The torch relay ahead of the Tokyo Games will begin on March 26, 2020, in Fukushima Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to showcase the recovery from the disasters, games organizers said Thursday.

The plan was approved by representatives of the International Olympics Committee who were visiting Japan to inspect preparations for the 2020 Games.

At a news conference marking the end of the two-day IOC visit in Tokyo, Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, stressed the symbolic meaning of starting the traditional relay in Fukushima, saying it will be a symbol of the region’s recovery and a chance for Japan to offer gratitude for the global support and encouragement received following the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The quake triggered a monstrous tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and knocked out all its power, resulting in a triple meltdown crisis. Fukushima Prefecture has the largest number of displaced people by the disaster, with 45,208 still living in evacuation shelters, according to government data.

“The Olympics convey a lot of messages such as giving hope. … Especially for children, for the next generation,” he said.

The torch relay is expected to take 121 days to complete. After its departure from Fukushima, it will travel southward through the northern part of the Kanto region and will reach Okinawa Prefecture by ferry in early May. It will later move northward, arriving in Hokkaido in mid-June.

Further details of the route will be announced at a later date.

The relay will end on July 24, 2020, with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron during the games’ opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo, which is still under construction.

With Thursday’s relay announcement, IOC Vice President John Coates said, “We’ve moved from planning to the preparation and operational elements.”

Coates, who inspected some of the venues including the new National Stadium and Sea Forest Cross Country course in the Tokyo Bay area, praised Japan’s preparations for the games.

He said he was very “impressed with the quality of the venues that are complete or underway.

“(The visit) just impressed on me what a wonderful legacy this new park is going to be for the people of Tokyo,” he said.

Coates also offered condolences to the victims and survivors of the flooding in western Japan.

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