Soccer Ball Swept Away by Japanese Tsunami Reaches US Shores

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The Japanese owner of a soccer ball that washed ashore on a remote island of Alaska has come forward, laying claim to one of the first pieces of debris to arrive in the U.S., from last year's catastrophic tsunami in Japan.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami said he was "shocked" to hear his prized possession had floated more than 3,100 miles across the Pacific Ocean.

He received the ball from friends when he was in the third grade, as a good luck gift before he transferred from Osabe Elementary school in Rikuzentakata, one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami last March.

On the ball, classmates signed their names in Japanese, along with the date March 2005, and the words "Misaki Murakami. Work hard!"

The keepsake was washed away, with the rest of his home.

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"I haven't found any personal items [since March 2011], so I am overwhelmed with joy," Murakami said. "I am so grateful that somebody found it, and took the time to look up such foreign characters and words."

Radar technician David Baxter spotted the soccer ball along with a volleyball on a Middleton Island Beach, a remote area in the Gulf of Alaska, last month.

He noticed the Japanese writing, and asked his wife, who was coincidentally Japanese, to translate the words for him, according to NHK news.

A quick search revealed that Osabe Elementary was located in the tsunami zone, leading Baxter to believe the balls were part of the debris that had floated across the Pacific.

"I tried to get the ball back to him or his family," Baxter told NHK News. "I just wanted to help a young man try to put his life back together."

However, tracking down the owner of the volleyball Baxter found, may be difficult, because of a lack of information.

The ball only had the name "Shiori" written on it, along with a good luck message: "Work hard in middle school. Please come see us once in a while."

Tsunami Debris

Doug Helton with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration said Murakami's soccer ball may be the first identifiable debris to reach U.S. shores.

The location where it washed ashore is in line with a new model of predicted debris distribution released earlier this month, Helton said.

"You can see that the Gulf of Alaska is going to get high windage items, floats, Styrofoam, soccer balls," Helton told the Anchorage Daily News. "Those things could be moving pretty quickly. Wood and construction materials will be a lot slower."

The discovery in Alaska comes one month after an empty Japanese fishing boat washed out to sea by the tsunami, was spotted off the west coast of Canada.

The 150 foot vessel was docked in the Aomori Prefecture when the powerful earthquake hit. The U.S. Coast Guard used cannons to sink the ship, after the owner said he no longer wanted it back.