Ever since Japan won the right to host the Olympics, Yukari Shimizu, who grows flowers in a Fukushima town that was once entirely off-limits due to the serious nuclear accident that befell the region, has been determined to seize the golden opportunity. Even as the coronavirus pandemic has caused doubts over whether the Tokyo Games will begin in less than three months' time, Shimizu has been growing thousands of lisianthuses in her hometown of Namie, hoping that her flowers will bring joy to Olympic and Paralympic medalists.
During the medal ceremonies, athletes will receive a "victory bouquet," a commemorative gift that features colorful flowers from Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate -- the three northeastern prefectures that were hit the hardest by March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
"Even though I am not sure what will happen with the Olympics because of the coronavirus, I hope there is a chance for athletes to enjoy the flowers," said Shimizu, who heads a nonprofit organization called "Jin" that grows flowers in 20 greenhouses. "I want the flowers to send a message that it is possible to overcome hardships, both in sports and in life." Up to mid-May, the organization will plant about 15,000 seedlings that will produce the light green flowers, with the idea that some will be used during the Olympics that will open on July 23, one year later than originally planned.
The flowers represent hardships that have been overcome after the March 11 incident 10 years ago -- a magnitude-9.0 earthquake that set off tsunami and triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. The victory bouquets will each have an Olympic or Paralympic mascot attached and feature sunflowers or roses from Miyagi, gentians from Iwate and lisianthuses from Fukushima.
"The bouquet is very vibrant in color and I'm glad that it uses flowers from all three prefectures, not just one," she said. "The flowers symbolize gratitude to the people from overseas who helped us with reconstruction."
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