Live updates: Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay highlights from Akita

The Olympic Torch Relay is underway in Akita! You can watch every moment of the flame's historic journey to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games on 23 July 2021 via the dedicated Tokyo 2020 live stream, as well as following the highlights as they happen via our blog, below.

9 June, 17:40 (JST): It's almost time to say goodbye

Our time in Akita Prefecture is coming to an end with the Olympic flame set to continue onto it's next destination of Amori Prefecture tomorrow. But before the sun sets on this sunny Wednesday, lets take a look back on the cities the Olympic Torch Relay passed through earlier today.

9 June, 17:05 (JST): The home of Hachi

Everyone knows the story of Hachi, the dog who would waited at Shibuya Station every evening for his owner – Japanese professor UENO Hidesaburo - even in the wake of the man’s passing. The story has become famous with movies and books documenting Hachi’s loyalty.

What you might not know is Hachi, an Akita Inu (Akita dog) are from Akita Prefecture as the name suggests. But the city of Odate is known to be Hachi’s hometown and there are places across the city where visitors can meet Akita dogs.

But first meet Arashi!

And while there was plenty of Akita dogs around, it was torchbearer and former Tokyo 1964 Olympic gymnastics bronze medallist CHIBA Ginko, who stole the show. The 83-year-old smiled brightly throughout her run, waving to those on the side of the street who had come out in support of the two-time Olympian and the flame of hope.

Chiba Ginko of Japan performs on the beam during the Women's artistic team all-around gymnastic competition during the XVIII Summer Olympic Games at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Chiba Ginko of Japan performs on the beam during the Women's artistic team all-around gymnastic competition during the XVIII Summer Olympic Games at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 5 in Odate City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 5 in Odate City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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9 June, 16:23 (JST): A Paralympian ski instructor

SASAKI Naomi is an alpine skier and had graced the Paralympic stage two times: in Salt Lake City 2002 – her Paralympic debut, where she finished fourth and Torino 2006 Winter Games. Now a retired athlete, she’s never distanced herself from her first love and is working as a ski instructor in her hometown to teach the importance of sports to people with impairments. In fact Sasaki, who has multiple sclerosis, has never limited herself and teaches skiing to able-bodied skiers!

Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 5 in Odate City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 5 in Odate City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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9 June, 14:20 (JST): Through the power of sport

Since the age of three SATO Karin learning karate and has gone on to represent Japan at the Gichin Funakoshi Cup 14th World Junior Karate Championships in the kata division when she was 14. With karate set to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Sato really wanted to be part of the Torch Relay. She runs in her hometown as a thank-you to her family, friends and teachers who have supported her.

Sato also hopes that she can inspire more people to take up the sport of karate.

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9 June, 14:05 (JST): Connecting Noshiro to Fukushima

SATO Kanon says she has two hometown - Fukushima, where he was born, and Noshiro City. After evacuating to the city in Akita Prefecture after the 2011 Great Japan East Earthquake, she felt helpless that she couldn't help her family or native Fukushima during their most difficult time. However, when she learnt that the Olympic torch would start from Fukushima, Sato wanted to apply to be a torchbearer so she could connect Fukushima and Noshiro.

I would like to tell people that even though we are far away from each other, Fukushima will always be in our hearts and that our hearts are connected.

Sato, who is currently in her final year of junior high school, also participates in the Noshiro Tanabata Festival as a flute player and hopes to preserve the tradition of the festival for future generations.

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9 June, 13:48 (JST): The city of gigantic floats

Noshiro Tanabata is a festival that begun in 2013 but has roots that date back to traditional festivals held in the old days. It is said that a Nagoya Castle-shaped lantern float, known as tourou, were made and eventually due it’s popularity a parade would take place with this 17m tall lantern in the streets until the sunrise.

These days the festival sees to two giant lanterns, nicknamed “castles in the sky that never sleep,” carried around the town accompanied by the sounds of drumming and flutes playing.

While there won't be any tourou on the Olympic Torch Relay route, we did see retired Japanese baseball star YAMADA Hisashi. The former athlete won the Player of the Year award in Japan's national league for three consecutive years (1976-1978), a record he shares with SUZUKI Ichiro for the most consecutive awards won.

