The Japanese government has been left with egg on its face after the bulk of municipalities in the tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region spurned an exchange program connected to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Just 11 of 127 municipalities in the three prefectures that were worst hit by the March 2011 earthquake have signed up for the Reconstruction “Arigato” Host Town international exchange program, with the 116 that snubbed it saying they were simply too busy focusing on rebuilding their tsunami-wrecked towns.
The Japanese government saw the program as a way to push reconstruction in the region as a central theme for the Tokyo Olympics, which many have seen as little more than an effort to placate those in the region who from the outset were critical of Japan even bidding for the Games.
The idea behind the program was to allow athletes, rescue workers and others who have provided support to the disaster victims to see the ongoing rebuilding programs in the three worst-hit prefectures -- Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.
According to media reports enthusiasm for the project was so muted that government officials were forced to push those municipalities that did eventually agree into participating.
According to one Miyagi resident, who works for a local NPO supporting residents in the devastated region, such projects were merely a show.
"Tens of thousands of Tohoku residents continue to live in temporary homes, without jobs and with financial, health and other problems that are not going to be solved by shaking the hand of an olympic athlete," the official said on condition of anonymity.