Separated by language and distance, they were bound together by disaster--twin earthquakes a year apart. On Tuesday, they were brought together by something gentler--softball.
For a group of Japanese teen-agers who survived the Kobe earthquake on Jan. 17, it was the final bit of fun in a week that brought them to Los Angeles to visit children who had endured the Northridge earthquake exactly one year earlier.
Before the game at Lanark Park, the crowd observed a moment of silence and released several white balloons--a small, solemn symbol of the lives lost in the catastrophes.
For the most part, though, the weeklong Kobe-Los Angeles Youth Seismic Exchange was a happy affair, with trips to Disneyland, Universal Studios and Northridge Fashion Center. The Japanese children returned home Friday.
Speaking through a translator Thursday, Miwa Kanaoka, a 17-year-old high school student from Hyogoken, said she was sorry to leave her new American friends but noted that she was returning with new Japanese friends as well, like Masashi Shiono, 17, of Nishinomiya.
They spent their last evening in America clowning in the bleachers with pals like Eric Mochinaga, Jason Miyagishima and Andrew Reeder, Valley teen-agers who accompanied them during the week and helped translate.
"I don't want this to end," said Canoga Park softball player Monica Mireles. "This has been too much fun."
For the Valley teen-agers, it was an opportunity to see that they have much in common with their Japanese counterparts, like a love of sports and junk food. Despite the communication barrier, they found a language spoken by all: friendship.
"Are you brothers?" Masashi asked Eric and Jason in Japanese.
The boys placed their arms on each other's shoulders and said: \o7 "Tomodachi."\f7