The XXXII Olympiad’s opening ceremony is the evening of Friday, July 23 in Tokyo.
But the Tokyo Olympics actually begin on the morning of Wednesday, July 21, in Fukushima. It’s the women who kick off the Games, when Japan takes on Australia in softball from 9 am (JST) at Azuma Baseball Stadium. In fact, there will be three opening round softball matches in Fukushima on July 21, as well as three more on July 22.
Women’s soccer will also debut on the two days prior to the Opening Ceremonies, with Great Britain taking on Chile in Sapporo, Hokkaido, China battling Brazil in Miyagi, Sweden against the US in Tokyo, and a second match in Hokkaido in the evening, pitting Team Japan against Team Canada.
As Tokyo and neighboring prefectures Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, as well as Osaka and Okinawa are under varying forms of a State of Emergency, spectators have been banned from Olympic events in those areas.
Fukushima and Hokkaido prefectures are not in a State of Emergency, but officials there chose to also ban spectators from the softball matches at Azuma Stadium, as well as soccer matches at Sapporo Dome.
As of this writing, however, a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the football matches in Miyagi Stadium, which is in Rifu, Miyagi. The governor of Miyagi, Yoshihiro Murai, has held steadfast in his desire to have fans in the stands.
The governor cites the fact that on July 24, the women from China and Zambia compete in a soccer match at Miyagi Stadium, while on the same day there will be a warm up match for Team Japan’s men’s baseball team at Rakuten Seimei Park in nearby Sendai, Miyagi, which is scheduled to have about 13,000 fans. (Professional baseball in Japan has allowed limited number of spectators throughout the year.)
Spectators, as of this writing, appear also to be allowed for soccer matches in Ibaragi and cycling events at Izu Velodrome in Shizuoka.
So, if you want to attend a live Olympic event, try to get a ticket to soccer matches at Miyagi Stadium on July 21, 24, 27, 28, 30, or 31, or at Ibaragi Kashima Stadium on July 22, 25, 27, 30, 31, August 2, 3 or 5. Cycling at Izu Velodrome will be from August 2-8.
Watching the Japan episode of Netflix’s first season of Dark Tourist was harrowing.
New Zealand journalist, David Farrier, went on a tour in Fukushima, likely in early 2018, and filmed scenes not far from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant where radiation levels climbed dangerously high. Those on the tour were visibly worried.
So was I, and I was safe and sound in my living room.
I get that question a lot from people, particularly foreigners, especially since I write a blog on Japan, sports and the Olympics, and organizers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are holding sporting events in areas of Northern Japan impacted significantly by the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami.
In the case of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, softball and baseball games will be held in Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima, which is about 10 kilometers west of Fukushima Station, and 90 kilometers northwest of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Certainly, in the areas directly in and around the nuclear power plant, radiation levels can be high. The areas that Farrier filmed in his controversial program were in prohibited areas – thus the high radiation levels measured. But when I ask the experts, my fears are, on the whole, allayed.
I have been talking recently with leaders of the volunteer citizen science organization, Safecast, which came together very quickly in the aftermath of 3.11 to measure radiation levels in Tohoku in the absence of open and transparent reports from TEPCO and government officials.
In order to measure radiation levels, the team designed a geiger counter that volunteers can build and use, and they then worked to deploy these geiger counters to gather data and better understand where radiation levels are high.
I recently participated in a Safecast workshop to build my own device – the bGeigie Nano – a truly cool and compact measuring tool. On a trip to Fukushima, I decided to go to Azuma Baseball Stadium and measure radiation levels myself.
Getting off a local bus, I had to walk about 15 minutes, crossing the scenic Arakawa River, before entering the spacious grounds of the Azuma sports complex. In addition to the baseball field, there are facilities for track and field, tennis and gymnastics.
With my bGeigie Nano on and clicking away, I walked around the grounds for an hour, circling the track and field stadiums, as well as the perimeter of the baseball stadium.
Measurements for radiation on the grounds around Azuma Baseball Stadium, including the surrounding roads, were low. My measurements appeared consistent with measurements taken by Safecast in the past.
According to Safecast lead researcher, Azby Brown, “all of the measurements you obtained showed the current radiation levels to be within normal background, ranging from 0.08 microsieverts per hour to 0.16 microsieverts per hour.”
Normal radiation exposure is usually described in millisieverts per year (mSv/yr = 1/1000th of a sievert) or in microsieverts per hour (uSv/hr = one millionth of a sievert). While a sievert is a massive dose, someone who spends 12 hours at the Azuma Baseball Stadium next year is likely to get only one or two millionths of that. Brown went on to explain that the measurements I registered around the stadium were fairly typical for what people encounter normally around the world.
