Kamaishi is a steel town. The first things one sees on arriving here are the large corrugated warehouses of the Nippon Steel factory, the smoke rising from the blast furnaces and, beyond them, a spaghetti mess of pipelines and conveyor belts, roads and bridges across the river that runs down to the port where the tugboats and tankers moor. At the end of it all is the great new blue sea wall and, beyond that, the sparkling ocean. Fifty years ago around 75,000 people lived here; then Nippon Steel scaled back production and now there are only 35,000. Even before the tsunami the place was in a slump.
So was Scott Fardy when he first came here. Years later Fardy would become a star of the 2015 Wallabies team that made it to the World Cup final. But this was in 2009. He was 24 and he had just been let go by the Western Force without playing a single game for them all season. He could not get a job in Super Rugby. “My manager told me there was one club left, right up in the north of Japan,” he says. They were called the Kamaishi Seawaves and they were playing in the second division of Japan’s eastern conference. “What do you think?” Fardy signed up for 12 months.
Once Kamaishi were the best team in Japan. Between 1979 and 1985 they won the national championship seven years in a row. Back then, like most other rugby clubs in Japan, they were owned and run by the local corporation. They were called Nippon Steel Kamaishi but everyone knew them as the Iron Men of the North because the factory and the rugby club were intertwined and, when Nippon Steel moved away, the team fell down the leagues. In 2001 Nippon Steel handed control of the club over to the town and they became the Kamaishi Seawaves.
The Seawaves are unique among Japan’s top two divisions: they are the only club owned and run by a community rather than a company. “When I was here I think there were 15 guys who worked at Nippon Steel, and the rest of the guys worked at different businesses around town,” Fardy says. “The captain sold office furniture, a couple of guys were in the town hall, a couple more were in security, another guy was a courier driver, a lot of the rest worked down the docks.” Japan is not a rugby country but this little corner of it is. It got under his skin, and he ended up staying for three years.
It was in the third year that the tsunami hit. Fardy’s house was far enough inland that he was safe. The first he heard about it was when he saw “all the guys coming back from the factory saying ‘the tsunami has destroyed the town’”. Later he went to look for himself, to check on friends of his who lived over the hill in Omachi. “It looked like the end of days,” he says. “Everything was flattened, gone. There was a big gas fire and everything was burned out. It was incredibly distressing. Something I never want to see again.”
In the days afterwards Fardy was not sure what to do. “We didn’t know whether we should get out or not, because all the supermarkets were gone, everything was gone and we were eating supplies and it felt like we were doing the wrong thing.” Five days later the Australian embassy offered to fly him and the team’s other overseas players home. “I told them: ‘I’m going to stay.’ The wives and children went home but we wanted to do what we could to help the town.” For the next few days he and his teammates worked at the supply depot, unloading trucks, stacking supplies, distributing bags of rice.
“Rugby has values, like being a team, working hard, not letting your mates down,” Fardy says. He does not want credit for it. “The whole community was out there doing it as a team, together. There were hundreds of people doing amazing work, much more than what we were doing. There were people picking up bodies and digging up bodies.”
It turned out that the best thing the Seawaves could do for the town was to get back playing. “The people wanted us to start again,” he says. “I think sport was a great way for people to get back to normality. They can go and watch a game and get away from what’s happening, get a bit of relief. We felt like we had a duty to do it, to go out and play well for the town.” They played a full season in the year of the tsunami, in front of some of the largest crowds they had had since the team won the championship.
Kamaishi is a rugby town. One can see it in the flags, posters and murals that are on every lamppost, noticeboard and spare patch of wall, in the gruff taxi driver who presses a handful of sweets on you and tells you to enjoy the game, the convenience store clerk who comes running up to shout “Thank you very much!” in English as you’re on your way out of the shop, and the three old ladies at the corner table in the cafe, folding thousands of origami cranes from little paper flags of the four countries playing games here. No town was ever happier to host a World Cup match.
These days the general manager of the Seawaves is Yoshihiko Sakuraba, who played for the team in the last of their glory years. “It’s not just that the people are happy to have the World Cup here,” he says. “It’s that they want to thank the world for all the support and aid they gave us after the tsunami. These World Cup matches are their way of giving back.”
- Smartphone style hits London catwalk at J.W. Anderson show
- Ten most significant world events in 2018
- Teed Off (Aug 23, 2015) Teed Off (Aug 23, 2015)
- Hurricane Matthew closes in on Florida as Haiti death toll rises
- Florida braces for lethal floods as hurricane nears
- More bodies found as death toll from Indonesia quake nears 2,000
- BUSINESS IN BRIEF 24/9
- U.S. Box Office: 'Beauty and the Beast' dazzles again, 'Power Rangers' off to solid start
- BUSINESS NEWS IN BRIEF 30/8
- Australian PM Turnbull defies critics, cliffhanger vote count resumes
- Newcastle denied as Dubravka howler rescues Wolves
- Philippines marks five years since its deadliest storm
- Market crashes to below 480 points
- Thousands flee after Hawaii quake triggers new volcano eruptions
- Vietnam's bun cha listed top 10 world’s best street food
- Trump delays tariff hike on Chinese goods citing trade talk progress
- US China trade talks resume, Trump says deal still "possible"
Scott Fardy on rugby in tsunami-hit Kamaishi: ‘It was like the end of days’ have 1153 words, post on www.theguardian.com at September 24, 2019. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.