On 7 and 8 September, a total of 24 journalists from 13 countries have participated in the media tour of the Tohoku region affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The media tour took place right after the first World Press Briefing (WPB) for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 held in Tokyo which brought together the world's main media and press agencies to better understand the media operations during the Games.
During the two-day tour, which was hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the journalists from all over the globe had an opportunity to witness the recovery of the region and the various sport events led by Olympians that help raise the spirit of the local people, in particular the young children.
From an emergency operation hub to a venue hosting football matches during the Tokyo 2020 Games
On Day 1, the group of journalists first visited Miyagi Stadium, the largest stadium in the Tohoku region and one of the venues hosting football matches for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Though a part of the roof was damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the stadium was used as an emergency operation hub for domestic and foreign rescue workers for several months after the quake. Mayor Yutaka Kumagai of the town of Rifu where the stadium is located greeted the journalists and showed his gratitude for the help the town had received from the world.
The power of sport 1: “Sport Smile Classroom” connects Olympian and local children
In the gym
In the classroom
Their second visit was the Miyanomori Elementary School in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture. The wooden building, also known as “the forest school” as it was built in a highland forest to avoid the risk of a tsunami, was recently constructed for children who had lost their permanent school facility because of the heavy damage from the earthquake in 2011.
They watched a special lecture called “Sports Smile Classroom” where a visiting teacher, Ms. Satoko Mabuchi, a 2008 Beijing Olympic Games gold medallist in softball, spent time with the children, playing some sports activities together in the gym and then delivering a lecture in the classroom to help them understand how she was able to achieve her goal by never giving up and continuing to train hard.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, four of Japan's sport governing bodies – the Japan Sports Association, the Japanese Olympic Committee, the Japan Top League Alliance and the Japan Football Association – teamed up and launched this project in 2011. Under this project, around 450 athletes were brought in to play the role of “Dream Teachers” in disaster-affected areas including Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi, meeting with more than 84,000 fifth-graders as of 31 March 2018. The project plans to offer 600 lessons in the fiscal year of 2018.
Recovery from the tsunami – visiting the revived city of Onagawa and its people
Around the Onagawa Station
Talk session by Onagawa footballers
Their third stop was Seapal Pier Onagawa, a recently opened shopping area in the coastal city of Onagawa, one of the most heavily damaged towns by the tsunami with a casualty rate of 8.3 per cent and a damage rate of 85.4 per cent.
Seapal Pier Onagawa is the commercial promenade connecting the sea port and Onagawa Station, which was reopened in 2015 on an elevated land of seven metres from the ground after it was destroyed by the tsunami.
The group then attended a talk session with representatives from Cobaltore Onagawa, a local football team which was recently promoted to the Japan Football League, the fourth level semi-professional league. The speakers were Yuji Abe, General Manager of Cobaltore Onagawa, and Kosei Chiba, the first homegrown player on the team who experienced the 2011 earthquake when he was an elementary school student. They told the journalists how the sport helped energise and unite the local community.
With Midai Suzuki
Then they met Midai Suzuki, a local elementary school student who had won the poster competition for the Olympic and Paralympic Games organised by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee this spring. She showed them her masterpiece of torn-paper art, which portrayed various Paralympic athletes, highlighting each athletes' impairment in ,the colour of the gold medal because Midai herself has an impairment in her legs and wanted to express her belief that “an impairment is the person's individuality” that people should respect and the person should be proud of.
The power of sport 2: Olympians encourage local people through sports
Olympic Day Festa
On the second day, the bus with the participants went down to Fukushima Prefecture and visited an elementary school in Showa, a small village with a population of about 1,400 of which 55 per cent are aged 65 and over-the second largest percentage in Fukushima and seventh in Japan as of 2017. They witnessed another example of “the power of sport” which Tokyo 2020 has promised to utilise to realise a society in which everyone can participate in its action & legacy plan. The journalists saw six Olympians including Mai Nakamura, silver and bronze medallist in the Olympic Games Sydney 2000, and Mika Sugimoto, a silver medallist at London 2012, interact with about one hundred locals including young children through various sport activities.
The event called “The Olympic Day Festa” was consecutively held in the disaster area to support the recovery of the Great East Japan Earthquake with the slogan “Bringing Smiles through Sports”. Since 2011, it has been held in more than 120 venues in Fukushima and the other four affected prefectures. A total number of 20,273 local people and 658 athletes, including some from overseas, participated in the events as of 31 March 2018.
Villagers in Showa had suffered little direct damage from the earthquake, thanks to its distance from the epicentre. However, “rumours” of radioactivity due to the nuclear accident have severely affected its main industries of tourism and agriculture, resulting in a drastic decrease of tourists and sales of agricultural products and seriously damaging the local economy.
Learning the rich and lively culture of Fukushima
The tour's last stop was Aizu Wakamatsu City, a popular tourist destination which is well-known for its samurai heritage and rich cultural history in western Fukushima. The journalists had a chance to try its local cuisine “wappa-meshi”, a bowl of rice with local beef and vegetables steamed in a round wooden container. They then visited one of the sake breweries which has over 160 years of history, and learned about the production process and tasted the sake. To learn about the history of Fukushima, their final destination was Tsurugajo, a traditional Japanese castle which is a concrete replica of the original one built more than 600 years ago.