For comparison, based on Safecast data, the levels you found around the stadium are similar to those in Tokyo, Brussels, Buenos Aires, or Washington DC, and less than in Rome, Hong Kong, or Seoul. The radiation that overseas visitors will be exposed to on their flights to Japan will almost certainly be higher than what they would get spending time at this stadium for Olympic events.
We do not yet have measurement data for the nearby woods or riverbank, however, and experience suggests that these areas may show higher radiation levels. We will survey those areas soon, and let everyone know what we find.
Certainly, there are concerns still about the long-term impact of the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. While the government has lifted living restrictions in many areas around the nuclear power plant, and is now heavily encouraging residents of those areas to return, the majority have chosen to stay away.
Still, if we look at the data, outside of the inaccessible exclusion zone, radiation levels in Tohoku are, on the whole, at normal levels.
I see myself, two weeks ago, running past untended rice fields in Odaka-ku, Fukushima, other rice fields covered with solar panels, piles of black bags stacked with radioactive soil, and 20-meter high barriers to protect the land from the massive power of the sea – legacies of 3.11.
I see myself, 30 years ago in the hot August sun running past the Shiga Barber Shop in Odaka-machi, vast swaths of verdant rice fields, the tombstones of my ancestors on my right and the Pacific Ocean just meters away, when I first discover the land of my ancestors.
I see myself, 130 years ago, running past the old Tomizawa home in Murakami, Soma-gun, Seiga Tomizawa, showing a young Kiyoshi Tomizawa, my grandfather, how to ride a horse, while holding a bow and shooting an arrow true.
As thousands will carry a torch throughout Japan in the Olympic torch relay from March 26 to July 24 as a run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I hope to carry one as well. I hope to carry a torch on the first day of the nationwide relay which starts in Naraha, Fukushima before ending the day in Minami Soma, Fukushima.
In between Naraha and Minami Soma, about 13 kilometers south of the relay’s end point for the day is my ancestral home of Odaka, where I’d like to run, and carry a torch. Just as the Olympic torch is ignited in Athens Greece to symbolize the Olympic flame’s connection to its ancestral roots, I want my Olympic torch to be ignited in Fukushima to symbolize the connection to my ancestral roots.
If not for my grandfather, Kiyoshi Tomizawa, the dozens of descendants of the Tomizawa’s in America would not exist.
My grandfather was born into a samurai family. His grandfather had the imposing name of Tomizawa Hachirozaemon Minamoto no Takakiyo. My grandfather’s father was the Soma Clan minister of religion. But after the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor was restored as the symbolic center of power in Japan, the Meiji rulers centralized control over the domains previously ruled by the samurai daimyos.
As I understand it from my Aunt Hiroko (whom I knew as Auntie Grace), the Tomizawa’s no longer had the financial stability they had enjoyed under the Tokugawa Shogunate. So in 1890, the Tomizawa patriarch at the time, Seiga Tomizawa, decided to send two of his three children off for adoption: my grandfather Kiyoshi off to the Kataoka family, and his younger sister, Kiyo, off to the Miura family. (Kiyo would go on to marry Chozo Shiga, who established the oldest barber shop in Odaka.)
According to my aunt, Kiyoshi was unhappy in the Kataoka household, and she remembered being told that, after a while, Kiyoshi was no longer living with the Kataoka’s, and that his brother would leave food and clothes for Kiyoshi wherever he was staying. The records show that Kiyoshi formally returned to the Tomizawa household in 1897.
A year later, Kiyoshi enrolled at Tohoku Gakuin University in Sendai, where he met a man named Dr. John Mott, who was on a two-year world tour as a part of an organization he co-founded in 1895 called the World Student Christian Federation. Sometime during that two-year trip, Dr. Mott was in Japan and visited Tohoku Gakuin University.
My grandfather established residence in San Francisco in 1903. After working odd jobs and building his English capability, he enrolled in Miami University of Ohio, graduating in 1912. Six years later, he became the first executive director of the Japanese YMCA in San Francisco.
With a dream to build a permanent home for the Japanese YMCA, Kiyoshi travailed through 12 years of anguish raising funds in Japan and America, during the Great Depression, to build a stand-alone and wholly owned YMCA building for Japanese in San Francisco. And Kiyoshi prevailed. The Japanese Y was finally opened on January 12, 1936. That YMCA, one of my grandfather’s legacies, is now called the Buchanan YMCA, and still contributes to the J-Town community in San Francisco.
Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese YMCA was taken over by the American government, and the process of incarcerating over 100,000 Japanese into internment camps began. My grandfather, a Japanese is-sei thoroughly investigated by the FBI, was offered, quite fortunately, the opportunity to serve as a Japanese instructor for the Naval School of Oriental Languages in Boulder, Colorado, where such famous translators as Edward Seidensticker and Donald Keene studied during the war. My grandfather wisely took the offer and taught officers Japanese writing. The alternative was imprisonment in an internment camp for the entire family.
