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.
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 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 Olympian.
Fans were told to social-distance along the roadside as the torch passes, and they were to refrain from loud cheering. Organizers have said they will stop or reroute the relay if crowding becomes a problem during the four-month parade.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga chimed in from Tokyo with a statement.
“The Olympic torch relay starting from today is a valuable opportunity for the people to get a real sense of the Olympics and Paralympics that are approaching,” Suga told reporters.
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 it’s twice that much and a University of Oxford study says these are the most expensive Olympics on record.
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.
About 10,000 runners are expected to take part, with the relay touching Japan’s 47 prefectures.