Japan found in Alaska

Retrieving a lost football is standard fare for many teenagers, but one Japanese schoolboy is getting his ball back all the way from Alaska, where it drifted following last year’s tsunami.

Misaki Murakami (16) lost his house and all its contents when the massive waves of last March crushed his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Japan’s northeast.

Found in translation:  This ball has Japanese characters written on it, from which David Baxter’s wife was able to translate the name of a school that was in the area hit by the tsunami. pic/afp/noaa

But now, thanks to an observant beachcomber in the Gulf of Alaska, he is set to have his football returned to him, identified by the “good luck” messages scrawled on it by former schoolmates.

“I’m very grateful as I’ve so far found nothing that I’d owned,” said the youngster.

David Baxter (51), a technician at the radar station on Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, came across the ball as he was beach combing.

The ball had Japanese characters written on it, from which Baxter’s wife was able to translate the name of a school that was in the area hit by the tsunami, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

An enormous amount of debris was swept into the Pacific by the tsunami that hit northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, killing thousands of people.

A number of objects, both large and small, have so far made their way as far as the coast of North America, including a rusty fishing trawler that the US Coast Guard sank earlier this month (See box).

But the ball “may be the first identifiable item that could be returned,” according to the NOAA.

Murakami says he has “no doubt” that the ball is his after hearing that his name was among the characters written on it, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

Beach combing
Murakami can be grateful for Baxter’s interest in beach combing, a popular pastime on Middleton, according to the NOAA, which describes the 4.5-mile-long island as “treeless and windswept.”

The agency, which has been monitoring tsunami debris, said it was working with the US State Department, the Japanese Embassy, and the Japanese consulate in Seattle to establish a process to return items that may be found in the future.

Not all objects will find their way home, though. A volleyball found on the US side of the ocean “doesn’t have enough information” on it to trace its owner, the NOAA said.

Fishing trawler drifted to US coast
The US Coast Guard sank a Japanese fishing trawler off the coast of Alaska on April 5, more than a year after it was swept away by a tsunami off the east coast of Japan. The trawler capsized hours after the Coast Guard set fire to it, causing it to begin taking on water. The sinking of the Ryou-Un Maru brought about the end of a journey for the rust-stained ship that drifted across the Pacific Ocean as part of a giant debris field generated by a tsunami that struck Japan following a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011. 

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