Dear Bill and Katie,
I wanted to write you and share the experience I encountered in Japan while returning the volleyball that you found. The trip overall was incredible, but the afternoon I spent at Kesen was especially meaningful because of the kids I met, and the appreciation they showed for the ball’s return.
My involvement in all of this began last year when I travelled to Japan to return a child’s bicycle helmet to her family. During that trip, among other things, I learned that these returned items held great value to the survivors of the 2011 Great East Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. In short, the trip inspired me to return and connect more Alaskan found items with other survivors.
I got a hold of the ball you found via Kathy Peavy and the Anchorage museum. Kathy sent your ball to Anchorage to be included as part of an educational collection tied to the GYRE exhibit. I contacted Kathy to let her know that if she knew anyone who would like found items returned, I would be happy to do that when I travelled to Japan in November. She told me about two balls that she sent to the museum and said that I could return those if I wanted to. One of those balls was the Kesen Middle School volleyball that you found.
Through a volunteer staff member by the name of Tadaharu Shimahashi, working for an NPO called Kids Now, and a Kesen English teacher named Naoshi-san, I was able to arrange a meeting with the Kesen volleyball team to return that ball. In the planning of this meeting, they also asked me to give the English class a presentation about the ball return and Alaska in general. I was happy to do so.
When I made it to Kesen, I first met Naoshi-san and the Principal of the school. They were very gracious and thanked me for the visit. They led me to an auditorium of-sorts where I presented some Alaskan-type slides to a group of about 35 middle school students. They were most impressed by the animal pics, especially the moose. I also shared the photo you sent me of your young son holding the volleyball, and told them about where you found it and how I came to bring it back to them. Afterwards, they were allowed to ask me questions in English. They wanted to know what my favorite food was, what Americans thought of the Japanese, what I liked best about Japan, etc. I passed out some AK pins and took some pics with the kids, and then headed over to the gym. There, I handed the volleyball to the captain of the volleyball squad and answered some more questions. They were all so happy to see the ball, and they eventually batted it around a bit during their practice.
The experience was great, and the kids really appreciated the visit. I gave Naoshi-san your contact information in hopes that you and he may continue to correspond.
Thank you for being so kind to pick up that ball and work towards getting it back to it’s owner. Returning these items has proven to be extremely important to healing and inspiration for the survivors of the 2011 disaster. It’s really hard to express the emotion and appreciation I have encountered while in Japan returning these things. It is a really big deal to them, especially when many lost everything.