Photo/IllutrationUruguay and Fiji rugby players and spectators observe a moment of silence for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster before a match at Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, on Sept. 25. (Shiro Nishihata)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Typhoon No. 19 forced the cancellation of a Rugby World Cup match that citizens of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, were really looking forward to.

The city was supposed to host two matches, but the second one, between Canada and Namibia scheduled for Oct. 13, had to be scrapped.

As a result, members of the Canadian national team busied themselves by helping local citizens clean up sludge left by the typhoon and hauling household items out of their flooded homes.

“What a happy surprise that was,” gushed Tomoaki Sasaki, 41, a Kamaishi official in charge of World Cup events in the city. “The Canadians volunteered their services, and we gratefully asked them to work in neighborhoods that suffered the worst flood damage.”

Kamaishi made its bid to host World Cup matches three years after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. More than 1,000 of its residents died in the tsunami triggered by the quake, and many were still living in temporary quarters.

“A lot of people said helping quake/tsunami survivors should take precedence over rugby,” Sasaki recalled. “And unlike other bidders, we didn’t have any decent facilities to speak of.”

Sasaki said it was a miracle that Kamaishi was chosen.

Last summer, the Unosumai Fukko (Reconstruction) Stadium was completed for the Rugby World Cup on the former site of an elementary-junior high school that was destroyed by the tsunami.

All the pupils survived the 2011 catastrophe, but Sasaki lost many of his friends and neighbors.

On the day of the first Rugby World Cup match, Sasaki was in charge of maintenance of public lavatories and trash collection.

In the tsunami’s immediate aftermath eight years ago, he recalled, he supervised the construction of public lavatories and the transport of the remains of victims.

“Kamaishi has come a long way from the state of utter devastation,” he said, emotionally. “Being able to let the whole world know about that was the ultimate goal we’ve been striving for.”

His every remark conveyed a sense of achievement at fulfilling his duties as an official of a Rugby World Cup host city.

I felt the sea breeze as I walked around the stadium. It was too unfortunate that only one match was held there. But I’m sure the citizens of Kamaishi will always be talking about all the hard work that went into getting the city ready for the big event and the exultant cheering that erupted on game day.

There is no question that the city marked a truly memorable step in its long, uphill battle of post-disaster reconstruction.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.