By Isolde Raftery, NBC News
The Japanese man's request wasn't unreasonable. After all, Japan's tsunami had already swept a Harley-Davidson and a 66-foot concrete dock to U.S. and Canadian shores.
Still, the mayor of a small Washington state city told The Daily World newspaper that he was surprised when he received a postcard from a 77-year-old man in Japan asking him to look out for items he lost in the tsunami a year and a half ago.
"This man felt compelled to write us, looking for what he lost," Mayor Bill Simpson told The Daily World, based in Aberdeen, Wash. Aberdeen, a working-class coastal town known as the birthplace of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, welcomes visitors with a sign that reads, "Come As You Are."
The postcard was addressed simply, in impeccable cursive, to the mayor's office in Aberdeen. The letter writer, named Mr. Saito, hails from the Sapporo ward, which is 300 miles north of the epicenter of the 8.9 earthquake that devastated parts of Japan in March 2011.
Mr. Saito wrote the mayor that he had lost his "collected surveyed amounts' library cards."
In Washington state, the Department of Ecology estimates that 5 million tons of debris was swept into the Pacific Ocean -- 70 percent of which immediately sank.
That still leaves 1.5 million tons, most of it mundane plastic, Styrofoam and junked refrigerators. The Daily World reported that garbage from one cleanup effort in June filled the beds of 70 pickup trucks.
The Guardian of London reported that a research vessel that journeyed into the debris this summer returned predicting that it was bound for the West Coast. The garbage plume was dispersed and measured between 1,000 and 2,000 miles wide.
"To your seashore areas, have you been observing the floated materials?" Mr. Saito asked. "If you find some, please let me know any news."
There have been remarkable finds, such as a 20-foot fiberglass boat that washed ashore in Washington, the motorcycle still in its crate from the Miyagi prefecture, the ghost ship that appeared, unmanned and unmoored, off the coast of Alaska. A soccer ball belonging to a teenager whose family had lost everything arrived in Alaska. The ball, on which was written the 16-year-old's name, had been a gift from his teacher and his classmates when he switched schools seven years ago.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency is collecting data on the debris; the agency website says that radiation experts do not believe the debris is radioactive.
There's more debris to come, according to The New York Times; oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer said he expects most of the debris to make landfall in October.
What washes ashore may also serve as a grim reminder of the 3,000 people who went missing in the tsunami, Ebbesmeyer said at a symposium in Port Angeles, Wash., according to the Peninsula Daily News.
"We're expecting 100 sneakers with bones in them," he said. "That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost."