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2020 Olympic torch relay to start in Fukushima on March 26

TOKYO -- A coordination council comprising organizations involved in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics has decided that the torch relay for the 2020 Games will depart from Fukushima Prefecture on March 26, 2020, as part of efforts to encourage residents affected by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

    According to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, 44,878 residents still remained evacuated within and outside Fukushima Prefecture as of July 5, 2018. At a meeting of the coordination council held in Tokyo on July 12, top officials from the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the central government and other organizations agreed to pick Fukushima as the starting point.

    The organizing committee had thus far given equal consideration to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures -- which were hit hardest by the March 11, 2011 disasters -- in line with the banner of the "disaster recovery Olympics" it raised during its bid to invite the games to Tokyo. However, as the number of evacuees from Fukushima stands highest among the three prefectures, and the fact that the prefecture continues to face difficulties emanating from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant catastrophe, the officials decided to choose the prefecture to symbolize disaster relief efforts.

    "We wanted to respect the original starting point of our bidding campaigns," said former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who chairs the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

    Weightlifter Yoichi Itokazu, left, waves the Olympic flag while Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, second from right, waves the Paralympic flag during a Tokyo 2020 Games flag tour event at the Okinawa Prefectural Government building in Naha in this Oct. 30, 2017, file photo. (Mainichi)

    The council also announced the schedule for the 121-day torch relay, including seven days for the torch to travel between relay courses. Such travel between different prefectures will largely take place by car, while that to Okinawa Prefecture and Hokkaido will be carried out via ferry.

    After spending three days being passed from runner to runner through Fukushima Prefecture, the torch will move to Tochigi Prefecture, then travel south to Gunma and Nagano prefectures, before heading to the Tokai and Kinki regions and the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu. After reaching the southernmost island prefecture of Okinawa, the torch relay will start heading north on May 2, 2020, moving to the Chugoku, Hokuriku and Tohoku regions mainly along the Sea of Japan coast, before reaching the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on June 14. From there, the torch relay will once again move southward, covering Iwate and Miyagi prefectures for three days each. As of late June 2018, some 5,022 Iwate Prefecture residents and 3,556 Miyagi Prefecture residents remained evacuated due to the 2011 disasters.

    From Miyagi, the torch will then be transported to Shizuoka Prefecture using expressways. After a three-day leg each in Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures near Tokyo, and a two-day leg each in Yamanashi and Ibaraki prefectures, the Olympic flame will finally arrive in Tokyo on July 10. The torch will then be passed between all of the capital's 62 wards, cities, towns and villages, including those on islands south of Tokyo's city center, for a period of up to 15 days.

    During the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the torch relay departed from Okinawa, then still under control of the United States, covering a total of four different routes. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) currently does not allow splitting courses.

    The respective organizing committees set up in all of Japan's 47 prefectures will draw up detailed route maps by the end of the year, while the Fukushima Prefectural Government will select the departure point. After the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee compiles the route plans, they will be finalized upon gaining the green light from the IOC by the summer of 2019. After the routes and the number of runners are decided, each prefecture will start selecting torch bearers.

    (Japanese original by Kazuhiro Tahara, Sports News Department)

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