National | Regional Voices: Fukushima

Tokyo Olympic torchbearers from Fukushima hope event showcases recovery

Fukushima Minpo

Applicants across Japan have begun receiving notification that they were selected to run in the Japan leg of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay that will kick off on March 26 at the J-Village soccer facility in Fukushima Prefecture, where efforts to recover from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster continue.

Runners will travel through all of the country’s 47 prefectures over a period of 121 days.

Among those chosen to represent the Fukushima are Takayuki Ueno, a 46-year-old resident of the city of Minamisoma, and Hisanori Kokubun, 37, of Junior Chamber International in the city of Motomiya.

Ueno lost four members of his family — his parents as well as his 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son — to the tsunami triggered by the earthquake. Since then, he’s been leading a volunteer group working to help the region recover from the disaster.

On Dec. 12, Ueno received the notice saying he had been chosen as an Olympic torch runner.

“If I hold the torch high enough, I believe my family in heaven will be able to see it,” he said.

As a representative of the volunteer group Fukkou Hamadan, Ueno has been working alongside many others in trying to help Minamisoma recover from the tsunami. Every year during Golden Week — an annual national holiday that usually lasts a week — Ueno invites residents to a flower maze near his home. This year, he planted the flowers in the shape of the Olympic rings. He finished planting seeds for next year’s bloom in October.

“I hope the flowers look just as pretty next year,” he said.

Minamisoma will be the final stop of the first day of the torch relay. Ueno hopes people from Japan and elsewhere will take the opportunity to come and see how the region is recovering.

Hisanori Kokubun | FUKUSHIMA MINPO
Hisanori Kokubun | FUKUSHIMA MINPO

Kokubun of Motomiya received the same notification just hours later.

Kokubun began working to strengthen ties between Japan and the United Kingdom following a project in 2017 with a local junior high school to build a memorial garden to commemorate the growing bilateral relationship.

“Beginning with the garden, cooperation with the United Kingdom is a symbol of the region’s recovery,” Kokubun said. “I want to give future generations something to dream about.”

Having been chosen as a “recovery host town” for the 2020 Games, Motomiya plans to host children and athletes from the U.K. next year. Typhoon Hagibis dealt heavy damage to the city earlier this year, but recovery efforts continue nonetheless.

“By running in the torch relay, I hope I can bring energy to the region,” Kokubun said.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on Dec. 13.

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