As cases of COVID-19 infections rose in Japan, organizers decided to hold seven baseball and softball games during the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors in Fukushima Prefecture.
The no-spectator decision was a great disappointment for Fukushima, which had thought the Games — dubbed the “Recovery Olympics” — would be a great opportunity to show that the prefecture has recovered from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as the subsequent triple meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
During an exclusive interview in March 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, then the Olympic minister who now serves as Tokyo Organising Committee President, said the Games will serve as an opportunity to restore “pride and confidence” in the affected areas.
Fukushima had expected many domestic and overseas tourists would visit the prefecture to watch the torch relay and competitions.
But with related events being canceled one after another, which means a significant decline in the number of tourists and visitors, officials are struggling to find a way to send out their message of recovery to the world.
“It’s unfortunate that the Recovery Olympics theme has been placed on the back burner because of the coronavirus pandemic,” reconstruction minister Katsuei Hirasawa, who went to a high school in Fukushima, said during a news conference on July 13. “But we’ll do our best to promote the Recovery Olympics.”
Hirasawa and the government is expected to display a slideshow of the affected areas, including Fukushima, at the press center where journalists from home and abroad will be based.
At the athletes village in Tokyo, where up to 18,000 competitors, coaches and staff can stay, meals using Fukushima produce will be served in hopes of showing the world that it is safe and delicious.
Fukushima produce still faces harmful rumors as well as import restrictions in 14 nations and regions following the fallout from the meltdowns. The prefecture saw the Olympics and Paralympics as a chance to turn the tide around.
Initially, the plan was to serve the food to tourists and spectators visiting Fukushima for the Games. Fukushima Prefecture officials had planned to serve local produce near Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium where the games will be held, but those Olympics-related events were canceled.
“We’ve lost a significant number of ways to promote the Reconstruction Olympics,” said Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori during a news conference on July 12.
The prefecture also had to cancel an event to which it planned to invite ambassadors from 24 countries and regions to the baseball and softball games and serve them Fukushima peaches and other produce to show their high quality and safety.
“I had thought it was a great opportunity to showcase Fukushima fruits. I’m heartbroken,” said Kazuo Azuma, 73, president of Azuma fruit farm. “But I’ll continue to produce delicious fruits for many tourists to taste in the future.”
The ambassadors were supposed to tour a museum to get a sense of how the 2011 disaster affected the region, in hopes that they would report back what they saw to their home countries.
Takashi Kobayashi, who heads the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum in the town of Futaba, said he hopes to welcome ambassadors and other overseas tourists when the pandemic subsides.
In other Olympic venues, Fukushima-grown Texas bluebells will be used in a bouquet for medalists and hydrogen energy produced in the prefecture will be used.
Hotels were also hit hard by the spectator ban.
Yoshikawaya hotel in the Anabara hot spring resort in Fukushima had about 200 reservations canceled.
“It’s inevitable with the global pandemic. But I wanted people to see for themselves how Fukushima has recovered,” said Hideko Hata, who heads the hotel, which had planned to serve meals using plenty of local produce.
“I’ll continue to promote Fukushima food products to tourists,” she said.
With Japan’s recovery from the 2011 disaster no longer the focus of the Olympics and Paralympics, many in Fukushima are looking for ways to create their legacy during the sporting event.
“It’s very unfortunate (that spectators were banned from watching the games in Fukushima) but we want to use the Games to show that we’re on the way to recovery,” said Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa.
This section features topics and issues covered by Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original articles were published July 14 and 15.
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