• Kyodo

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With exactly five years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a pep-up talk to Cabinet ministers on Friday, urging them to work as one in preparing for the games.

“We will work to make (the Olympics) a historic event where people from all over the world can share their hopes and dreams,” Abe said as he chaired the first meeting of a government task force that involves all ministers.

Abe said the government will work hard to draw up a new plan for the main stadium after last week’s announcement that the previous plan was being scrapped due to spiraling costs.

“I want you to make efforts while keeping in mind that you only have five more years left,” Abe said, adding that Japan will “definitely” have a new stadium completed in time.

Abe also said that through the Olympics, he hopes to show the world that Japan has recovered from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Hakubun Shimomura, the Cabinet minister whose portfolio includes sports, told reporters the government planned to set up an independent panel to look into the process of the original stadium plan being scrapped and would compile an interim report by mid-September.

The government had initially estimated the stadium’s cost at ¥130 billion.

But it was later almost doubled to ¥252 billion due to rising labor and material costs.

At a separate news conference, Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo stressed that the government will be implementing maximum security measures to protect the event from terrorism, cyber attacks or a natural disaster.

“Our goal is to make the 2020 Olympics a safe and secure event,” Endo said.

He said it is possible the 2011 disaster zone in the northeast Tohoku region could host preliminary games to back up recovery work.

In northeastern Japan, a 1,000-km relay race started the same day in the city of Aomori, with about 100 people running through in the first section.

They were among the approximately 1,400 people who will join the 15-day coastal run through to Tokyo.

At the departing ceremony, Sydney Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi said she hoped that people will “feel the Olympics is reachable.” Tokyo Vice Gov. Toshiyuki Akiyama said that he hoped the 2020 games will be the greatest event ever and convey to the world that “Japan is back on its feet.”

A group of medical students in Tokyo, meanwhile, launched a support organization that will offer English medical interviews for foreign visitors with health problems and introduce them to medical institutions during the 2020 Olympics.

The group said while the number of visitors from abroad continues to grow, surpassing 13 million last year, only a quarter of medical institutions across Japan have a special section for admitting foreigners.

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