The owner of a volleyball that was swept away by last year’s tsunami and deposited on the shore of a distant Alaskan island has been found.
Shiori Sato, 19, from Tanohata, Iwate Prefecture, lost the ball after her family home was destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.
It had been given as a present when she graduated from elementary school, and it seems to have floated more than 3,000 miles to Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, where it was found by local technician David Baxter last month with a soccer ball.
Sato’s ball was covered in messages written in Japanese by her former teammates of a volleyball club and also carried her name, “Shiori.”
On the afternoon of April 23, she received an e-mail from her mother who had seen a TV bulletin about Baxter’s find.
“I just never imagined the ball would be found far away in Alaska,” Sato, who now works for a group company of Tobu Railway Co. at a station in Saitama Prefecture, told reporters.
She said she was really grateful to Baxter. “If he comes to Japan, I want to meet him and say a word of thanks,” she said.
She added that she was surprised that the writing on the ball was still clearly visible despite its odyssey.
“After the ball is returned, I want to watch it carefully and treasure it,” she said.
Sato and five other family members fled to higher ground before the tsunami hit. However, her father, Yoshimitsu Sato, 53, said the water washed away all of the household’s goods, including the ball that had been kept on the second floor.
Yoshimitsu said a photo of his daughter holding the volleyball was later found near the home.
“Shiori's only photo left happened to be the one taken when she was given the ball,” he said.
Sato had hoped to study at a vocational school after graduating from high school, but was forced to give up the plan after the disaster. Instead, she applied for jobs offered by the Tobu Railway group for high school and college students in devastated areas.
A day before Sato was found, Misaki Murakami, 16, a second-year high school student in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, was identified as the owner of the soccer ball found by Baxter.
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