TOKYO — The Olympic flame is set to arrive in Japan from Greece even as the opening of the Tokyo Games in four months is in doubt with more voices calling for the event to be postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The flame will touch down Friday aboard a white aircraft painted with the inscription “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay” along its side, and “Hope Lights Our Way” stenciled near the tail section.
Everything about the arrival ceremony at the Matsushima air base in northern Japan will be subdued. The flame is to be greeted by a few dignitaries, saluted by a flyover from an aerial acrobatic team — if weather permits — and then used to ignite a cauldron.
The burning vessel will be displayed in three northern prefectures before the official relay begins on March 26 from Fukushima prefecture, which was devastated nine years ago by an earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.
Thousands of people from the region are still in temporary housing and life has not returned to normal for many. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to use the Olympics to crown his run as Japan’s longest serving premier, and many suggest he may not be around if the games are put off and the economy slumps.
Taro Aso, the Japanese finance minister and former prime minister, characterized the Tokyo Games as the “cursed Olympics” when speaking on Wednesday in a parliamentary committee. Aso was born in 1940, the year Tokyo was to hold its first Olympics, which were called off because of World War II.
“This isn’t a phrase that the press could like to hear, but it’s true,” said Aso, who was a member of Japan’s shooting team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Aso pointed out that even as the situation in Japan and Asia improves, it’s worse globally.
“We certainly hope to have a situation where everyone can at least come to Japan feeling safe and happy.” Aso said. “But the question is how we do that. It is something that Japan alone cannot achieve, and I don’t have an answer to this.”
Getting the flame to Japan represents a small victory for the International Olympic Committee and local organizers, who maintain the Olympics will open as scheduled on July 24 and be followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25.