Sapporo - Former New Zealand centre Pita Alatini is delighted the "rugby-mad town" of Kamaishi will be staging World Cup games after being there when it was caught up in the tragedy of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Alatini was playing for the Kamaishi Seawaves when disaster struck eight years ago, with more than 15 000 people killed in Japan, including over 1 000 in the coastal city.

Now back in Japan as an assistant coach with his native Tonga, who begin their World Cup campaign against England in Sapporo on Saturday, the 43-year-old Alatini's memories of that day are still vivid.

"I was about seven kilometres (four miles) away when the earthquake happened," he told reporters in Sapporo on Wednesday.

"I hadn't seen people run to the evacuation area before, but they did that day.

"Then I was told the tsunami was coming through. One of the players at the club I was playing for lost his parents. I stayed on for about a month and would have stayed longer if they had needed me to."

In an attempt to both honour the dead and create a legacy for the future, the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium has now been completed.

The first match at the new ground will be the World Cup Pool D clash between Fiji and Uruguay next Wednesday, and it will also play host to the Namibia-Canada encounter in Pool B on October 13.

"They were building the stadium there (in Kamaishi) when I last came back to film a documentary two years ago," said Alatini.

"It's now finished, of course, and for them to be staging two (World Cup) games means so much."

The only sadness for Alatini is that Tonga won't be involved in next week's inaugural fixture.

"I am so jealous of them (Fiji and Uruguay)," he added. "It would have been fabulous if Tonga had been given a match there, but I'm so happy for the people.

"They have obviously been through an awful lot and they are a rugby-mad town."