Yamada, who was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, has also twice won the Pacific League - one of the two professional baseball leagues of the Nippon Professional Baseball competition. He has even served as the coach for Japan during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

This afternoon, he got the Olympic flame journey in his hometown underway underneath the bright blue skies and summer sun.

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9 June, 11:15 (JST) Flashback to Senboku City

Before we go on with our coverage, let's take a look at one of the most fascinating torchbearers from yesterday, KIKUCHI Rika - a rickshaw puller from Senboku City who's also an avid skateboarding aficionado and one who is definitely going to cheer for our Olympic champions come July!

READ MORE: Akita rickshaw puller wants to spread her passion about skateboarding

I will run the torch relay with a sense of gratitude toward all those people and hope I can promote the charm of Kakunodate, Akita and skateboarding to as many people as possible.

9 June, 10:40 (JST) A torchbearer, an Olympian and a world champ!

Akita is teeming with wrestling legends. Our next torchbearer, YANAGIDA Hideaki's resume is all the more impressive with a World Champion title from 1971 and an Olympic gold medal at Munich 1972. And this isn't his first time to be a torchbearer too. Back in 1964, he's carried the flame as a sophomore for his hometown but today he's back on the Olympic Torch Relay route for Tokyo 2020 to empower and inspire children to aim for their dreams.

"I would like to bring dreams, hopes and energy to the local elementary and junior high school students, local people and people of my generation who are working hard to revitalise their communities," Yanagida said.

Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 2 in Hachirogata Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 2 in Hachirogata Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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9 June, 10:00 (JST) An Olympic wrestling champion

Olympic wrestler SUGAWARA Yasaburo competed and won bronze at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal Canada. While that’s decades past, Japan will never forget his contribution to sports and will always be an Olympian in their eyes. After retiring, Sugawara also serves as President of the Akita Prefecture Wrestling association helping other wrestlers to fulfill their dreams. Today, let’s give a nod to this Olympic champion who runs tall and proud just like the majestic Tenno Sky Tower behind him, a landmark building in Katagami City known for its sweeping views over the city and the Sea of Japan.

9 June, 9:10 (JST): And in this corner! 

Our first torchbearer today is none other than fighting machine SAKURABA Kazushi, a fierce MMA (mixed martial artist) and professional wrestler, who's been dominating the ring ever since he started fighting at age 15. But today he’s set aside his fighting skills to carry the Olympic flame in Katagami City. He isn’t sporting his usual game face but is all smiles whilst waving to the crowd.

Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 1 in Katagami City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 9 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 1 in Katagami City, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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9 June, 8:50 (JST): Back on the road

We’re back for Day 2 of the Olympic Torch Relay in Akita Prefecture.

Today we start at the beach in Katagami City, situated on the Sea of Japan, then will pass through Hachirogata Town, Ogata Village, Noshiro City, Odate City and Oga City before finishing the day and our time in Akita in Kazuno City.

8 June, 15:30 (JST): Smiles all around

During our first day (and in fairly good weather too!) in Akita Prefecture, the Olympic flame made its way by boat, bike and foot through Yuzawa City, Yokote City, Yurihonjo City and Misato Town with big smiles from the torchbearers and locals.

8 June, 14:50 (JST): From land to water and back

The flame of hope never extinguishes on its journey in Akita Prefecture. Earlier we saw it being rowed by boat, and now it is back on the road travelling in another form: on two wheels! ONODERA Satoshi pedals around the school athletics track in Misato City, while carrying the flame at the back of his bike. Before the end of his run, Onodera flashes a peace sign in front of a cheering crowd.

8 June, 14:15 (JST): Meet the first wheel gymnastics world champion in Asia

TAKAHASHI Yasuhiko is a master in wheel gymnastics — where gymnasts perform in a large wheel consisting of two elliptical circles in parallel.  

In 2013, Takahashi became the first Asian athlete to grab the individual all-around gold medal at Wheel Gymnastics World Championships. He repeated the glory in 2015 and 2018. He also contributed to Akita prefecture’s bid for the 9th Team World Cup in wheel gymnastics. Wheel gymnasts uses the large wheel or hoop known as the Rhönrad to perform tricks which usually resemble moves from other artistic gymnastic disciplines like parallel bars, uneven bars and floor.

