On May 15 in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, the Kamaishi Seawaves RFC rugby team held its first match after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Fans from the port city filled the stands and cheered for their team, which delivered them a convincing 59-17 victory over Kanto Gakuin University.
"This might have helped Kamaishi take one step closer to recovery," said Seawaves general manager Yoshiyuki Takahashi after seeing the smiling faces of the fans.
Takahashi is from Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, which was also hit hard by the March 11 disaster. After graduating from Meiji University, he played as a forward on the Seawaves' predecessor, the Nippon Steel Corporation Kamaishi. He was appointed general manager three years ago and was soon busy trying to secure funding and strengthen the team. But on the day of the quake, he began to question the existence of his rugby team.
"This city may never be a place where we can play rugby anymore," he remembers thinking.
The day after the quake, when Takahashi found out that his employer, Nippon Steel's Kamaishi steel mill, was looking for men who could do manual labor, he called on all his players.
"There are things that we can do using our physical skills," he told his team, and sent young players out to help carry relief supplies and assist evacuee wheelchair users.
Takahashi visited evacuation centers and gave rugby lessons after learning that children wanted to get some exercise. He also handed out water and instant noodles that he received as donations from rugby players all over Japan.
The Seawaves are in the second division of the Top League. Nippon Steel Corporation Kamaishi's glory of winning the Japanese championships seven years in a row is now a distant memory. Unlike in the halcyon years when Nippon Steel Corp. funded the team 100 percent, the team is now funded by locals, such as store owners. Due to the damage and financial losses incurred by the disaster, the team's annual operating budget of roughly 70 million yen is expected to fall by 30 to 40 percent. But Takahashi said his team can help bolster the spirits of Kamaishi's residents.
"I want to continue fighting for the sake of Kamaishi City without giving up hope," Takahashi said.
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