Akira Shimazu, Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee president and chief executive told the Tokyo Sports newspaper that the tickets for the two group stage matches to be held at the newly-opened Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium during next year’s Rugby World Cup will be in high demand.

Shimazu said: “There are already many applications from overseas for the World Cup matches at the Kamaishi stadium. The best-selling tickets are those for the Tokyo venue but then the Yokohama and Kamaishi tickets are selling fast as well.”

The stadium will host the Fiji v Uruguay match in Pool D on September 25, 2019, followed by the Pool B match on October 13 between Namibia and the repechage winner which will be decided in November, and its capacity of only 16,187 means fewer tickets compared to other venues will be available for the general public.

The opening match at Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium was held on August 19 to mark a truly memorable day for the city of Kamaishi in Japan’s Tohoku region with the local second division club Kamaishi Seawaves RFC taking on the top division’s Yamaha Júbilo.

The Seawaves, despite their best efforts, succumbed to a narrow 24-29 defeat but there were smiles and cheers all around the stadium every time the men in red attacked their much-fancied opponents. With Kamaishi’s trademark Tairyo-bata (pictured, below), big-catch flags that are attached to fishing boats to indicate to the port on their return that the day’s catch was great, symbolising the fishing town’s history, in full swing, it was a historic day for everyone involved, especially the locals who came through the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The small coastal town of Kamaishi certainly had its time in the 70s and 80s as the rugby capital of Japan. For the towners, their own rugby team Shin-Nittetsu Kamaishi Rugby team, dubbed as the Giants of the North, represented the pride of the town and its people as the team gave them seven consecutive national championships between 1978 and 1984 before slowly disappearing from the limelight in 1992, the last time they appeared in a national championship of any kind.

Fast forward 19 years… on 11 March 2011, the then nine-year old Rui Horaguchi was running for her life, literally, trying desperately to reach a high point of the town’s designated emergency evacuation area. She would not turn back, but if she did, she said during her speech in the Official Opening Ceremony, her young eyes would capture a traumatic scene of her hometown swollen under the dark water of the fateful tsunami.

The school kids who were taking their respective lessons in both the Kamaishi East Junior High and Unosumai Elementary School had to react quickly, and they acted on their own by starting to evacuate before decisions were made by the teachers. Those older took hands of the younger ones and amazingly, all students, approximately 600 of them, survived the disaster. The stadium was built on the ground where the two schools used to stand.

Horaguchi, now 17, who gave an emotional and spirited speech at the ceremony, was one of the survivors, and after mentioning how much she appreciates that her hometown is hosting the World Cup next year let alone still being around, she concluded: “Thank you everyone in the world for your support. We have recovered and will move onwards from the earthquake. We are looking forward to seeing you in Kamaishi next year.”

For those who are planning to attend the matches played at the stadium during next year’s Rugby World Cup, here’s some transport information:

The stadium is a 15-minute drive from the Kamaishi city centre. The Unosumai train station that was washed away by the tsunami in 2011 is being rebuilt but no information is currently available as to whether the station and railway will be ready for the tournament. Coaches will be organised from the city centre as well as Kamaishi station if the new station will not be ready.

The city’s main train station, however, is approximately two hours away from Shin-Hanamaki which is about 2.5 to three hours away on Shinkansen bullet train, from the nation’s capital Tokyo. Coach services are expected from the Iwate Hanamaki Airport as well as from the major stations such as Morioka and Shin-Hanamaki but this writer can certainly recommend taking the local trains from Shin-Hanamaki as some of the sceneries seen through the carriage windows are quite incredible to say the least. The five-plus hour trip including the transit is absolutely worth it.

(Images: The Stadium Hub/Naoki Tsukushi)

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