On June 1, the organizing committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games announced the route for the Olympic torch relay races, which will cross the country in anticipation of the Olympic Games starting later in the summer.
The Olympic Torch Relay
The Olympic torch relay race will start on March 26 from J-Village, the football stadium in Fukushima Prefecture, the heart of the area affected by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. In the following months the flame will cross the whole of the country, all 47 prefectures, 857 cities, towns and villages, over 121 days.
This period is unusually long, as in principle the relay is supposed to be less than 100 days, but the organizing committee received special permission from the International Olympic Committee to allow for travel throughout the country, including disaster affected areas. Each day will feature 80 to 90 people who will carry the Olympic Torch for about 200 meters each. About 10,000 people overall will participate in the traditional race.
Who Can Run?
The aim is to have people from all over the country apply to be a runner.
In addition to applying directly through the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, one can apply through the “Presenting Partners”, the sponsors of the event, for a maximum of 5 applications per person (although of course winners only get to run once). Details are set to be announced soon, and the deadline for applications will be August 31.
People wishing to be among the runners carrying the Olympic flame should have been born in 2008 or before, making it a celebration open to anyone who is older than a middle school student, with no age, sex or citizenship discrimination.
The main criterion is that those who run are expected to have experience living in the prefecture where they are applying or a connection with the region. In case it’s difficult for an individual to run on their own, the presence of co-runners is allowed.
Each participant will run approximately 200 meters. Private sponsorships are not be permitted, and people in public office such as parliamentarians and local government officials are banned from participating.
Applications in each prefecture will begin on July 1. Applications through Presenting Partner Coca Cola will begin June 17, while the other sponsors Toyota, Nippon Life and NTT will accept applications from June 24. The selections will be announced from December.
Relay Course – A Chance for Rebirth and Remembrance
The race will pass through cities and countryside, exploring the best of Japan’s scenery and cultural heritage as it proceeds. The final runner will reach new National Stadium on July 24, in time for the opening ceremony.
The Olympic flame, aside from the 15 days it will be in Tokyo, will spend a couple days in each prefecture as it passes through the region. Fukushima Prefecture, the location of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, will welcome runners for the event for three days.
The route passes the “miracle pine” in the devastated city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, representing the single pine tree that survived being engulfed by the tsunami back in 2011. The tree became famous worldwide for its clear message to the world of rebirth of the region.
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano prefecture, which suffered major damage in a group of 2016 earthquakes, will also be part of the route.
Going further back in time, the race will also be a chance to commemorate the atomic bombings at the end of the Second World War. The torch relay will pass by Peace Memorial Park next to the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima.
The director of the Japan Confederation of A- and H- Bomb Sufferers Organization, 77 year-old Toshiyuki Mimaki, welcomed the choice of route, saying: “From the point of the view of the victims, it’s something to be very pleased about.”
Showcasing Japan’s Culture
Together with the symbolism of recovery from disasters, the choice of route reflects the cultural heritage of Japan. Examples include Tomioka silk mill in Gunma Prefecture, Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, and the Mozu Tombs in Osaka, which are set to become World Heritage Site next year.
Each locality through which the torch passes also has its own traditions and some prefectures will welcome the relay race with in their own traditional style. Among these is Tokushima, home of the famous Awa Odori dance festival which takes place in mid-August every year. The prefecture representative commented that given the expectations, the region was already working on next year’s performance.
Runners will also view other natural wonders of Japan, including Mount Fuji, the three scenic views of Mount Fuji and Tottori sand dunes, just to name a few.
The general choice of locations was made with the suggestions of local governments in mind, but also with the aim that 98% of the population could use public transportation to see the race somewhere along its route in less than an hour. The measures were taken so that as many people as possible can come and support the race. The final route details are expected to be released by the end of the year.
Paralympics Torch Relay Race
It’s tradition that the Olympic flame is lit in Greece, but the Paralympic relay flame will take a slightly different course. Using the concept of “Share Your Light” it will be taking flames lit in various places symbolizing the enthusiasm of the people of the area to light the relay torch.
The course of the Paralympic torch will start August 13 in Stoke Mandeville in the UK, the town considered the home of the Paralympic movement. The flame will then travel to Japan and visit schools, hospitals in each region.
The event will include a relay a day in Tokyo and each of the nearby locations of Saitama, Chiba and Shizuoka, which all have game venues. On the evening of the August 21, the various flames taken from around the country will be combined, creating the Paralympic Torch flame.
The flame will then be carried around Tokyo until the evening of August 25, when it will be welcomed in the opening ceremony, and the 2020 Paralympic Games flame will start to burn.
With the spirit of celebrating diversity and creating a symbiotic society, it was decided that the first three people to meet will run the relay together.
Author: JAPAN Forward