The first two traceable pieces of debris to arrive on US shores following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami are a soccer ball and a volleyball belonging to two teenagers from the Japanese city of Rikuzentakata and the village of Tanohata, respectively.

Radar technician David Baxter found the two balls while combing the beaches of Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska. He and his wife Yumi managed to get in touch with the soccer ball's owner, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, with the help of a Japanese reporter.

Murakami, who lost all his worldly possessions to the tsunami, said he was able to save himself and his dog by reaching higher ground before the waves hit. He told Kyodo News the ball — which was a treasured going-away gift from his teacher and classmates — was the first and only lost item to be recovered so far.

"It was a big surprise. I've never imagined that my ball has reached Alaska," Murakami said yesterday. "I've lost everything in the tsunami. So I'm delighted. I really want to say thank you for finding the ball."

Meanwhile, the other ball's owner, 19-year-old volleyball player Shiori Sato, appeared before reporters today to offer her own gratitude to Baxer for finding the ball. "I want to say thank you (to the founder) in person," she said.

Sato may get an opportunity to do just that: The Baxters told the Associated Press they plan to travel to Japan next month, although have no plans to personally deliver the balls as "they don't want to create too much of a commotion."

[photo via AP]