TOKYO (AP) — A 16-year-old who lost his home in Japan's devastating tsunami now knows that one prized possession survived: a soccer ball that made it all the way to Alaska.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the ball is one of the first pieces of debris from last year's tsunami to wash up on the other side of the Pacific.
A man found the ball while beachcombing on an Alaskan island, and his wife, who is Japanese, talked with its owner, Misaki Murakami, over the phone over the weekend. They plan to send the ball back to him soon.
Kyodo News agency says Murakami, from the devastated town of Rikuzentakata, is surprised and thankful the ball has been found some 8,200 kilometers (5,100 miles) away.
"I have no doubt it is mine," Murakami told Kyodo. He was particularly glad because all furniture and sentimental items in his home had been washed away in the March 11, 2011, tsunami, which devastated a long stretch of Japan's northeastern coast and killed about 19,000 people.
The ball, which also had messages of encouragement on it, had been given to him in 2005, when Murakami was in third grade, as a good-bye gift when he transferred to another school.
Debris from the tsunami initially formed a thick mass in the ocean of Japan's northeastern coast and has since spread out across the Pacific. In February, experts with NOAA said much of the debris would to reach the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Washington and Oregon between March 2013 and 2014, though they noted that some of it could arrive this year.