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Japanese Soccer Teams Return To Blaine For First Time Since Tsunami

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BLAINE, Minn. (WCCO) – Two Japanese women’s soccer teams are taking the field at the Schwan’s USA Cup in Blaine.

It’s the first time the teams have been back since the devastating earthquake and tsunami – disasters that destroyed both of their neighborhoods.

The Tokiwagi team from Sendai, Japan is being supported by a community of local host families. And while they get tours of our state, they’re also sharing what they left behind in their country.

Haruka Nihei remembers that day clearly.

“When the earthquake happened I was with my brother inside of our house,” she said.

Haruka brought along a book of photos that show where her house was located, and the devastation left in the aftermath. For her host mother, Michelle Quinlan, the images were overwhelming.

“When Haruka gave us the book and showed us where she lived it brought tears,” said Quinlan. “It’s almost unbelievable that she’s still alive.”

The girls did bring emotional baggage with them, but once they’re on the field, it’s all about the game.

“It’s amazing at their age that they can put that behind them and they’re here to play soccer and they’re enjoying it here, they’re having a good time,” said their American coach.

Haruka’s experience has definitely shaped her attitude and outlook.

“I feel I need to live my life well,” she said.

And she does that every chance she gets, without saying a word.

“She’s happy all the time, always has a smile on her face, considering what she went through it’s amazing,” said Quinlan.

The girls say most that families have moved further inland and the area devastated has been cleaned up, but is now just dirt.

The Tokiwagi 16-year-old team tied their game this morning against Centennial Fire 2 to 2.

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