By Wesley Keppel-Henry
Stepping out of Kamaishi Station, one of the first things you’ll see is a welcome sign painted in huge characters on the side of the steel factory across the street. “Town of Steel, Fish, and Rugby” ("鉄と魚とラグビーの街") it reads.
Founded in 1959, the local Nippon Steel Corporation Kamaishi Rugby Team produced many of Japan’s top national team players. Nicknamed the “Iron Men of the North,” the team’s fame reached an apex in the 1980s when they won the national championship a record-breaking seven years in a row. The company-owned team was disbanded in 2000, but was reborn the following year as a community-based team called the Kamaishi Seawaves.
Thanks to the Kamaishi Rubgy Team’s reputation, Kamaishi has become synonomous with rugby. In 2019, the town hosted the Fiji vs. Uruguay Rugby World Cup match at its purpose-built Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium (a second World Cup match at the stadium had been planned, but unfortunately was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis). The stadium, built specifically for rugby, stands nestled against a forested hillside near the coast. With the 2019 World Cup over, the stadium now serves as the home pitch for the Kamaishi Seawaves.
Naturally, the public is welcome to come watch matches live at the stadium. With six thousand permanent seats and room for several thousand temporary ones, there’s usually space available at all but the most popular matches. In keeping with the Seawaves’ community-based nature, the matches often also feature fun rugby “experiences” that fans are invited to participate in.
Nicknamed the “Iron Men of the North,” the team’s fame reached an apex when they won the national championship a record-breaking seven years in a row.
Even if you can’t time your visit to coincide with a match, the stadium itself and surrounding area are absolutely still worth a visit—scenic, with enough unique charm to make the trip a memorable one. The stadium is located just a short walk from Unosumai Station, a small train station in northern Kamaishi. Unosumai was one of the areas devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The community has 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. Across from the station, there’s an English-friendly tsunami museum and memorial dedicated to the victims of the disaster, where visitors can learn about the tragedy through the eyes of a community that lived through it.
Next door to the station, there’s a diner run by the local fisheries cooperative, where you can enjoy top-notch seafood at bargain prices. Fishing is an important part of the Kamaishi economy, so by dining here you’ll also be supporting local industry.
Just outside Unosumai Station, you’ll find a large colorful rugby ball statue sporting a distinctly Kamaishi paint job—a great photo-op that will always remind you precisely where you were when you took the picture.
In fact, Kamaishi is dotted fun rugby-themed touches throughout the city. Have fun trying to spot all the rugby-themed details as you walk around town! One of our favorites is the whimsical statue of a team of rugby-playing cats, located just outside Kamaishi Station.
Rugby Cafe Kamaishi
Another must-see attraction for rugby fans is Rugby Cafe Kamaishi, located next door to Kamaishi Station inside the Sea Plaza Kamaishi building. It’s not an actual cafe, but rather a free relaxation space and mini museum exhibiting photos and memorabilia related to Kamaishi rugby. It’s also got fun novelties, like a trick-art photo area where you can put on a rugby jersey and pose as if you’re scoring a try in the World Cup stadium to the cheers of a crowd. The displays are in Japanese only, but that’s rarely a problem as there’s usually an English-speaking volunteer guide available at the Cafe or in the Kamaishi Sightseeing Association offices located down the hall. They’ll come greet you and explain the exhibits if they see you. If they don’t, feel free to pop over to the sightseeing offices yourself and ask if anyone is available to show you around.
Stadium Area Details
Tsunami Memorial Hall (いのちをつなぐ未来館)
Closed days: Wednesdays, plus the end-of-year and New Year's holidays
Official website (English): en.unosumai-tomosu.jp
Access: Across the plaza from Unosumai Station
Kamaishi Station Area Details
Kamaishi Rugby Cafe (釜石ラグビーカフェ)
Closed days: The first, third, and fifth Tuesdays of every month
Official website: rwc2019-cafe.com
Access: 2-minute walk from Kamaishi Station