Within the vanguard of the Olympic torch relay got here a convoy of sponsor vans, blaring a J-Pop model of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and urging the group to present their help. It was adopted by a phalanx of police.
Then, simply in case anyone was tempted to get excited or have enjoyable, there was a loudspeaker truck to warn them off. “The torch relay will arrive in three minutes. Please clap however don’t cheer. Clap however don’t cheer!” it exhorted.
When the torchbearer finally trotted by within the Fukushima metropolis of Iwaki, few of the modest crowd even bothered to applaud. Safety officers, carrying sandwich boards to demand face masks and two metres of social distancing, monitored the silence approvingly.
The beginning of the torch relay 119 days earlier than the beginning of the Olympics marked an enormous step ahead for the Tokyo video games, sending a daring message that they might undoubtedly go forward this summer time after the Covid-19 pandemic compelled their postponement by a 12 months.
However it additionally uncovered the organisers’ conundrum: the extra they reply to public calls for for Covid-19 security, the much less is left for anyone to take pleasure in. Comparable rules against cheering will apply on the video games themselves.
In Fukushima prefecture, the place the beginning of the relay was meant to function a worldwide advert for its reconstruction a decade after the Tohoku tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, a lot of the general public appears to treat the Olympics as an disagreeable obligation they need to fulfil.
“To inform the reality, I’m extra on the facet of pondering it shouldn’t go forward, however for Japan’s economic system I form of perceive the necessity,” mentioned Yoshihito Shimojo, who had popped out of his restaurant to observe the relay go by way of the city of Hirono.
“They haven’t actually acquired a solution to the Covid-19 subject,” he mentioned. “It’s laborious to see a great end result.”
On the opposite facet of the street, Mieko Owada mentioned she would really like the video games to go forward. “To scrap the video games could be like dropping 4 years,” she mentioned.
Opinion polls reveal that a couple of third of the Japanese public need the Olympics cancelled, a 3rd need them delayed once more and a 3rd suppose they need to be held this summer time.
There may be widespread help for the federal government’s ban on foreign spectators, though it means the enhance to tourism — supposedly one of many principal advantages of internet hosting the video games — will disappear.
The “Grand Begin” for the torch relay, held on the J-Village nationwide soccer coaching advanced, gave a touch of what Tokyo 2020 could be like. After years serving as the bottom camp for staff going into the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the positioning is again in use for soccer.
To stop Covid-19 an infection, the launch was closed to the general public, with native faculty youngsters and comedy duo Sandwich Man performing for an viewers of about 60 officers in fits. A big manufacturing and safety workers made certain the occasion was properly staged for tv.
Because the video games draw nearer, organisers hope the general public will neglect a couple of collection of scandals, together with allegations of bribery within the bidding course of, ever-rising prices and the sexism row that led to Yoshiro Mori’s resignation as head of Tokyo 2020.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga mentioned the torch relay was an opportunity to indicate the general public the Olympics are on their method. “I hope the momentum will develop throughout the nation,” he mentioned.
Seiko Hashimoto, the brand new president of Tokyo 2020, mentioned the flame introduced from Olympia in Greece had stored burning quietly however strongly by way of its year-long wait. “That little flame didn’t lose hope, and just like the cherry blossoms which are about to bloom, it was ready for at the present time,” she mentioned.
Nonetheless, the specter of Covid-19 nonetheless hangs over the Video games, as Japan struggles to get its vaccination marketing campaign off the bottom. Totally depending on provides of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine coming from Europe, Japan has inoculated lower than 1 per cent of its inhabitants.
New circumstances of the virus have begun to rise once more after Japan lifted a state of emergency in huge cities nationwide.
With the torch relay set to criss-cross the nation, organisers mentioned they might think about different celebrations if areas went again into lockdown when it’s meant to be passing by way of. The governor of Shimane has mentioned he did not want the relay in his prefecture.
However whereas it might solely be a matter of obligation, Japan more and more believes the video games will go forward
“No person would select to carry the video games in these circumstances,” mentioned Shozo Kanno, who runs a resort within the city of Soma. “However I really feel Japan has no alternative besides to go forward.”