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Revisited

Japan’s Rugby World Cup, a driving force for recovery after 2011 tsunami

Partially destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, the small Japanese coastal city of Kamaishi is one of the twelve host cities of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Hosting the event has helped speed up Kamaishi’s reconstruction and has united the inhabitants around a common objective. Our team reports.

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With just 34,000 inhabitants, Kamaishi seems and is a very small city compared to other Japanese cities that are hosting the Rugby World Cup. More than five hours north of Tokyo by train, in a region forgotten by sightseeing tours, we were seduced by the beauty of this small fishing port famous for its sea urchins and other maritime delights. But beyond its picturesque façade, Kamaishi has experienced several disasters -- and rebirths. A victim of tsunamis as far back as 1896 and 1933, the industrial city was hit hard by the gigantic tsunami of 2011. Of the 18,000 people who died in Japan, some 1,145 of them drowned in Kamaishi.

To protect the city from future disasters, part of the coastline is now separated from the waters of the Pacific by an imposing 14-metre high concrete wall. So much for the sea view.

Historical ties to rugby

But what struck us most in Kamaishi, beyond the impressive structures - the new wall, numerous protective dikes, plus a brand-new stadium that will host two World Cup matches (Fiji-Uruguay on September 25 and Namibia-Canada on October 13) -- was the story of its inhabitants, their willingness to pick themselves up after the tragedy and their surprising choice to do so through rugby.

Kamaishi has historical ties to the sport. The local club, the Sea Waves, won the national championship seven times in a row in the 1980s. In 2014, the city's inhabitants united around a common objective: hosting the Rugby World Cup. The project has not always had unanimous support, as some victims of the tsunami felt that it was putting a lot of effort and money into a sporting event, while hundreds of victims still had basic needs. But Kamaishi has also benefitted from the new infrastructure projets built especially for the event. Reconstruction has reportedly been faster there than in other Japanese cities.

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