Tokyo Olympics torch relay begins 121-day journey

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Grand Start torchbearer "Nadeshiko Japan," Japan's women's national soccer team, leads the torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, Thursday, March 25, 2021. The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics began its 121-day journey across Japan on Thursday and is headed toward the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP)

The Tokyo Summer Olympic torch relay began in Fukushima on Thursday, and is scheduled to make its way across Japan over a 121-day journey and culminate with the start of the Games in July.

Olympic officials say the journey will take the torch to 859 municipalities in all 47 Japanese prefectures.

The relay began Thursday at the national soccer training facility in Fukushima, a site specifically chosen as the start point because of its ties to the 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant disaster. Officials said starting there symbolizes Japan’s hope and peace in the face of challenges it’s faced over the past decade.

“Fukushima Prefecture was the perfect venue for the torch to begin its four-month journey to Tokyo,” the organizing committee said in a statement. “The area was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 and the effects of the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster are still felt there to this day.

“The city, though, has become a symbol of hardship and resilience. Of tragedy and triumph.”

The pink and gold color of the torch design was inspired by the cherry blossom, a flower synonymous with Japanese spring.

“I feel like it’s all finally underway,” Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said.

“It so happens these games were postponed [from 2020] and as a result, overlapped with the 10-year anniversary of the earthquake. I couldn’t be more grateful if we got through the 121 days in one piece.”

Fukushima’s national soccer facility reopened two years ago.

“I spent five years in Fukushima and I feel like half of me was made here,” said Japanese women soccer player Karina Maruyama, one of the first torchbearers. “I thought about the people here as I ran today.”

A special flight a year ago retrieved the Olympic flame from its home in Athens, Greece, and returned it to Japan.

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23 and run through August 8. Last week, organizers decided that no international spectators will be allowed at the Games due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

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