The remarkable story of Kamaishi
STH Japan hosted several corporate clients to raise awareness of the amazing stories around Kamaishi and the powerful links it has with rugby. Also joining was Deputy Mayor of Kamaishi City, Hideki Yamazaki who quoted “It has been wonderful to meet everyone from STH and World Rugby, and to hear their strong sentiments towards our city. We in Kamaishi take the Rugby World Cup 2019 vision of “Connect, Create, Go Forward” to heart. As the only host city in the tsunami disaster-affected region, we hope to “connect” with the rest of the world, “create” new infrastructure and opportunities, and “go forward” to the future as we pass the legacy of this tournament on to the next generation.”
Kamaishi is a small city in the Iwate area of the Sanriku region in North East Japan, with a current population of around 35,000. The area is blessed with stunning natural surroundings and has a fishing port that is vital to the inhabitants. As well as this, rugby is also often associated with Kamaishi as the roots of Japanese rugby are deeply embedded in this area, with previous local team Nippon Steel being crowned national champions seven years in a row. Now it has an even stronger bond with rugby, being one of the 12 host cities for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
On 11 March 2011, the most powerful earthquake recorded to have hit Japan, struck its north-eastern shore generating an enormous tsunami that spread across miles of shoreline and reached as high as 40 metres. Kamaishi was one of a number of coastal regions affected with 1,063 fatalities, 10,516 evacuated people and 4,704 houses destroyed.
Rugby was a huge part of the recovery of Kamaishi, where the local club, Kamaishi Seawaves was used as a gathering point and community hub for the survivors. People were provided with food from team players and could shelter at the rugby club. This support from the rugby players brought the rugby team and local community closer together, and by awarding Kamaishi host-city status, World Rugby are also aiding the recovery. Hosting the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, it is seen as a way for Kamaishi to rebuild and revitalise its local economy.
In 2019, Kamaishi will open its doors to thousands of people from all parts of the world. For the people of Kamaishi, it is a way of saying thank you for the support they received after the tsunami in 2011. Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium is in the process of being built and is scheduled to open in summer 2018. It is the only stadium being built from scratch for Rugby World Cup 2019 and the location was a very important factor for the local community to consider, with the chosen place being very symbolic. In 2011, an elementary and middle school was destroyed by the tsunami. However, it is known as the ‘Kamaishi miracle’ as all 600 students took the initiative to relocate to an evacuation point and all escaped unharmed. The schools are now rebuilt on the other side of the hill and look down on the stadium. The city wanted to build the stadium as a positive reminder of the importance of evacuating safely.
Another special feature of this stadium is that local Kamaishi wood is being sourced for part of the spectator seats. World Rugby is working continuously with Kamaishi city to make this project sustainable and beneficial for the city as much as possible, by creating a new industry and supporting the local economy.
Interestingly, the teams competing at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium at Rugby World Cup 2019 are from three continents of the world, creating a truly international atmosphere, the likes of which the city hasn’t witnessed before. The matches being Fiji v Uruguay (25 September 2019) and Namibia v Canada (13 October 2019).
Looking at Kamaishi’s situation of being a relatively small city, still having a lot of devastated areas and having to build a brand new stadium completely from scratch, shows the dedication from the city as well as the support from World Rugby to make this an extraordinary and remarkable achievement. As COO of World Rugby Alan Gilpin stated “if Rugby World Cup 2019 can be a part of the recovery of that area, that will be a fantastic story.”
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