Kamaishi, Iwate

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Flag of Kamaishi
Location of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture
Location of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture
Kamaishi is located in Japan
Coordinates: 39°16′N 141°53′E / 39.267°N 141.883°E / 39.267; 141.883Coordinates: 39°16′N 141°53′E / 39.267°N 141.883°E / 39.267; 141.883
Country Japan
Region Tōhoku
Prefecture Iwate Prefecture
 • Mayor Takenori Noda
 • Total 441.42 km2 (170.43 sq mi)
Population (April 2008)
 • Total 41,022
 • Density 92.9/km2 (241/sq mi)
Time zone Japan Standard Time (UTC+9)
- Tree Tabunoki (Machilus thunbergii)
- Flower Sukashiyuri (Lilium pseudolirion)
- Bird Streaked Shearwater
Phone number 0193-22-2111
Address 3-9-13, Tadakoechō, Kamaishi-shi, Iwate-ken
Website Kamaishi City

Kamaishi (釜石市 Kamaishi-shi?) is a small, historic city located on the Sanriku rias coast of Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 41,022 and a population density of 92.9 persons per km². The total area is 441.42 km².

It is famous in modern times for its steel production and most recently for its promotion of eco-tourism. Fishing and shellfish production are also important economic activities.


The spectacular, rugged coast of Kamaishi is entirely within the Rikuchu Kaigan National Park. There are four large bays, Ōtsuchi Bay in the North, Ryōishi Bay, Kamaishi Bay and Tōni Bay in the South. Each of these bays are separated by large, rocky, pine covered peninsulas which jut out into the Pacific Ocean. Immediately the rocky cliffs develop into hills rising to 400 or 500 metres (1,300 or 1,600 ft) along the coast and 1,200 or 1,300 metres (3,900 or 4,300 ft) farther inland. The highest point in Kamaishi is Goyō-zan in the Southwest at 1,341.3 m in elevation. Most of the land is mountainous allowing for little in the way of agriculture. The main rivers are the Kasshi-gawa River which empties into Kamaishi Bay and the Unosumai-gawa River which empties into Ōtsuchi Bay. Both rivers have small floodplains that allow for development and agriculture. Kamaishi is bordered by Ōtsuchi Town on the North, Tōno City and Sumita Town on the West, Ōfunato City on the South and the Pacific Ocean on the East.


The present city of Kamaishi was founded on May 5, 1937 and expanded in 1955 with the absorption of the four neighboring villages of Kasshi, Unosumai, Kurihashi and Tōni.

Pre-industrial Kamaishi[edit]

Before the discovery of magnetite in 1727, Kamaishi was little different from any of the other small fishing communities along the coast. However, it was not until 1857 and the construction of the first small blast furnace that any real change could be seen.

Pre-WWII Kamaishi[edit]

In the 1850s the feudal domains of Japan were engaged in an arms race to develop the first Western-style armaments, particularly large guns. The Nanbu Domain constructed blast furnaces of a foreign design in Kamaishi under the direction of their military engineer, Takatō Ōshima. Ten furnaces were built in all but some were owned by private corporations. The first of these furnaces was lit on December 1, 1857; a day honored as the start of modern iron production in Japan. Pig-iron from this furnace was sent to Mito where Ōshima supervised the making of the first cannons in Japan.

In 1875 the newly established Meiji government bought all of the furnaces and created the Kamaishi Iron Works. They also put Ōshima and a German engineer in charge of its modernization. When the two directors could not agree on a plan the Meiji government chose the plan of the German engineer and Oshima left. The German director imported two large steam-driven blast furnaces of the latest design from Britain and set up a railway with 15 miles of track and a locomotive from Manchester to deliver the ore. Production began in 1880 but had to be stopped soon after due to a lack of charcoal. An attempt to resume operations in 1882 by replacing charcoal with coke failed and the plant was closed.

There were cholera outbreaks in Kamaishi in July 1882 and April 1884. The first left 302 people dead and warnings about the drinking water were posted throughout the prefecture.