Thanks to the work ethic of my grandparents, my father, Thomas, who attended Boulder High School, went on to get his Masters in Journalism at Northwestern University, wrote for the American military paper, the Pacific Stars and Stripes, in Tokyo from 1957-58, and eventually joined NBC News, where he was on the news team that broadcasted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics back to the US. On October 10, 1964, when I turned 1 in New York City, my father was in Tokyo helping to broadcast the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics. My father went on to become a three-time Emmy Award winning news producer with NBC.
Fifty-five years later, I am, in some small way through my book, hoping to honor the legacy of my lineage, which goes all the way back to Fukushima in the Edo Period.
On March 26, 2020, I hope to honor that legacy again.
I see myself running, carrying a torch, across the land of my ancestors…
…for my family
…for the ties that bind my homes, the United States and Japan, and
…for Japan and the resilience and values of its people.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin on July 24 next year.
But the first sporting event will take place two days earlier, in Fukushima, when preliminary matches of women’s softball begin at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
Azuma Stadium is about 90 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the site of Japan’s gravest nuclear disaster since World War II.
It was 8 years ago today when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake rattled the Pacific coast side of northern Japan (Tohoku), triggering enormous waves of water inland, both resulting in approximately 16,000 deaths, and leading to nuclear meltdowns in the Fukushima reactors as the tsunami overwhelmed the power plants. The nuclear fallout turned communities around Daiichi into ghost towns, and the prefecture into a national pariah.
The decision by the organizers to bring sporting events to Tohoku during the Olympics was made with the intent to drive investment back to the area, and build a sense of hope to the region.
“This is a great opportunity to bring the spirit of the Olympic Games to this region, which was affected by the tsunami in 2011,” IOC leader Thomas Bach told a press conference in Pyeongchang, South Korea when this was announced on March 17, 2017. “It is also an expression of solidarity of the Olympic movement with the people in this region who are suffering from the consequences of this disaster.”
Baseball infielder, Akinori Iwamura, who played many years for the Yakult Swallows as well as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was a member of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles when the earthquake and tsunami hit, continuing to play for a minor league squad called the Fukushima Hopes through 2016. His hope too was that the region would be revitalized, and Iwamura was a vocal cheerleader, according to this New York Times article.
“I call myself a missionary,” Iwamura said. “Even though it’s a negative way many people know the name of Fukushima, we have to change it into a positive way.”
Iwamura believed that hosting softball games during the Olympics at Azuma Stadium, where his Fukushima Hopes play, would build the area’s image and attract tourism. “When they go back to their country, they can tell their impression to the local people of their countries so it will bring more people to come for tourism,” he said.
Immediately after the announcement in March that Fukushima would host baseball, anti-nuclear activists denounced the move. They argued that it created a false impression that Fukushima had returned to normal and glossed over the remaining hardships faced by an estimated 120,000 residents who still cannot – and may never – return to their homes.
Kazuko Nihei has two daughters, and she fled her home in Fukushima City in 2011, and has sworn never to return. The government has provide financial assistance to people evacuated from the terribly affected areas, particularly those in the area where nuclear radiation fears are greatest. The government ended that assistance for people like Nihei, and so she struggles to make ends meet, according to Channel News Asia.
“I have to work with every ounce of energy,” said Nihei, who works seven days a week to help keep the family afloat.
Why won’t she return with her family to Fukushima? The Japanese government has worked hard to decontaminate the area so that families can return. But the fears of radiation in the environment remain.
…the programme has not swayed everyone, with a poll conducted in February by the Asahi Shimbun daily and Fukushima local broadcaster KFB finding that 60 per cent of Fukushima region residents still felt anxious about radiation.
Nihei worries about “various health risks for children, not only thyroid (cancer) but others including damage to their genes. If there was a comprehensive annual health check, I might consider it, but what they are offering now is not enough, it only concentrates on thyroid cancer,” she told AFP.
Then there is the contaminated water used as a coolant in the nuclear reactors – a million tons of water that contain radioactive elements. Processing the contaminated water, as well as the ongoing dismantling of the nuclear plants, are long, difficult and costly tasks – the New York Times states it would take 40 years and cost nearly USD200 billion.
Additionally, there is a risk to keeping the radioactive water in the thousand or so water tanks on land, near the power plants – the number will rise and the space to store the water is limited. And the tanks could crack, particularly if another major earthquake hits Tohoku.
The Japanese government hopes to purify that water to the point where the water can be disposed of in the Pacific Ocean. But, as one can imagine, that idea doesn’t sit well with people who live there, particularly those in the fishing industry.
“That would destroy what we’ve been building over the past eight years,” said Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations. Last year’s catch was just 15 percent of pre-crisis levels, partly because of consumer reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima.
The Olympics will come and go. But the disturbing legacy of 3.11 in Fukushima will linger on.