Japan begins Thursday in Fukushima, the Olympic torch route of the Tokyo Games, a way that shows the world the reconstruction of this region of the country, ten years after the nuclear disaster it suffered. The Olympic torch relay will start on Thursday about twenty kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where a magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, followed by a massive tsunami, caused the core of the three reactors to melt.
The disaster caused 18,500 deaths and disappearances, as entire cities in Fukushima Prefecture became uninhabitable due to radiation, causing tens of thousands of people to be displaced. Although there is still a lot of work to be done ten years later, the occasion will allow the world to demonstrate progress in reconstruction for the participants in the Olympic torch relay.
“From the outside, it seems that time has stopped in Fukushima, but I think the image will change when people see the passion of the contestants and the audience on the road,” says Hana Nogiri, presenter of the local TV series and will participate in the substitutions.
The numerous restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic on the holding of the games have forced the organization to take measures such as blocking the access of foreign spectators and reducing celebrations around the passage of the Olympic torch through Fukushima. The opening ceremony will be held without an audience, as will the first stage of the relay.
10,000 runners will transport this Olympic symbol across the Japanese archipelago, under strict sanitary measures. Spectators will be able to stand on the margins of the race but will not be able to welcome the participants. Organizers have warned that they may ban certain tours if too many people gather.
Yumiko Nishimoto, one of the participants in the torch, told AFP, who said she had “mixed feelings” about the restrictions, “The people of the area are waiting impatiently for this moment, many will want to come close.”
“I wonder if the organizers did not make an effort, because the event is being held in the open air,” Nishimoto added, indicating, as he explained, that the number of injuries in Fukushima is much less than in Tokyo.
Nishimoto, who is also in charge of a citizen project to plant 20,000 cherry trees in the region, does not want the Coronavirus to spoil this opportunity to show the world the “positive and negative aspects as well” of the reconstruction.
“The world thinks of them.”
The Japanese organizers and authorities want to make the Tokyo event a “reconstruction games” and they never cease to praise its positive impact on the region. However, access to about 2% of Fukushima Prefecture is still blocked by radiation, and communities are just starting to rebuild.
“They will make relays near areas that neighbors cannot return to, and which cannot be hidden,” Hanaa Nogiri says. “It is a fact and you have to understand it, but a lot of people here look to the future with a smile on their face and I want to see this,” he says.
William McMichael, a Canadian-born professor at Fukushima University who has lived in the prefecture since 2007, has struggled since the disaster to change the image of the adopted region and bring foreign students to the university.
“There was a big difference between what was said about Fukushima in the world and what was actually happening,” says McMichael, who gives an example of how to talk about the extension of “contaminated land” from the outside.
McMichael, who will carry the Olympic torch during the third stage of the relay, hopes that “the people of Fukushima will realize that the world is still thinking of them,” and welcomes that the province has an important role in the games despite the outbreak of the epidemic.
Fukushima will host the Olympic baseball and softball competitions, garnering some of the attention that planet Earth will devote to the Games. Ten years later, the “Fukushima Recovery” organization looks to Hani Nogiri, which hopes this “positive attitude” will give the world a ray of hope in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.