Ashwin Cresswell’s heart was pounding on his trip from Perth in Australia to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. One thought kept racing in the mind of the 9-year-old boy as the flight, Shinkansen ride and bus trip took him, his parents and sister closer to the city devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.
“I hope I will become friends with him.”
The purpose of the trip, Ashwin’s first to Japan, was to meet 10-year-old Toshihito Aisawa, a boy who lost his parents and grandmother in the tsunami.
Having learned that Toshihito likes soccer, Ashwin presented him a uniform of the Australian national team.
“Thank you,” Toshihito said in English.
The two boys hit it off, kicked a soccer ball outside and doodled on the photos of them taken with a digital camera.
“I want to go to Ashwin’s home next,” said the Japanese boy, who has started to study English.
Plans for the March 10 meeting began after Ashwin saw a picture of Toshihito in an Australian newspaper soon after the earthquake. “Why does he look so sad?”
His mother read him the article, which said that Toshihito and other family members were traveling in a car when they were hit by the tsunami. Toshihito was thrown from the car, but other family members could not escape as the waves swept away the vehicle.
All alone amid the destruction, Toshihito wandered from evacuation center to evacuation center every day, holding up a sign with the names of his parents, grandmother and cousin.
The story of the lonely boy carrying the sign soon spread across the nation, and then around the world. Only the cousin survived.
“If he can’t find his parents, he can stay with my family,” Ashwin wrote in a letter to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “He can also play with my toys and go to school with me. Would Toshihito like to stay with us?”
Gillard handed the Australian boy’s message to Japan’s prime minister at the time, Naoto Kan. The two boys later started exchanging letters.
Their story was featured on TV shows and newspapers in Australia, and Ashwin was picked as one the most inspiring people of 2011 by a local newspaper.
The Australian boy was moved by the sight of the destroyed buildings and the mountains of rubble in the stricken area a year after the catastrophe. “I will have to remember that these scary things happened,” Ashwin promised.
Ashwin also visited Kataoka Junior High School in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on March 6, and was greeted by 150 third-year students.
The students there started writing letters to Ashwin and his family in Australia after they learned the story about Ashwin and Toshihito.
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See an article about Toshihito Aisawa at http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/life_and_death/AJ201103160725.
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