Tsunami Soccer Ball and Volleyball Kicked 3,100 Miles to Alaska

Now ain't that a kick: signed soccer and volleyballs found washed up on an island off Alaska several weeks apart are to be returned to their surprised but grateful owners. The balls may be the first identifiable pieces of debris from Japan's devastating March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami to reach North American shores.

Both balls were found on the coast of Middleton Island, located in the Gulf of Alaska about 75 miles southwest of Cordova, Alaska. David Baxter, a radar technician from Kasilof, Alaska, was beachcombing on the island's southern shore last month, according to an email he sent to The Associated Press. “When I first saw the soccer ball,” said Baxter, “I was excited to see it and I thought it was possible it came from the tsunami zone.”

It turns out Baxter's guess was correct. The soccer ball bore a number of inscriptions in Japanese which remained legible enough for Baxter's wife Yumi, who happens to be Japanese, to translate them.

The most prominent inscription read “Misaki Murakami. Work hard!,” while another indicated the ball was a farewell gift to Misaki from his classmates at Osabe Elementary School. Misaki transferred to a different school in 2005 and he had kept the memento at his home.

Osabe Elementary School was located in Rikuzentakata, a coastal town extensively damaged by last year's earthquake and tsunami. Reports indicate up to 40% of the town's population perished in the tsunami and up to 80% of its 8,000 homes were swept away, including the house where Misaki Murakami lived. Though Misaki survived, all of his possessions were lost... or so he had thought.  

With assistance from a reporter at Japanese public broadcaster NHK, the Baxters were able to contact Misaki by telephone and gave him the good news directly. “It was a big surprise,” said Misaki (right). “I've never imagined that my ball has reached Alaska. I've lost everything in the tsunami so I'm delighted.”

The Baxters are making arrangements to send the much-traveled soccer ball back to Misaki and it seems the process may become somewhat of a habit for them. Yes indeed, Baxter's beachcombing has turned up another signed “tsunami ball”, this time a volleyball!

Like Misaki's soccer ball, the volleyball also bore Japanese writing that indicated the identity of its owner: 19-year-old Shiori Sato from northeastern Japan's hard-hit Iwate prefecture.

With information provided by the Baxters, NHK's researchers were able to find and contact the surprised Sato. “Good heavens!,” she exclaimed to NHK when she was given the news. “I want to say (to the ball) ‘Welcome back!’, I think it's a miracle.” (via ABC News, Toronto Star, Washington Post, Japan Today, and AFP-France24)