Akita, JAPAN - 8 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 4 in Misato Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 8 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 4 in Misato Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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At campus and other events, I have opportunities to share my experiences of taking challenges and turning the impossible into possible. Through these events, I’ve also gained inspiration from many people

8 June, 13:50 (JST): Enjoy natto!

Have you ever tasted natto, or Japanese fermented soybeans?

Well…natto is a favourite breakfast dish by some Japanese people, while some consider it an acquired test because of its strong smell and slimy texture. Akita Prefecture is believed to be the birthplace of this traditional food and torchbearer YAMADA Seihan’s family has been in the natto business for decades.  

Besides providing the local community with good quality natto, the family also sponsors local sports events and festivals. Taking over the business from his father, Yamada hopes he can run the business successfully so that young people would come back to their hometown and contribute to its development.

Akita, JAPAN - 8 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 4 in Misato Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
Akita, JAPAN - 8 JUNE, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay section 4 in Misato Town, Akita prefecture, Japan.
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Here is an example of natto!

8 June, 12:47 (JST): Row, Row, row your boat

The Olympic flame is back on the water, but it might be the first time it’s travelled by a rowing boat. Starting in the middle of the Koyoshi River, torchbearer SASAKI Kakeru, who is a member of the Honjo High School Rowing Club as a cox, which has a 117-year history and tradition of rowing. The club is one of the most traditional and powerful schools in Japan, producing Olympic athletes and winning national championship.

Boat Plaza Aquapal is a unique facility in Japan and is known to be the centre of water sports. Rowing has a significant history in Yurijonjo City, going back to the Meiji Era when the then Governor Akita Prefecture saw the River and thought it was the perfect place for rowing. It's now considered one of the best spots in the country to practice rowing.

8 June, 11:24 (JST): From Tokyo 1964 to Tokyo 2020

FUSE Masahiro was 10-years-old when the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964 were held. He remembers being glued to the black and white television watching athletes from all over competing. While the one-year delay in the Olympic Games has meant Fuse has had to wait longer than expected to run with the Olympic flame, his excitement has remained. He couldn’t wait to run with the same pride as the athletes who shone on the other side of the TV back in 1964.

As Fuse ran with the flame, he waved to those on the roadside who had come out in support.

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8 June, 11:13 (JST): From snow festivals to mega fireworks

Welcome to Yokote City! Named after the city it takes place in, the Yokote Snow Festival is a 450-year-old celebration held every February. Igloo-like snow huts (big and small), known as kamakura, are built across the city and feature an altar to honour the water gods inside. The festival beings during the day but as the sunsets, the Kamakura illumination by the Yokote River becomes a sight to behold.

As the snow melts and it becomes warmer, one of the highlights during the summer is the Omagari Fireworks Festival. The festival dates all the way back to the Meiji Era, and pre-COVID-19 almost 700,000 visitors would descend on the city to watch not just one of Japan’s most impressive fireworks festivals but the largest of its kind. No Japanese summer is complete with hanabi – fireworks viewing.

8 June, 9:40 (JST): And we're underway!

The Olympic flames journey in Akita Prefecture has begun and it was CHUBACHI Satoshi, an opera singer from Yuzawa City, who got us underway. The Yuzawa City native is one of Japan's leading opera singers and has sung the national anthem at friendly football (soccer) matches along with the inauguration ceremony of the Olympic Games. Throughout is operatic career he has appeared in operas such as "L'elisir d'Amour", "Romeo and Juliet", "Adriana Lecouvreur" and "Tosca". Chubachi is also an ambassador for his hometown and is making a great contribution to the city's musical development.

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8 June, 9:30 (JST): Welcome to Akita Prefecture!

The Olympic flame has made it to prefecture no.36 on its 121-day journey across Japan. For the next two days we will be exploring the beautiful Akita Prefecture, known for its abundance of outdoor adventures. We start Day 1 in Yuzawa City, popular for its skiing and snowboard resorts, before travelling through Yokote City, Yurihonjo City, Misato Town, Daisen City and Semboku City before finishing the day in the prefectural capital of Akita City.

You can watch all of the day's action unfold live right here on Tokyo 2020.