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Exploring Unosumai

A neighborhood rebuilt from the ground up in the wake of the 2011 tsunami

· Disaster,Leisure,Food,Museums,Deep Japan

By Wesley Keppel-Henry

Unosumai is a coastal neighborhood in the northern part of Kamaishi City. It was one of the areas devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The city and community have been working hard to revitalize the area, and to that end have turned the Unosumai Station area into a great place to spend an afternoon. We made the trip north to check out Unosumai for ourselves, where we ended up learning loads about the 2011 tsunami, enjoying delicious seafood . . . and kicking ourselves for not timing it to coincide with a Kamaishi Seawaves rugby match!

Unosumai Station is a small train station along the Rias Line, which connects Kamaishi to Kuji via a scenic route that runs along the coast of Iwate Prefecture through the Fukko National Park. The epic thousand-kilometer long Michinoku Coastal Trail also traverses the area, making Unosumai a convenient stop for hikers as well as those traveling by rail or car.

The sea brought tragedy to this region, but it also brings blessings.

Across from Unosumai Station is the Tsunami Memorial Hall, a free English-friendly museum where you can learn about the tsunami and its effect on the area. Most of the exhibits have excellent English translations, and some have Spanish translations as well. The exhibits detail what happened the day the tsunami struck, the area’s reconstruction efforts, and innovative measures the area is taking to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. As a first time visitor unfamiliar with the history of the 2011 tsunami, the visit here really impacted Jay. It’s the wall of portraits of local people that really does it: “I like this exhibit. It reminds you that those affected were actual real human beings, not just some number,” says Jay.

Next to the museum stands the Kamaishi Memorial Park. It is one of the most touching memorials we’ve ever seen. Two levels, two somber arcs of matte black steel. The upper one stands eleven meters high—the height of the tsunami when it struck this very spot. Below it lies the second arc, as if underwater. On it are inscribed the names of the tsunami victims.

The sea brought tragedy to this region, but it also brings blessings. Next to the station is Shiori, a seafood restaurant and local-products market. It is the only one in town to be operated directly by the local fisheries cooperative, so the seafood here is top-notch and a good value. Jay really liked the kaisendon (seafood rice bowls), which came topped with crowd-pleasers like salmon and maguro (tuna), plus some of his personal favorites like fresh scallops and ikura (red caviar).

The other big draw to the Unosumai area is that the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium is located here. In 2019, Kamaishi hosted the Fiji vs. Uruguay Rugby World Cup match at this purpose-built stadium (a second World Cup match at the stadium had been planned, but unfortunately had to be cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis). With the 2019 World Cup over, the stadium now serves as the home stadium for local rugby team the Kamaishi Seawaves. Naturally, the public is welcome to come watch their matches live at the stadium. With six thousand permanent seats and room for several thousand temporary ones, there’s usually seats available for all but the most popular matches. In keeping with the Seawaves’ community-based nature, the matches also often feature rugby experiences fans are invited to participate in! Unfortunately, there weren’t any games happening when we visited . . . looks like we'll just have to make another trip!

Location Details

Tsunami Memorial Hall (いのちをつなぐ未来館)

Hours: 10:00–18:00

Closed days: Wednesdays, plus the end-of-year and New Year's holidays

Admission: Free

Official website (English): en.unosumai-tomosu.jp

Access: Across the plaza from Unosumai Station

Kamaishi Memorial Park (釜石折りのパーク)

Hours: Always open

Admission: Free

Official website (English): en.unosumai-tomosu.jp

Access: Across the plaza from Unosumai Station

Shiori (汐折)

Hours: 11:00–15:00 (last order 14:30)

Closed days: Every Monday

Official website (English): en.unosumai.tomosu.jp

Access: Next to Unosumai Station

Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium (釜石鵜住居復興スタジアム)

Hours: Varies by match schedule

Official website (English): kamaishi-stadium.jp

Access: 3-minute walk from Unosumai Station

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