The Olympic flame for Tokyo 2020 touched down in Japan early on Friday to start its 121-day Olympic Torch Relay journey around the country, bringing a message of peace and hope to the world.
The flame was transported by a special aircraft “Tokyo 2020 Go” from Athens, Greece, and arrived at Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) Matsushima Air Base in Miyagi Prefecture shortly before 10am local time.
The flame was originally lit in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia on 12 March, and after its week-long stay in Greece was handed over to Tokyo at a ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
As the “Tokyo 2020 Go” aircraft descended, Tokyo 2020 officials waited in eager anticipation to welcome the arrival of the Olympic Flame in Japan soil.
When the aircraft doors finally opened, triple judo gold medallist NOMURA Tadahiro and triple wrestling gold medallist YOSHIDA Saori held the lantern aloft before it was handed to President of Tokyo 2020 MORI Yoshiro, who was accompanied by Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President YAMASHITA Yasuhiro.
A symphony orchestra from the JASDF played a live rendition of the “Tokyo Olympic March” – symbolically the same music used at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games.
As a powerful symbol of the Olympic movement, the Olympic flame is often associated with the message of hope and peace. It will bring Tokyo 2020’s torch relay’s concept #HopeLightsOurWay to life and will help unite the host nation with emotion.
MORI expressed his gratitude towards those who devoted their efforts to transfer the Olympic flame safely to Japan.
“The torch relay in Japan will start on 26 March from J-village sports training centre in Fukushima. After 56 years, it will gather people’s thoughts along the way and arrive in Tokyo. It will light people’s way,” he said.
“The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will continue to work closely with the IOC, the Japanese government and Tokyo Metropolitan Government to ensure that we will have a safe Games.’
Nomura and Yoshida then lit the Celebration Cauldron to finally connect the flame from Greece to the Japanese nation. The two Japanese athletes expressed their disappointment of not being able to go to Greece to welcome the flame, but they said they are very happy and proud that the flame finally arrived safely in Japan.
“I think the concept of #HopeLightsOurWay consists thoughts from the athletes as well as thoughts of people from Tohoku. Facing the current difficulties, I believe the torch relay will pass power and hopes to people,” Yoshida said.
Shortly after the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron, the “Blue Impulse” aerobatic demonstration team of the JASDF soared high into the sky and endeavoured to draw the Olympic rings in the air with coloured smoke, before flying in unison to bring the ceremony to its climax.
The scene was intended to echo the aerobatic team’s performance at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, when Tokyo became the first city in Asia to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but unfortunately strong winds made it an impossible task this time around.
Members of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020), Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials, Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay Official Ambassadors and representatives from Miyagi Prefecture joined the arrival ceremony.
The Olympic flame will now be put on display at various locations in the Tohoku region, to highlight the message of hope in the areas worst affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The special display of the “Flame of Recovery” will start in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi. The Matsushima Air Base, which is located the west of Ishinomaki, was heavily damaged during the earthquake. Its reconstruction over these years has been viewed as a symbol of Tohoku recovery.
From 26 March, under the concept of “Hope Lights Our Way”, the Olympic Torch Relay will see the flame carried around to all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, bringing the Olympics and its values to the entire country.
However, there have been calls by federations and nations requesting that the IOC postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with Australia and Canada recently announcing their withdrawal from the games.