A subdued, socially distanced Olympic torch relay begins in Japan.

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — When Bruna Noguchi signed as much as be a torchbearer for the Tokyo Olympics a yr and a half in the past, she by no means dreamed it could possibly be a controversial resolution.

However as the relay kicked off on Thursday morning in Fukushima Prefecture, the ceremony and people taking part in it have been on the middle of a nationwide debate, with many questioning whether or not the Video games ought to go on despite the virus, the ballooning prices and other growing challenges.

Whereas greater than three dozen folks, together with about 20 celebrities, have withdrawn from the relay, Ms. Noguchi, 22, has determined to take part. She is certainly one of 10,000 individuals who will carry the torch over the subsequent 4 months, from Fukushima to Okinawa within the far south to Hokkaido within the north and on to the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

“I can perceive the sentiments of the individuals who have determined to withdraw from the relay,” Ms. Noguchi stated in a current interview. “However I’m not fearful.”

The Japanese authorities had envisioned the beginning of the torch relay as a triumphant second, and their alternative of Fukushima because the launching level was closely symbolic. Japan is asking these Video games the “Restoration Olympics,” highlighting the nation’s restoration from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that ravaged Fukushima and different elements of northeastern Japan, in addition to the world’s restoration from the coronavirus pandemic.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, stated that it was “very significant” that the relay would begin in Fukushima and that she wished for “the whole world to try the reconstruction executed in East Japan.”

However the celebration on Thursday was subdued, and the relay was being carried out below a number of restrictions. Conventional Japanese drummers and a hula dance group opened the ceremony, performing earlier than a gaggle of round 150 attendees, who sat at socially distanced intervals and applauded politely.

The ceremony and the primary part of the relay have been closed to the general public. Routes won’t be introduced till half-hour earlier than the beginning time, and spectators can attend the relay solely of their house prefectures.

No cheering or shouting is allowed, and followers should provide “help with applause or utilizing distributed items.” The relay will likely be live-streamed by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.

Regardless of the precautions, some folks in Fukushima stated they have been nonetheless fearful. Shuhei Ohno, 34, a chef in Koriyama, stated he feared that the torch relay would possibly “increase the an infection threat” nationwide.

“The vaccine hasn’t unfold broadly sufficient in Japan but, so how can there already be plans to host the Olympics?” he stated.

Nonetheless, the organizers are urgent forward. Over the subsequent 121 days, Ms. Noguchi and her fellow torchbearers will trot throughout Japan’s 47 prefectures, together with islands off the coast of Tokyo, earlier than finishing the torch’s journey on July 23, the day of the opening ceremony.

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