Japanese town turns to rugby for post tsunami revival| MENAFN.COM

Wednesday, 17 August 2022 06:55 GMT

Japanese town turns to rugby for post tsunami revival

(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) >Can rugby help revive a tsunami-devastated Japanese town?

Residents of northern Kamaishi are partially pinning their hopes for economic revival following the earthquake and tsunami five years go this month on rugby.

Japan is scheduled to host the 2019 World Rugby Cup and Kamaishi was chosen as one of around a dozen venues across the country to host the games – even though it has fewer than 35000 people and a ruined stadium.

Rugby Union hopes that by allowing Japan to host the 2019 cup it will elevate interest in the sport in Asia.

The magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake had struck just off the country’s northern coast at around 2.45 p.m. March 11 2011.

About thirty minutes later a wall of water inundated the coastal region killing an estimated 16000 people with around 2000 still missing.

It was not just sympathy for the tsunami survivors that went into the Rugby Union decision to hold some of the matches in this town ruined by 30-meter (nearly 100-feet) waves that crashed seawalls destroyed homes and killed some 1200 people.

Kamaishi had been a rugby town and a sporting powerhouse long before the deluge.

Its Nippon Steel Rugby Team supported by the local steel mill had won the nationwide Japan Cup for seven consecutive years in the 1970s and 1980s.

Japan however is not much of a rugby powerhouse on the world scene having won only one out of 24 matches since the World Cup was first played.

But all of Japan rejoiced last year when its “Brave Blossoms” team scored a surprise victory over South Africa a match The Guardian newspaper described as the “biggest shock in rugby history”.

The Kamaishi fifteen had played the French National team in 1984 up against such global stars as Serge Blanco the French fullback – who later send blankets to help the people after the tsunami.

For years the Nippon Steel Corp. had supported the team.

Founded in 1856 as Japan’s first steel mill it operated until 1988 when Nippon Steel closed the plant as being no longer commercially viable.

Nippon Steel stopped underwriting the mill when it went out of business but local enthusiasts found the local funding to form another team with the ironic name of Kamaishi Seawaves.

Rugby enthusiasts are trying to rekindle local enthusiasm for the sport while the Mayor Takenori Noda sees rugby – including the building of a new 16000-person capacity stadium – as part of his plans to revive the town But Rugby News Japan has lamented that he might have a difficult task.

“The people of Kamaishi don’t have the same interest in rugby as in the past” said a report by the publication. “The priorities have shifted to rebuilding homes finding work feeding families and moving out of temporary shelters.”

In addition to rugby Kamaishi had been famous for its seawall built at considerable expense before the tsunami that ultimately failed to hold back the surging tide.

The seawall and specially the town’s plans to rebuild it with reconstruction money from the national government are controversial.

Why spend so much money on a wall that demonstrably failed to ultimate test some argue.

They say it gave residents a false sense of security. Mayor Noda however defends the project.

“The damage [from the tsunami] was much smaller than it would have been without the wall” he says today.

“It delayed the full impact by about six minutes” he asserts underlining that such a situation every minute counts.

Kamaishi is a hilly town with little flat land.

Rising directly behind the central business district are three steep hills and a network of wooden ladders stairways and pathways that have long provided a natural evacuation shelter against tsunami.

These stairs and pathways were critical in saving many lives.

The town is extremely proud that not one of the approximately 3000 elementary through high school children attending their classes had been killed in the surge even though their schools – located along the shore – were inundated.

It is often called the “Kamaishi Miracle”.

To critics of the mayor’s sea wall reconstruction plan Noda says: “Maybe only people who live along the coast would understand.”

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