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The Tokyo Olympic torch relay stirred mixed emotions ahead of the start of Fukushima


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© Reuters. View of the J-Village training center where the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay started in Naraha

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By Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies

FUKUSHIMA / TOKYO (Reuters) – When Shusaku Sagi was 19 years old, he watched his soccer training center at J-Village in Fukushima turn into a facility for workers to shut down a nearby nuclear power plant afterward. The 2011 earthquake paralyzed it and sent thousands of people to flee.

On Thursday, the sports complex will hold the opening ceremony for the Olympic torch relay ceremony, the kick-off for the countdown to the Olympics in Tokyo – the first to be held during a deadly pandemic.

Sagi, 29, who organizes youth soccer tournaments at J-Village, said: “Major sporting events like the Olympics can energize people and send a message to the world not to forget Fukushima. .

Members of the Japanese women’s national soccer team will use the Olympic flame flying from Greece to light the torch. However, the ceremony – originally planned for thousands of fans as a celebration of Japan’s revival – will be closed to the public.

The first part of the relay run will have no audience, and as around 10,000 runners holding torches across Japan’s 47 prefectures, including remote islands, viewers must wear masks and keep social distance. .

The four-month event was affected by several cancellations by famous runner-ups, as celebrities retreated, citing late announcements and worries about crowding out crowds during the pandemic. .

Hiromi Kawamura, who oversees the relay, said the organizers had “some crazy days” juggling rapidly changing news, the changing pandemic situation and negotiations with itself. national and local rights.

“We ask everyone not to stand shoulder to shoulder. If it is really crowded … if we feel the situation is dangerous, we will stop relaying. Then we will start again after doing so.” Safe area over, “said Kawamura.

Japan has outperformed most countries, with less than 9,000 coronavirus deaths. But a third infection pushed the numbers to record highs, leaving emergencies in Tokyo and other regions lifted this week.

The majority of the public opposes the Olympics to be organized according to the schedule, the polls showed.

‘LEFT OUT’

After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the government took effect 20 km (12.4 miles) of the no-go zone around the plant and turned the J-Village into a staging center for thousands of nuclear collection workers to donate. protective gear.

“Seeing my childhood playing field turn into a facility to shut down – even though it plays an important function – saddens me because I think it will never be able to return to the way it was before” J-Village’s Sagi said.

The native Fukushima trained there from the age of eight until he graduated from high school.

Over time, the nuclear workers left. The rebuilding of J-Village began in 2014; Two years later, Sagi, who is currently hosting youth soccer tournaments at the complex, was tasked with measuring radiation levels.

The start of the relay run at the site highlights the theme of “Olympic Reconstruction” – celebrating Japan’s nearly $ 300 billion effort to revive the region.

But some residents did not share Sagi’s enthusiasm and belief in the government’s efforts to introduce Fukushima.

Large areas around the plant were still out of bounds, radiation worries persisted and many left to settle elsewhere. Decommissioning will take up to a century and cost billions of dollars.

Takayuki Yanai, who works at a fisheries cooperative in Iwaki, 50 kilometers south of the factory, said the concept of the “rebuilding Olympics” is not widely shared by locals.

“The catch on the coast off the coast of Fukushima is still about 20% compared to before,” Yanai said. “I’m afraid we are about to be eliminated from the reconstruction process.”



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