Kamaishi is a small, historic city located on the Sanriku rias coast of Iwate, Japan.
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, Oshima Takato. 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 Oshima 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 Oshima 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.
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.
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'.
Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
The Kamaishi Tsunami Protection Breakwater, 1,950 m (6,400 ft) long and 63 m (207 ft) in depth, was completed in March 2009 after three decades of construction, at a cost of $1.5 billion. It was once recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world's deepest breakwater. Kamaishi was heavily damaged by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Tsunami waves as tall as 14 ft (4.3 m) surmounted the Kamaishi Breakwater. Approximately 1,250 city residents were killed or missing from the tsunami. 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. At least 4 of the town's 69 designated evacuation sites were inundated by the tsunami.
The city's earthquake disaster preparedness plans proved to be effective in evacuating the town's public school students to safe areas. Of the 2,900 students who attended the town's schools, only five elementary or junior high school students were killed or missing from the tsunami. Three of the town's 14 schools were inundated by the tsunami.