On March 17, it was officially decided that some of the baseball and softball games during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be held at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
The 2020 Olympics will mark the beginning of the 10th year since the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster of early 2011, and I want to raise a cheer here as the Tohoku region redoubles its efforts to speed along the recovery following 2011’s horrible events.
I recently met with Baron Paul Deighton, KBE, the former chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I was encouraged by what he told me: “The London Olympics were a somber remembrance of the World War, as well as a way of telling the world about the success of our reconstruction.”
Japan’s Heart in a Mountain of Backpacks
I visited the Tohoku area after it was blindsided by the destruction caused by the 2011 natural and nuclear disasters. My task was to deliver school backpacks to children who had lost theirs in the earthquake, tsunami, and evacuation.
When I took to Twitter to ask the Japanese people to help bring hope to school children who had lost even their beloved backpacks in the disaster, the executive council chairman’s office of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), where I was working at the time, was soon buried in an avalanche of donated backpacks—more than 2,000 in all. That mountain of donated backpacks—many of which arrived with heartwarming messages from other children, written on adorable stationery—represented for me the very heart of Japan.
It was just about six months after taking over as governor of Tokyo that I visited the three prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This was partially a “flag tour,” during which I was traveling throughout Japan in order to raise the banner of the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. But it was also personal, as I wanted to see with my own eyes how the region was recovering from the heavy blow it sustained in 2011.
In Iwanuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, I was welcomed by children affected by the disaster. With a big smile, one of them—who had grown up into a sixth-year elementary student—looked at me and said, “I was so happy to receive a new backpack when things were hard after the tsunami came.” I felt anew, as I looked at the children’s smiling faces, that words are not enough—actions are also needed in order to express our concern.
Help from Kuwait Gets Tohoku Trains Running Again
Immediately after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Kuwaiti ambassador to Japan came into the LDP executive council chairman’s office to ask what Kuwait could do for Japan. “Oil,” I replied. This was the impetus behind Kuwait’s providing some 5 million barrels of oil to Japan, which also contributed towards the resumption of service along the Sanriku Railway.
It was in Iwate Prefecture, three years ago, that I stopped by Kamaishi Station on the South Rias Line of the Sanriku Railway, which had just been reopened along all tracks. At Kamaishi Station, I saw a train car displaying messages of gratitude to the people of Kuwait. I was deeply moved: words and actions, again, working in tandem to help others in need.
The upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics present Japan with an opportunity to further blend words and action. On the initiative of the International Olympic Committee director Jacques Rogge, a group of refugee athletes was formed for the first time in history, and these athletes competed on the world stage in the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Many refugees flee manmade disasters, it is true, but many also are displaced by natural disasters, such as the earthquake and tsunami, which hit Tohoku. There are earthquake zones throughout the world, and whenever earthquakes happen, those living along coastlines even thousands of miles removed are in further danger of being struck by a tidal wave.
There are proposals now to make the theme of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Japan’s announcement to the world of our disaster recovery.
In 2013, the government’s Central Disaster Prevention Council announced that there was a 70% chance that a magnitude-7 class earthquake would occur directly under the Tokyo metropolitan area within the next 30 years. One of my central policies as Tokyo governor is to create a safe city for all. This is the most important policy, as it seeks to protect the lives and property of Tokyo’s residents, as well as the ongoing functioning of Tokyo as Japan’s capital city.
Japan Leads the World in Disaster Preparedness and Recovery
Japan is a world leader in researching and developing anti-earthquake and fireproof construction methods. Students and researchers from earthquake-prone countries around the world come to study at the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute. Japan is thus in a unique position to share its wealth of hard-earned knowledge on earthquake preparedness and recovery with the rest of the world.
Turkish scholar Nusret Sancaklı, with whom I worked in the past on the campaign to stop the use of the phrase “Turkish Bath” in Japan, also studied and did research at the Earthquake Research Institute. And the late Saparmurat Niyazov, who served as the first president of the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, was himself orphaned in an earthquake, and thus was extremely attentive to policies designed to prevent earthquake-caused damage and loss of life. Countless people in China and Italy also have suffered and been killed in earthquakes and their aftermaths.
Bearing in mind the theme of “The Olympics of Recovery,” what if we saw the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as a chance to rally efforts to accelerate the post-earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts throughout Japan, including in Kumamoto and other areas outside of Tohoku which have suffered earthquake damage since 2011?
What if we also saw the Olympics as a call to the rest of the world to set up a comprehensive policy to protect citizens from earthquakes, and also to build up a robust search-and-rescue network ready to spring into action whenever and wherever the next earthquake might strike?
We Are In this Together!
In the Art of War, Chapter 5, Sunzi wrote, “The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals.” Sunzi teaches us the importance of “combined energy” in battle. I agree. The battle for Japan’s post-disaster recovery is ongoing, which makes it vital that we all come together and use our “combined energy” to rebuild.
In April of 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet’s Upper House Budget Committee that he wanted the “Recovery Olympics” to be Japan’s announcement to the world of the tremendous strides that have been made towards restoring Tohoku and Japan. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics cannot be deemed a success unless Tohoku is restored and healed.
I firmly believe that it is my role, as the leader of the host city of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to marshal the combined energy that is needed as we all fight onward to Japan’s rebirth.
Yuriko Koike is the governor of Tokyo. She has proposed great reforms for the capital city, and here sets forth her vision for Tokyo and for Japan in light of her own experiences.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)
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