The torch relay for this year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo began its journey to Tokyo on Monday, after numerous local flame lighting ceremonies were held throughout 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Between August 12th and 16th, ‘flame festival’ events took place concurrently across all prefectures except Tokyo and three others (Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka) that are hosting Paralympic competitions. The Paralympic torch relay will now pass through Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka between August 17th-19th and reach Tokyo on the 20th, four days before the start of the Games.
‘Flame festivals’ involved flames being lit in various towns and symbolic landmarks within each prefecture, before a departure ceremony usually at the region’s largest city. Due to the ongoing pandemic, many events were closed to the public and some were held on a reduced scale to limit the spread of infection.
A hallmark of the festivals was that each location hosted traditional cultural events and ignited their flames in unique ways.
Hiroshima’s flame, for instance, originated from the Flame of Peace at the city’s memorial to the atomic bomb, while Miyazaki City’s residents built a model of a phoenix out of feathers to conjure up the flame, and the town of Iwaizumi used the sun’s rays reflected from an underground lake in a famous local cave.
Once the relay arrives in Tokyo, torches from the city’s 63 municipalities will be brought together on August 20th as a singular flame, at an event in downtown’s Citizen’s Plaza to be attended by Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike. The torch will then tour Japan’s capital from August 21st-24th before lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on the evening of the last day.
Due to Tokyo’s ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency, the Paralympic torch relay in the city will be taken off public roads – in a similar manner as the Olympic torch relay last month.
“We had planned to hold the Paralympic Torch Relay in Tokyo with some 700 torchbearers... Because of the state of emergency, we decided not to do the relay on public roads.” Koichi Osakabe, a Tokyo government official, told Agence France Presse last week.
Bringing flames together from various places is a typical feature of the Paralympic torch relay that distinguishes it from its Olympic counterpart. While a single Olympic torch travels throughout the host country, Paralympic torches in recent years have been first lit across multiple locations before converging in or near the host city.
Five years ago at the Rio 2016 Games, torches were lit in five cities across the five regions of Brazil before being joined together; while for London 2012, flames were kindled on the highest peaks of the four nations of the United Kingdom.
A flame from the English village of Stoke Mandeville, where the forerunner to the Paralympics, the Stoke Mandeville Games, first took place in 1948, has also been added to the torch since 2012 to symbolize the event’s heritage. This is in contrast to the Olympic flame, which is always lit in Greece, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics and host of the first modern Games in 1896.