The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay began its journey through Ehime today (21 April); a prefecture which has a long and successful history with the Olympic Games.
Nestled on the island of Shikoku, Japan's second smallest island out of the big five after Okinawa, Ehime Prefecture is known for having one of Japan's oldest and most popular hot springs: Dogo Onsen.
But this prefecture is also famous for producing Olympians and Paralympians aplenty, including TSURUTA Yoshiyuki, who won Japan's first swimming medal at the Amsterdam 1928 Games, former artistic gymnast KONO Akira, who won silver at Melbourne 1956 in the men's team event, two-time Olympic marathon runner TOSA Reiko and three-time Paralympian YANO Shigeki, who will both carry the flame in Ehime.
In 1964, the prefecture saw seven of their athletes compete at the Olympic Games - the last time the sporting extravaganza was held in the country. Among the athletes who competed was artistic gymnast YAMASHITA Haruhiro, who won two golds in the vault and team.
Olympic medallist continues proud history of representing the 'Weightlifting Town'
MANABE Kazushito was part of Japan's successful Olympic team at Los Angeles 1984, where the nation won a total of 32 medals - only Athens 2004 (37), London 2012 (38) and Rio 2016 (41) have seen this year's Summer Olympic Games host nation win more medals.
The 62-year-old continued a proud weightlifting tradition for Japan by winning bronze in the flyweight (-52kg) class. Manabe also participated at the Seoul 1988 Games where he placed eighth.
But his medal collection doesn't stop there. Manabe is also a two-time World Championship bronze medallist (1981 and 1984) as well as an Asian Games gold (1982) and silver (1986) medallist.
Manabe hails from the town of Niihama City in Ehime, which is widely recognised for the sport of weightlifting and is said to be the right place to bring up an Olympian in the country. So much so, they even constructed a training facility in June 2019 to help further the city's weightlifting opportunities to foster momentum towards the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Today, Manabe was the first torchbearer at Niihama City and smiled and waved at the Olympic torch when it began its journey through the port town, located on north coast of Shikoku.
"I want to cherish the time I have left for this precious experience that will never happen again," he said.
Manabe is "proud to be an indispensable part of the history of weightlifting for Niihama City", and since his Olympic days, has returned to his hometown to help discover, train and inspire local athletes into becoming Olympians.
Giving courage to those with impairments
In 1963, at the age of 19, AKEHI Osamu suffered a spinal cord injury following a workplace accident, which caused complete paralysis of his lower body.
Watching the Tokyo 1964 Games from his bed, Akehi decided that he too wanted to challenge himself in sports and would work hard in his rehabilitation.
Shortly after leaving hospital, Akehi began training every day and his perseverance would reap dividends as he competed at the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament on four separate occasions as well as internationally at the 20th Stoke Mandeville Tournament.
Taking place in England less than a decade after his accident, the athlete, born in Niihama City, won gold in canoe slalom and a silver in 90kg weightlifting. He was one of six Japanese athletes to compete at the event which saw 438 athletes from 27 countries compete overall.
Ever since then he's been involved in the promotion of sports for people with impairments.
The 71-year-old hopes by participating in the Olympic Torch Relay that he can "give courage and hope to the 4.36 million people with physical disabilities".
"I felt very honoured to have been selected but I would like to run for the memory of a lifetime," he said.
The Olympic Torch Relay continues it's journey through Ehime Prefecture tomorrow (22 April) from 8:30 a.m. in Tobe City and you can watch it live on Tokyo 2020.