Where EAST meets the Northwest
121-DAY JOURNEY. Japanese torchbearer Azusa Iwashimizu, center, a member of
Japan womenís national soccer team, arrives at a torch kiss point to pass on the
flame during the torch relay grand start outside J-Village National Training
Center in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on March 25, 2021.
The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics has begun its 121-day journey
across Japan and is headed toward the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.
(Philip Fong/Pool Photo via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #4 (April 5, 2021), page 16.
Torch relay for Tokyo Olympics kicks off its 121-day journey
By Stephen Wade
AP Sports Writer
TOKYO ó The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics began its 121-day
journey across Japan last month and is headed toward the opening ceremony in
Tokyo on July 23.
The relay began in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, the area that was
devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and the meltdown of three nuclear
reactors. About 18,000 died in the tragedy,
The first runner with the torch was Azusa Iwashimizu, a key player of the
Japan team that won the Womenís World Cup in 2011.
Wearing a white track suit, she carried the torch out of the J-Village indoor
soccer training center and was surrounded by 14 other members of that 2011 World
Cup squad and coach Norio Sasaki at the rear. They were also decked out in white
The ceremony was closed to the public because of the fear of spreading
COVID-19 but was streamed live.
"The torch of Tokyo 2020 will become a bright light for hope for Japanese
citizens and citizens in the world and a light at the end of the tunnel," said
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the local organizing committee and a former
Homare Sawa, the biggest star on the 2011 team, missed the ceremony. She is
being treated for a condition affecting her inner ear and had to withdraw from
Fans are being told to social distance along the roadside as the torch
passes, and they are to refrain from loud cheering. Organizers have said they
will stop or reroute the relay if crowding becomes a problem during the
Spectators cooperated in Naraha Town, just down the road from where the torch
started its trip. A few hundred people stood on the roadside and were safely
"At first I didnít think much of it," said 20-year-old Takumu Kimura. "But
when I actually saw it, it felt like, Ďyes, itís the Olympics!í"
Setsuko Hashimoto, a 63-year-old local resident, was emotional as the torch
"Ten years ago there was a nuclear accident so (seeing the torch) it felt
like I could really look forward to something and live," she said. "When you
become my age, this is the last Tokyo Olympics and itís here. It was very
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga chimed in from Tokyo with a statement.
"The Olympic torch relay ... is a valuable opportunity for the people to get
a real sense of the Olympics and Paralympics that are approaching," Suga told
Organizers confirmed a bit of bad luck: the flame in the torch was blown out
during one leg of the relay. As has happened in other Olympics, it was re-lit by
a back-up lantern that also carries the flame that was kindled in Greece more
than a year ago.
Local organizers and the International Olympic Committee hope the relay will
turn public opinion in Japan in favor of the Olympics. Sentiments expressed in
polls in Japan so far are overwhelmingly negative with about 80% suggesting
another delay or cancellation.
The relay and the Olympics both stir fear that the events could spread the
virus. There is also opposition to the soaring cost of staging the Olympics, now
put officially at $15.4 billion. Several audits suggest itís twice that much and
a University of Oxford study says these are the most expensive Olympics on
The relay is a big test for the upcoming Olympics with fear among the public
that the event could spread the virus to rural and more isolated parts of the
country. Vaccinations have not been rolled out yet in Japan to the general
public. More than 9,200 deaths in the country have been attributed to COVID-19.
About 10,000 runners are expected to take part, with the relay touching
Japanís 47 prefectures.
After the postponement a year ago, there was early talk of eliminating the
relay to save money. However, that idea was quickly dropped with the relay
heavily sponsored by Coca-Cola and Toyota.
The relay is a prelude to the difficulties the Olympics and Paralympics will
present with 15,400 athletes entering Japan, along with thousands of other
officials, judges, VIPs, media, and broadcasters.
Athletes will be kept in a "bubble"-like atmosphere in Tokyo and will be
limited to the Athletes Village on Tokyo Bay, the competition venues, and
training areas. Most others will be outside the bubble and will be kept at a
distance from the athletes.
Organizers also announced that fans from abroad will be banned from attending
the Olympics and Paralympics. Most volunteers from abroad have also been ruled
Organizers plan to announce the venue capacities soon. Ticket revenue for the
Olympics was to be $800 million but will be severely reduced by the lack of
fans. Japanese government entities will have to make up the shortfall.
AP video journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in its entirety!
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!