Fukushima flowers for the Olympic medalists


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Behind the tsunami that unleashed the nuclear accident in Fukushima, it was thought that life would never flourish again in the northeastern prefectures of Japan affected by the giant waves and radiation that escaped from said plant in March 2011. A decade later, some areas around the sinister atomic plant remain uninhabited, but others have been recovered to be part of the Tokyo Olympics.

In addition to providing the sub-offices in sports such as baseball and soccer, three of the prefectures most affected by that catastrophe are present on each podium with a very special detail: the bouquet of flowers with the mascot MiraitowaWhat do the medalists receive?. Known as the ‘bouquets of victory’, they consist of sunflowers from Miyagi, blue gentians from Iwate and green eustomas from Fukushima. With these flowers radiant with life, the Games remind the 20,000 deaths left by the tsunami along much of the northeast coast of Japan.

When the Games were awarded to Tokyo in 2013, one of their goals was to contribute to the rebuilding and recovering Tohoku, as the northeast of the Japanese archipelago is called. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to be held behind closed doors and the legions of Japanese and foreign fans that were expected have not been able to come. Despite hosting two very popular sports in Japan such as baseball and soccer, the Azuma stadium in Fukushima and the stadium in Miyagi had to remain empty and they did not bring the benefits expected for local tourism. With its bleachers deserted, the most visible presence in the region are the 5,000 bouquets of flowers that in total will be awarded to the medalists at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

While Miyagi’s sunflowers honor the parents who planted this plant on a hill to honor their deceased children and the blue gentians sporting the color of the Games, the green Fukushima eustomas symbolize hope. “I feel very honored when I see my flowers in the hands of the Olympic champions,” she congratulated ABC Yukari Shimizu, who grows eustomas in Namie, less than 20 kilometers from the Fukushima I plant.

From vegetables to flowers

Evacuated along with the rest of its 21,000 inhabitants after the nuclear accident, she was not able to return to this area until 2013, when the authorities allowed her to return but only to work, not to live. Although she initially grew vegetables for the nursing home run by the NGO Jin, which had to close due to lack of customers, its radiation levels were higher than allowed. For that reason, went to flowers when radioactivity allowedSince eustomas are highly valued in Japan, selling for 450 yen (3.5 euros) a flower, reaching 1,400 yen (10.8 euros) in the finest shops in Ginza.

Yukari Shimizu takes care of her flowers
Yukari Shimizu takes care of her flowers – Pablo M. Diez

“I did not want the Games to be canceled for the honor of seeing my flowers on the podium, but it would not have been a financial loss because they sell quite well in the market,” confesses Yukari Shimizu. Preparing the last bouquets of the 10,000 flowers that he has grown in his nurseries, which will be delivered between now and Sunday, criticizes those who have opposed these Games for fear that the coronavirus will run amok. «I don’t understand so much rejection, especially when foreign visitors have not been allowed in. You have to respect the athletes, who have been preparing for years to compete and are not only vaccinated, but also controlled with almost daily tests, “he reasons in one of his greenhouses. In his opinion, “there should be no problems or an increase in the coronavirus if the rules are followed.” But it does not appear to be the case because Tokyo registered a record 4,166 positive cases on Tuesday and the government has ordered hospitalization only for those who are seriously ill so that there are enough beds.

Taking pains to trim her flowers, Yukari Shimizu trust that the Games do not trigger the coronavirus, the new tragedy hitting Japan and the rest of the world ten years after the tsunami, which caused the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. After six years in a rental apartment in FukushimaYukari Shimizu was unable to return to her long-awaited home in Namie until 2017. The problem now is that if the rebound of the coronavirus forces a new confinement, Yukari Shimizu will not be able to leave her home and the Olympic flowers that survived Fukushima will wither.

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