Basketball fan dribbles 370 km for tsunami-hit kids
TOKYO—Moved by the plight of children in Japan's tsunami-hit north, one diehard sports fan did something a bit different to help—dribble a basketball 370 km (231 miles), through rain and snow, to bring sports back to damaged schools.
A long-time basketball fan, Hiroshi Moriaka set out from the heart of Tokyo in mid-January to raise enough money to buy 100 basketballs for children in the northern Tohoku region, a vast swathe of which was devastated by the March 11, 2011 disaster and the ensuing nuclear crisis.
"As can be expected, in parts of Tohoku it hasn't been possible for children to participate in sports clubs and activities," the 27-year-old Moriaka said.
"I hope that this project can help them to enjoy sports again."
Many schools were damaged or destroyed by the magnitude 9.0 quake and subsequent mammoth tsunami, while the gymnasiums of those that escaped unscathed were often used as shelters for people who had lost their homes, sometimes for months.
Wearing long tights and basketball shorts, a thick cap pulled down over his ears, Moriaka dribbled the basketball from hand to hand as he walked, dodging puddles and, in some places, weaving a narrow path along snow-lined sidewalks.
A veteran of several other long-distance dribbling treks in Japan, Moriaka was cheered on by a wide variety of spectators along the way, from children who posed with him for pictures to briefcase-carrying businessmen in suits.
"I just wanted to touch the basketball for myself," said one elderly shopkeeper in Fukushima, where thousands had to leave their homes after explosions and meltdowns at a nuclear plant.
After 11 days, Moriaka finally made it to his goal of Sendai, a city that in some areas suffered severe damage from the tsunami including a flooded airport.
Moriaka lost nearly six kilograms (13.2 pounds) and said that his solitude through much of the journey got a bit daunting at times, especially the hours on end of walking alone through the wintry countryside.
The charity with which he worked, "Kids Smile," aimed to make enough to buy 300 basketballs in total. Moriaka raised 92,000 yen ($1,200) on the road and had a corporate sponsor donate 125,000 yen, but he and organizers were still waiting to see how much he earned over the internet.
No matter what, Moriaka said, the quest was worth it.
"A lot of people were cheering me on, people I met on the road as well as people on the web. Because of that I thought 'I can't give up, I have to keep going.' All those peoples' encouragement were now part of this ball," he said.
"I knew I had to make sure this basketball made it to its goal." — Reuters