An increasing number of municipalities are registering with the central government to serve as host towns for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The host town program is aimed at creating nationwide support for the events and revitalizing areas by arranging cultural, athletic and other exchanges between residents and athletes from some 200 countries and areas.
To become host towns, municipal governments must submit plans to accept athletes and coaches to the central government for screening. Registered host towns are eligible for state support to cover some of the related costs.
Localities need to focus on one country or area and are allowed to work out such plans jointly. A total of 250 plans have so far been registered with the central government from 320 governments wishing to raise international recognition of their cultural, dietary and other specialties.
With about two years to go before the quadrennial sporting extravaganza, some have already hosted pre-Olympic training camps.
In Murayama, Yamagata Prefecture, for example, a Bulgarian team of rhythmic gymnasts held a two-week training camp in June following one last year.
At the camp, athletes attended a rice cake-making event and an exchange program involving local children. They also gave a public workout. Many of the gymnasts conveyed their experiences in Murayama on social networking sites, while Murayama citizens established a fan club to support the team.
Exchanges with the Bulgarian team serve as “good opportunities to make Murayama known widely,” a municipal official said.
The village of Mishima, Kagoshima Prefecture, consisting of three remote islands with a small population of about 370, decided to host Guinea following an exchange between villagers and players of a traditional drum called the djembe. The village plans to invite the Guinean delegation to visit after the Olympics.
Hachimantai in Iwate Prefecture is preparing for registration to welcome Rwanda, after exchanges with the East African country related to the production of gentian, a speciality of the Japanese city.
During the 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer finals cohosted by Japan and South Korea, the village of Nakatsue, Oita Prefecture, drew strong attention because of warm exchanges between villagers and the Cameroonian soccer team, which camped there for training. Similar outcomes are expected in small towns and villages during the 2020 Games.
An official of the Cabinet Secretariat called for more municipalities to link up with foreign countries and serve as host towns.
With 107 countries and areas yet to find hosts in Japan, the central government will continue to seek registrations until just before the 2020 Games open, according to officials.