FUKUSHIMA, Japan — When Bruna Noguchi signed up to be a torchbearer for the Tokyo Olympics a year and a half ago, she never dreamed it could be a controversial decision.
But as the relay kicked off on Thursday morning in Fukushima Prefecture, the ceremony and those participating in it were at the center of a national debate, with many questioning whether the Games should go on in spite of the virus, the ballooning costs and other growing challenges.
While more than three dozen people, including about 20 celebrities, have withdrawn from the relay, Ms. Noguchi, 22, has decided to participate. She is one of 10,000 people who will carry the torch over the next four months, from Fukushima to Okinawa in the far south to Hokkaido in the north and on to the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
“I can understand the feelings of the people who have decided to withdraw from the relay,” Ms. Noguchi said in a recent interview. “But I’m not worried.”
2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that ravaged Fukushima and other parts of northeastern Japan, as well as the world’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said that it was “very meaningful” that the relay would start in Fukushima and that she wished for “the entire world to take a look at the reconstruction done in East Japan.”
But the celebration on Thursday was subdued, and the relay was being carried out under a number of restrictions. Traditional Japanese drummers and a hula dance group opened the ceremony, performing before a group of around 150 attendees, who sat at socially distanced intervals and applauded politely.
The ceremony and the first section of the relay were closed to the public. Routes will not be announced until 30 minutes before the start time, and spectators can attend the relay only in their home prefectures.
No cheering or shouting is allowed, and fans must offer “support with applause or using distributed goods.” The relay will be live-streamed by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.