In 1885, a new foundry was established which used coal from Hokkaido and iron from China.

The 1896 Meiji-Sanriku earthquake struck on June 15 at 7:32 pm while families were celebrating Boy's Festival on the beach. The earthquake measured magnitude 8.5 while the tsunami on the Iwate coast reached as high as 24 meters in places - the highest ever recorded in Japan. The city of Kamaishi was completely destroyed. The French Catholic missionary Henri Lispard was also swept out to sea and died when the wave struck.

A devastanding earthquake with tidal wave hit and damaged in Kamaishi in March 1933

Kamaishi in WWII[edit]

As an important foundry town, Kamaishi played a significant role in the Japanese war effort and was targeted by the U.S. Navy during World War II. On 14 July 1945, under the command of Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth, the battleships South Dakota, Indiana, and Massachusetts, the heavy cruisers Chicago and Quincy, and nine destroyers bombarded the Japan Ironworks and warehouses, along with nearby oil tanks and vessels, to great effect. This was the first naval bombardment of the Japanese mainland. Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth's battleships and cruisers, joined by two Royal Navy light cruisers, attacked again on 8 August.[1]

Kamaishi after WWII[edit]

Kamaishi played its part in Japan's post-war boom, continuing its reputation as a steel town, a reputation reflected in the name of its rugby team - the Kaminashi Nippon Steel Rugby Club. In 1988 though, the steel mills closed and Kamaishi is now known more for its fishing than steel. On September 30, 2010, Foreign Policy magazine used Kamaishi as an example of Japan's relative decline in the 'Lost Decade'.

2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami[edit]

Kamaishi was heavily damaged by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami[2] in which 1,250 city residents were killed or are missing;[3] at least 4 of the town's 69 designated evacuation sites [4] and three of the town's 14 schools were inundated. Of the 2,900 students who attended the town's schools, only five elementary or junior high school students were killed or are missing.[5]

Noted fatalities, victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Kamaishi, included 104-year old Takashi Shimokawara, holder of the world athletics records in the men's shot put, discus throw and javelin throw for the over-100s age category.[6]

Tsunami waves as tall as 14 ft (4.3 m) surmounted the 1,950 m (6,400 ft) long and 63 m (207 ft) deep Kamaishi Tsunami Protection Breakwater,[7] which had been completed in March 2009 after three decades of construction, at a cost of $1.5 billion.[8] It was once recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world's deepest breakwater.[9] The subsequent decision to rebuild the breakwater at a cost of over 650 million dollars was criticised as 'a waste of money that aims to protect an area of rapidly declining population with technology that is a proven failure.' [10]

Many news videos were broadcast of the city, which can be recognized by a large green crane in the background and water rushing against tall buildings at the edge of the city.


  1. ^ http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-Chron/USN-Chron-1945.html
  2. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2011/mar/11/kamaishi-tsunami-earthquake-japan-video Kamaishi engulfed by tsunami after earthquake rocks Japan - video
  3. ^ Agence France-Presse/Jiji Press, "'Last' geisha, 84, defies tsunami", Japan Times, 29 March 2011, p. 3.
  4. ^ Kyodo News, "Tsunami hit more than 100 designated evacuation sites", Japan Times, 14 April 2011, p. 1.
  5. ^ Kamiya, Setsuko, "Students credit survival to disaster-preparedness drills", Japan Times, 4 June 2011, p. 3.
  6. ^ "Takashi Shimokawara, 104, a victim of Japanese tsunami", International Association of Athletics Federations, 30 March 2011
  7. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu (13 March 2011). "Japan's Seawalls Were Little Security Against Tsunami". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Norimitsu Onishi (2011-04-02). "In Japan, Seawall Offered a False Sense of Security". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ http://community.guinnessworldrecords.com/_Deepest-Breakwater/BLOG/2699333/7691.html
  10. ^ Norimitsu Onishi, NYTimes, 2 November 2011

External links[edit]