More than three years later, areas of Japan are still recovering from the March 11, 2011 earthquake that triggered a devastating tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people.
Japanese Dr. Takeshi Toriyama, who helped tsunami victims for nearly two years, made it his mission this summer to thank those who have helped, educate others about the ongoing recovery and encourage people to continue to assist.
Toriyama said he dreams of traveling the world and decided to do something for victims during his touring, which is why he is making a video of his trip and the people he meets.
“I have a strong passion to help people who (suffer) from natural disasters,” he said.
Starting in June, Toriyama began riding his Kawasaki Versys 650 motorcycle from Florida and recently arrived in Kenai.
“This motorcycle is so comfortable to ride on the freeway or highway,” he said. … “(The) Alaska Highway (is) sometimes under construction for several miles.”
Along the way he educated dozens of groups and audiences about the effects of the tsunami.
“I would like to say thank you directly,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Toriyama gave a video presentation to members of Boy Scout Troop 669, who then made a video for Toriyama to take back to Japan.
In the video, the scouts gathered around Dave Baxter, of Kasilof, who encouraged the people of Japan to keep rebuilding. At the end of the video, Baxter and the scouts shouted “good luck” to the camera as Toriyama recorded it.
“Hopefully this video will help inspire (tsunami) victims to rebuild,” Baxter said.
Government officials of Rikuzentatkata, a city in northeastern Japan that saw significant damage, asked Toriyama to seek out Baxter in particular. Baxter works on Middleton Island. In early 2012 Baxter found a soccer ball that had washed on shore on the island. The ball had the owner’s name and contact information written on it. Former classmates also signed it as a going away gift.
Baxter’s wife, Yumi Baxter, is Japanese and was able to contact the owner to send the ball back to him. Since then, the Baxters have sent five more recovered items back to Japan that floated up from the tsunami. He said he has found more, but some items aren’t worth sending back because they don’t have a sentimental value.
About a year ago, Toriyama called the Baxters telling them he wanted to drive his motorcycle up the Alaska, meet them and thank them for their efforts. With it being so late in the year, Baxter advised Toriyama to wait until next summer. Thousands of miles and one year later, Toriyama made it.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.