KAMAISHI, Iwate Prefecture — Tuvi Mahe was so busy preparing for Kamaishi Seawaves’ season opener that he may have been the last person on the rugby team to hear of a disaster hitting his homeland.
“Is Tonga okay?” the players asked Mahe, 41, a staffer and interpreter for the team in this coastal town in Iwate Prefecture.
A massive underwater volcanic eruption and a tsunami hit Tonga on January 15, while Mahe was making travel arrangements and interpreting for Japanese and foreign players and staff in Mie Prefecture in western Japan.
The team was scheduled to play the Mie Honda Heat on January 16 in League One, Japan’s newly established rugby league.
Mahe finally got the chance to message his older brother who lives in Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, via a social networking site. He asked if a tsunami had hit the area and if the family was safe.
He got no answer.
His wife, 31, also has family in Tonga. She told him she was on the phone with her older sister when she heard a loud explosion-like noise followed by people saying, “Tsunami is coming.”
The conversation was then cut off.
Since then, Mahe and his wife have called their family several times a day, but on January 19, they were unable to get through.
They have tried to gather as much information as possible via TV and the Internet.
“It looks like the (area) was hit by a high tsunami and is covered in volcanic ash,” Mahe said. “There must be serious damage.”
Mahe came to Japan in 2000 and played rugby at Daito Bunka University and on corporate teams including the Munakata Sanix Blues in the Top League and the Kamaishi Seawaves in the Top Challenge League.
He retired as a player in 2019 and joined the staff of the Seawaves, a team that is now in Division Two of League One.
The team recorded a video message for Tonga and posted it on the internet after training in Kamaishi on Jan. 19.
Mahe says in his native language in the video that both the Seawaves and the residents of Kamaishi are praying for Tonga’s recovery from the disaster.
Kamaishi suffered catastrophic damage from the earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan in 2011. It was named the host city for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and became known worldwide as a symbol of recovery and inspiration within the rugby world.
The Seawaves travel to Tokyo on January 23 for a game against the Hino Red Dolphins at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.
The team plans to raise money for Tonga at the venue and ask fans to support the cause.
Tongans are “big in body and heart,” Mahe said. “But many of them must be in distress and grappling with uncertainty. There’s not much I can do right now, but I want to get support to bring back their smiles.”