When the Tokyo Olympic torch relay begins in Fukushima on Thursday, runners are hoping it will show the world that the region is not a “nuclear waste”, a decade after the 2011 catastrophe.
The pandemic may have surpassed Games listed as the “Recovery Olympics” in the wake of the quake and tsunami disaster, but Fukushima torchbearers say the reflect the relay of their home in a new light.
“From time immemorial, Fukushima may have looked like a place where time has stood still,” Hanae Nojiri, a reporter with a local TV station that participates in the relay, told AFP.
“But when people see the spectators lining the roads and the passion of the runners, I think they renew their image of the place.”
The virus-delayed torch relay starts about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that went into melting when the earthquake and massive tsunami hit on March 11, 2011.
An estimated 18,500 people have been left dead or missing, most of them devastated by the devastating tsunami.
Tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes, with radiation making some areas uninhabited for years.
The regeneration of the area is not complete even now, but residents are ready to show the world what progress has been made.
The relay of the torch will begin at the J-Village football training facility, which was once a front-end control center for cleanup operations at the nuclear facility.
Now it has been restored to its original purpose, with pristine green fields welcoming the footballers who train there.
“I think it’s very meaningful that the relay from Fukushima will start 10 years after the accident,” Nojiri said.
– ‘Mixed feelings’ –
The Olympics and the one-year relay have been delayed due to the ongoing pandemics and viruses resulting in the torch relay being canceled, with the exit service and first leg closed. to the public.
The route, which crosses Japan and takes in about 10,000 runners, is banned, and the relay will be canceled if a large crowd gathers.
Yumiko Nishimoto, a torchbearer on the first day, has “mixed feelings” over the closed-door event, which features a simpler program with a smaller number of actors.
“Locals were looking forward to it, and some wanted to go and see it,” said Nishimoto, who is leading a community project to plant 20,000 cherry trees, one of the initiatives to revitalize the area. -news.
“I wonder if organizers could have put in more effort, considering it’s an outdoor event. The situation with diseases is not the same here as it is in Tokyo.”
But Nishimoto is determined not to let the virus dampener on the event, which she sees as an opportunity to show “all the positive and negative sides” of Fukushima’s resurgence.
Organizers have been keen on the benefits of hosting the Olympics for areas affected by the crash.
But parts of the region remain borderless due to high radiation, and some empty towns are still struggling to attract people back to rebuild their communities.
“The relay of the torch will go through areas where people still can’t return, and you can’t cover that – that’s the truth and you have to understand that,” Nojiri said.
“But a lot of people move on and live lives with smiles on their faces, and I want people to see that.”
– ‘Back on his feet’ –
William McMichael, a Canadian lecturer at Fukushima University who has been living in the area since 2007, has been inviting foreign students from the disaster, hoping to change attitudes.
“There was a huge gap between what the world was saying about Fukushima and what was going on here,” McMichael said, arguing that it was represented as a “nuclear waste field” outside of Japan.
McMichael, who runs on the third day of the relay, wants the world to see what Fukushima looks like and hopes residents will understand “that the whole world is still thinking about them ”.
Fukushima also plays an active role in the Games, hosting an Olympic baseball and softball.
And Nojiri believes the department can offer important lessons and hope to the world at a difficult time.
“Ten years ago, Fukushima went through a catastrophe that other countries did not experience, but it got back on its feet,” she said.
“I want people to see that positive vision, especially now with the world in crisis.”
amk / sah / th