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2019 Rugby World Cup, the first time the tournament will be held in Asia. With venues spread across the country, the five-week-long tournament provides an opportunity to see a variety of sights in Japan. Matches will be played in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, but the less-traveled host cities like Kamaishi, Kumamoto andFukuroi offer accessible, charming destinations — as well as special deals and events — that give visitors the chance to experience Japan off the beaten path.
Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture
In March 2011, the scenic steel town of Kamaishi lost more than 1,100 residents in the tsunami that followed the Great Tohoku Earthquake; it is the only host city directly affected by the disaster. With deep ties to the sport through its famed Northern Ironmen club, the town has embraced rugby as part of its disaster recovery efforts, including construction in 2018 of the 16,000-seat Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium.
“We wish to show visitors the restored image of [the Tohoku region] and convey our gratitude as a host city of the Rugby World Cup,” said Yoshinao Takahashi, a public relations official with the city’s Rugby World Cup 2019 promotion headquarters.
When not taking in rugby matches, visitors can explore the town’s forested mountain surroundings. The Kamaishi Section of the 700-km Michinoku Coastal Trail winds through the town, making for a flexible, low-impact day trip that lets hikers take in both the history and natural beauty of the area.
The Kamaishi Iron and Steel Museum (Adult admission: 500 yen, or $4.50) traces the town’s industrial history and provides a charming side trip with views of the surrounding Kamaishi Harbour.
Visitors to Kamaishi should also keep an eye out for the rugby-themed “Scrum Iwate Fifteen” train. Introduced earlier this summer, the train is adorned with 35 yura-chara mascots from across Iwate Prefecture and is scheduled to run on the Sanriku Railway line through June.
WHERE TO STAYTraditional Japanese inns — ryokan — in Kamaishi and nearby towns are an excellent opportunity to experience the famed hospitality of the region. With autumn temperatures in the mid-70s, Kamaishi, and Iwate Prefecture as a whole, also offer an abundance of campsites for those seeking more rustic accommodations.
Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture
In the southern reaches of Japan, Kumamoto — one of three host cities on the island of Kyushu — is perhaps best known for its famous bear mascot, Kumamon. But the city has more to offer than its perpetually cheerful avatar.
The city is home to the 15th-century Kumamoto Castle, one of Japan’s “big three” castles (along with Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle). The complex was damaged in a
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