Wang Zhenzhi.(Yudai Tanaka)
(ATR Japan) Children and sport are important factors in the reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Next July the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima will hold the first events of the 2020 Olympics, matches in baseball and softball.
Earlier this month, the Fukushima stadium was the scene for the 29th World Children’s Baseball Fair with youngsters from 14 countries. The baseball fair is an annual event launched by Sadaharu Oh and Henry Aaron, greats of professional baseball in Japan and the U.S.
The young players sweated together through international matches and practice.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to play baseball in Fukushima. Before I came to Japan, I was worried about coming to Fukushima, but now it has eased. I want to come to Fukushima again,” said a smiling Yi-Yu Tseng of Chinese Taipei.
Mr. Wáng Zhēnzhì, who help found the World Youth Baseball Tournament, says it was created to “promote and spread baseball correctly all over the world, while at the same time expanding the circle of friendship and goodwill to the youth of the world”.
It was first held in Los Angeles in 1990 as a large-scale tournament where boys and girls from around the world participated in summer every summer.
Holding a historic baseball tournament in Fukushima has great significance says Sadaharu Wang.
J Village (Yudai Tanaka).
“Bad rumors are spreading about Fukushima, but if you actually come, the food is delicious and safe. The fact that many children from overseas came to Fukushima is evidence that Fukushima is safe.
“After the children returned from Fukushima, I think that the thoughts of the people around children will change if they tell their family and friends about the present condition and safety of Fukushima,” he says.
Ayako Masuda, a former female soccer player, now works for Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the nuclear power plants damaged from the earthquake. She is in charge of public relations at the Fukushima No 2 Nuclear Power Station.
“I felt the revival of Fukushima when I saw the smiles of children enjoying sports at J Village,” said Masuda, referring to the indoor training center in Fukushima where she once trained.
Ayako Masuda (Yudai Tanaka)
“Several years ago, it was impossible for children to play soccer in Fukushima. I'm glad children came back," she said.
J Village, located in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, was established in 1997 as Japan's first national soccer training center. It is used for training camps of the Japan national soccer team and J-League club.
Soon it will be known as the starting point for the Tokyo 2020 torch relay next April.
Since the Great East Japan Earthquake March 11, 2011, J Village changed from a sports facility to a nuclear accident response base. In addition to TEPCO employees responding to accidents, the premises were flooded with members of the Self-Defense Forces, Ambulance Corps, and Fire Corps. On many days, about 8,000 people entered and exited the facility.
“I was sad as a former player that gravel was thrown on the pitches of the J-villages we used,” Masuda says.
Speaking as a TEPCO employee, Masuda also notes “If there was no J-village that was relatively close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there would be no reconstruction of Fukushima now.”
The J-Village ended its role as an emergency response base and resumed operation as a training center last year.
“There are children now when I go the grounds. I am very happy to have an environment where people can hear children’s voices and smile,” Masuda says.
At the time of the interview, members of the under 12 national team were training at the J Village.
In the eight years since the earthquake, reconstruction of Fukushima appears to be making progress. In 2012, there were more than 160,000 evacuees due to the nuclear accident, but as of 2019 the number has decreased to about 40,000. The radiation dose in Naraha has been decreasing every year since 2011.
However, the number of tourists visiting Fukushima has not yet recovered to 2010 levels and societal concerns about Fukushima are still strong.
That concern has driven Tokyo 2020 to embrace Fukushima recovery as one of the benefits of hosting the Olympics. The smiles of the children this month in Fukushima may help convey a sense of recovery.
Reported by Yudai Tanaka .
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