Kamaishi (釜石市 ka-ma-i-shi?) is a small city located on the southern coast of Iwate Prefecture with a population of about 40,000 people. Many years ago, it was famed for its large industrial capacity namely in the form of a steel mill which propelled the city to a size of approximately 100,000 at its peak. During World War II, Kamaishi functioned as a major steel manufacturing facility, and as such, was the target of extensive American bombardment towards the end of the conflict.
As a result of waning steel production, there has been a steep drop in population as the city epitomizes the declining industrial capacity of various parts of semi-rural Japan. However, Kamaishi remains famed for other industries, such as confectionary processing and other manufacturing. Further, Kamaishi remains the leading producer of pachinko balls throughout all of Japan.
Heavily affected by the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, much of the downtown area of Kamaishi was destroyed. The town is beginning to find its feet again and many new bars and restaurants are opening in the place of ones destroyed in the disaster. A number of businesses also operate out of temporary buildings in both the downtown area and a small complex west of Kamaishi station.
Morioka really is one's best bet when visiting, working, or living in Kamaishi.
Getting to/from KamaishiEdit
Kamaishi is accessed via the JR Kamaishi Line which connects with the JR Tohoku line at Hanamaki station, or the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line at Shin-Hanamaki station. These connections are both reached fairly easily from Tokyo, Sendai or Morioka, although it should be noted that the JR Kamaishi Line runs fairly infrequently.
Kamaishi has a main station located very close to the downtown core in the eastern part of the city. This station is accessed only by the JR Kamaishi line which operates between Hanamaki, Shin-Hanamaki (Shinkansen), Tono and terminates at Kamaishi. Trains are the easiest way to reach Hanamaki and Morioka via public transport - both of which will require a two to three hour commute. The trains are fairly infrequent with up to two hours between trains during the day. The last train departing Kamaishi leaves around 20:30 and the last train from Hanamaki arrives in Kamaishi around 22:30
In the past there were trains running North-South along the coast through Kamaishi but the lines were damaged in the 2011 tsunami. In April 2014 the line south of Kamaishi, operated by Sanriku Railways, reopened between Kamaishi and Mori stations. The JR Yamada line to the north of Kamaishi remains closed with no intentions to repair the damaged track (see below).
Buses are also an option in Kamaishi, but they are not all that convenient unless one wishes to spend a longer period of time on a night bus that can take eight hours to get to Tokyo. This is a popular and affordable alternative to taking the bullet trains. There is a daily bus (that is rarely crowded) that runs between Kamaishi and Morioka with multiple convenient stops in Kamaishi, however it is only less expensive than the train if one is in need of a round trip.
There are currently plans to create a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system to replace the northern coastal train route (JR Yamada Line). This will connect Kamaishi with Yamada and Miyako in the north via high speed bus routes following the old train corridoor.
Cars are the most convenient mode of transport if living in Kamaishi. Hanamaki can be reached via the Senin-Toge road and the Kamaishi Expressway (all free) in a little over an hour and Morioka takes about two and a half hours.
The Sanriku Expressway is already open in sections along the coast and construction of the remaider is well underway which will provide a fast, free expressway along the coast connecting all the towns between Ishinomaki in the south and Kuji in the North. This will eventually link to the Senin-Toge road and the Kamaishi Expressway, providing easy access between the coast and the Tohoku Expressway.
Getting around KamaishiEdit
Because Kamaishi is a valley town that was built into a riverbed carved through the mountains, its logistics when it comes to commuting and transportation are rather unusual. It is approximately 15km long and only 200-300m wide. As such, walking can be a bit of an inconvenience if one is hoping to travel between the western and eastern parts of the city.
The east coast contains much of Kamaishi's industrial core as well as the nightlife and downtown area, whereas the west is much more residential and oriented to infrastructure. Purchasing a bicycle can make the entire city very accessible, especially if one does not wish to spend upwards of an hour or two traveling from end to end.
The city bus system is reliable and convenient, but it does not provide night service beyond 7-8PM. As such, taxis become the only sort of motor transportation if one does not have a car.
Cars are convenient if travelling from one end of town to the other, however, traffic can be quite bad in peak hours. Daikou (Dial-a-driver) can be very useful if planning to drink, they are usually fast, friendly and slightly cheaper than a taxi.
Currently, there is only one JET located in Kamaishi along with several other ALTs from other private companies and businesses operating within the region. The Academic High School, merged from the North and South schools in 2008, is the only post currently held by a JET Programme participant. The school has about 500 students and is one of only three schools in Iwate involved in the 'Super Science High School' programme. The school has a strong science focus and often has events/excursions relating to this.
The other three placements in the region requiring ALTs are the Commercial and Technical High School, one located across the various junior high schools in the area, and another at Otsuchi's High School. These placements are all prefectural as opposed to municipal, and are moderately rural/inaka. These placements are filled by private ALTs/NSs.
There is a surprisingly robust ex-pat community. The Kamaishi Seawaves pro rugby team has a few imports from places such as Fiji,Tonga, Australia and New Zealand, who come with their families during the season. Kamaishi used to be one of the premier teams in Japan, having won 7 straight national championships and 8 within a 9 year period. They transitioned from Kamaishi Nippon Steel Rugby Club to the now Kamaishi Seawaves Rugby Club. They have had several prominent foreign born players and coaches in recent memory. Peter Slattery, Cameron Pither, Va'a Toloke, Andrew McCormick (first foreign-born captain of Japan), Ken Wong (strength coach), amongst others. There is usually an influx of talent after the Rugby World Cup. There are also a few non-JET ALTs hiding around. While there are more foreigners than one might expect, it is still a very rare treat to run into one.
There are only a few key locations in Kamaishi but most of them are well worth checking out.
Kamaishi Daikannon (Big Buddha) is quite a sight. ￥500 lets you in the complex located east of the station nearby the city pool and technical high school. Once you enter you proceed up the tallest escalator you will ever ride and you end up at the foot of the 40m high white concrete statue. There are some great photo opportunities here and you can climb to a viewing platform near the top which overlooks Kamaishi Bay.
The Kamaishi Iron and Steel history museum is not far from the daikannon. This tells the story of Kamaishi's history as an iron and steel producer and how they came to have the first western style blast furnace in Japan. The museum is interesting but has no English so is a little difficult to interpret.
Drinking in Kamaishi can be a delight as long as you aren't out for a rocking club. Many new bars have begun to open since the tsunami and there are a number located in temporary buildings. Most of the bars are very small, accomodating about 10 people. Snack bars seem to be the most common and tack on steep seating charges without including drinks (~￥3,000).
Town Hall is a swanky little jazz bar for a night of feeling fancy. Great whiskey selection and a massive jazz library give it a posh feel. Food is limited to a small selection--some spaghetti dishes and appetizers--but they are all very good.
Sano co. import store is a necessity for any foreigner in Kamaishi. The proprieter, Sano Kenji, is a seventy-six year old guy with fantastic English and a love of foreigners. Ex-pats will always be invited behind the counter for some free drinks and conversation, as well as discussions about Irish music and bawdy lyrics. Just remember to buy something every now and then.
A new beer garden type area was built in 2013 which provides a nice place to drink in the heat of summer. The bars here occasionally change as they operate out of several caravans surrounding a decking area.