Yuki Kikuchi thought his dream of playing baseball was gone as he saw his hometown destroyed by the tsunami which devastated northeastern Japan on March 11.
Now living in a school gymnasium with hundreds of other disaster victims, the 17-year-old believed his chance of making the national high school baseball tournament had been snatched away by huge waves that left Yamadamachi in ruins.
AdvertisementBut the teenager said his team was now determined to show the disaster had not destroyed their hopes of playing at the Koshien Stadium, Japan's biggest ball park where the legendary Babe Ruth played an exhibition game in 1934.
"We don't want to lose everything we had tried hard for," said a resolute Kikuchi.
"I want to practise hard so that we can beat a team from the inland area."
On the high school baseball scene, the town is not a traditional powerhouse -- but Kikuchi and the rest of the team had trained hard in a bid to reach the national tournament, usually held in August.
Only one or two schools from each of Japan's 47 prefectures can play at the Koshien Stadium, the dream of every child in the baseball-crazy country.
However, the tsunami, triggered by Japan's biggest earthquake on record, left Kikuchi's hometown in Iwate prefecture, 480 kilometres (300 miles) northeast of Tokyo, in ruins.
The catastrophe left some 26,000 dead or missing, including two girls from Kikuchi's school, both also aged 17.
Kikuchi, who is a member of the baseball club at Yamada High School, now lives in the school gym with some 400 other people made homeless in the devastated community.
"My mother and I stay in the gym, but my father, who is a member of the reserve firefighters, has to be at the station all the time," Kikuchi said.
"My family is not living together, we are all separated. And I cannot live like this."
Yet seven weeks after the monster waves destroyed the Pacific coastline of northeast Japan, Kikuchi was playing baseball again at the local school ground where troops are still stationed for disaster relief.
And survivors of the disaster are taking a small step forward to get their lives back on track.
The Iwate government decided to hold a regional baseball tournament ahead of the nationals, even though Miyagi and Fukushima, two of the other hardest-hit areas, have cancelled.
"I am not sure how other people feel when we play baseball like this, but I thought it was important to start doing what we could do," said Yamada High School teacher and baseball coach Kento Oyama, whose apartment block was washed away.
"Since playing baseball was the centre of our lives before, I was worried the students might go crazy without it," said Oyama, 24.
And with their passion for the game undimmed by disaster, the students are more focused than ever on winning through to play at Koshien Stadium.
"After the disaster, many people may think that of course teams from the coastal area will lose. But we must not use this as an excuse," Kikuchi said.
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