The Sankei Shimbun
The torch relay for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will start from Fukushima on March 26 of the Olympic year. The plan was approved at the July 12 meeting of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee.
Starting the Olympics celebrations there will send a message of hope, as the region was severely hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and tsunami-caused nuclear meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex.
The decision was welcomed in the Tohoku region, especially in the three prefectures hardest hit by the disaster: Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi. Some residents said commencing the Olympic torch relay from the disaster-struck area would be highly meaningful. Some said that through the flame relay, an international audience will get a glimpse of the current state of the disaster-hit region.
The three prefectures are poised to proceed with deliberations on specific relay routes.
Fukushima prefectural government officials, while cordially welcoming the decision, also appear to be developing a sense of apprehension over assuming the weighty responsibility. Some pointed out that much hard work is required for the torch relay preparations.
Promoting the Region
Regarding plans on the among the three disaster-hit prefectures,
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said they are in “close coordination” with the other prefectures for the region’s reconstruction, and to plan the sequence of relays among the three of them.
“What is of high importance is to think about ways to create opportunities that communicate and promote understanding of the full magnitude of the disasters and recovery, including both the bright and dark sides of the reconstruction process,” he said.
Fukushima Mayor Hiroshi Kohata said: “Hopefully the relay’s starting point will be located either in the Hamadori coastal area of eastern Fukushima Prefecture—an area particularly hard hit by the disaster—or in the city of Fukushima.”
The city of Fukushima is scheduled to host part of the Tokyo Olympics’ baseball and softball matches at its Azuma Ballpark under the name “Fukushima Games.”
Officials of the town of Naraha in the Futaba district of the Hamadori region, for their part, expressed a strong desire to host the relay’s start.
Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said: “This is a golden opportunity to help raise the profile of the prefecture of Fukushima and the Futaba district, both of which have energetically taken on post-disaster reconstruction. We believe the Olympic torch relay, for our area, will certainly have significance commensurate with the Tokyo Games, which are alternatively called the ‘Reconstruction Olympics.’”
Mayor Satoshi Endo of the town of Hirono, also in Fukushima’s Hamadori region, hosts the J-Village national soccer training center, whose facilities was set to partly resume operations by the end of July 2018. The town’s mayor, Satoshi Endo, noted, “Given that the J-Village has served as a pivot for helping reconstruction projects, we in the town of Hirono are ready to help rev up the Olympics on the strength of the J-Village.”
Deputy Mayor Katsumi Miyaguchi of the town of Namie, another municipality in the Hamadori area, has also stressed the Olympic flame relay “will really be significant as a symbol of the ‘Reconstruction Olympiad.’”
Meanwhile, the city of Ishinomaki in eastern Miyagi Prefecture is also anxious to host the Olympic relay start. Ishinomaki had declared its candidacy, along with the Miyagi prefectural government, punctuating its appeal by renting the Olympic cauldron that was used in the 1964 Tokyo Games.
A 35-year-old woman living in the Ishinomaki Temporary Housing Complex No. 7 for refugees of the March 11, 2011, disaster expressed the graciousness typical of many in the area. She said, “I feel a bit sad as I hoped to see our city host the starting point of the relay, but I also think it wonderful that the relay will be launched in Fukushima Prefecture, which, like us, was subjected to tremendous damage in the disaster.”
She added, “That the torch relay will start in a disaster-hit area of the Great East Japan Earthquake is truly significant.”
The housing complex is near the Comprehensive Sports Park run by Miyagi Prefecture, which includes a soccer stadium and ballpark, among other facilities, plus the Olympic cauldron.
Kano Chimura, 75, who was passing by the sports park, said: “I don’t mind whether Ishinomaki or Fukushima is to be the Games torch relay starting point. I feel instead that all of the disaster-struck areas should remain united in tackling our reconstruction challenges.”
Kazuo Konno, 67, who was visiting the sports park, said: “Of course, the areas struck by the earthquake-caused disaster are not limited to Ishinomaki. I would like to see the Olympic torch relay as well as the Games themselves used to broadly spread understanding of the current circumstances of the disaster-hit areas.”
As Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama put it, “The decision is somewhat regrettable for us, but at the same time we are pleased with the decision, which will surely help expedite disaster reconstruction efforts.”
Yoshihiro Murai, governor of Miyagi Prefecture, explained: “Our prefecture has consistently called on decision makers to start the Olympic flame relay in Ishinomaki, so we are sorry that the decision is in favor of another city.
“However, we are determined to continue tackling the tasks of reconstruction, while hoping to make the torch relay a precious opportunity to communicate at home and abroad our appreciation for the support extended to the disaster sufferers. We want to see people all over the world informed of the current state of our efforts and our success in recovering from the disaster.”
Route options in Northeast Japan
After starting from Fukushima and traveling through the disaster-hit region, the sacred flame is scheduled to arrive in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on June 14, 2020. It will then head southward again on its 121-day nationwide journey.
Osamu Kanno, 64, the president of Sasaki Sports, a sportswear and outdoor gear firm, discussed the relay route and how to get the flame to Hokkaido. He pointed out the wisdom of carrying the torch via the ferry that went into service on June 22 this year between the towns of Muroran on the island of Hokkaido and Miyako in Iwate Prefecture.
First, however, he suggested, “There is also an option for dividing the relay course to carry the Olympic torch both north and south from Miyako.”
Kanno has deep community connections from his voluntary operation of an evacuation center set up at the municipal government’s sports dome complex in the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, immediately after the 2011 earthquake.
Regarding the relay route, he emphasized, “I would like to see the relay course set up to run through an extensive area of the disaster-hit Sanriku coastal region, selecting as many runners as possible to carry the flame from among the young people who will shape the region’s future.”
Mayor Masanori Yamamoto of Miyako, for his part, issued a statement supporting the call for “using a ferry to carry the torch from Hokkaido.”
Message of Gratitude
Kimiaki Toda, the mayor of the city of Ofunato, also in Iwate Prefecture, meanwhile, proposed that his city be included in the torch relay courses. “Our city is prepared to make all-out efforts for helping transmit broadly information on the disaster-hit areas’ recovery with a sense of gratitude for the support and encouragement we received both domestically and internationally,” he said.
Governor Takuya Tasso also released a comment, saying the Iwate Prefectural government “deems the Olympic flame relay as an excellent opportunity for conveying worldwide our thanks for support from within the country and from abroad for the disaster victims, while conveying information globally on the processes for our recovery from the disaster.”
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