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Celebrations leading up to the Tokyo Olympics have begun.

By Cailey Rizzo
March 25, 2021
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The Olympic torch has begun its 121-day journey around Japan ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

The torch was lit Thursday morning in Japan's northeastern Fukushima prefecture during a ceremony closed to the public due to COVID-19 but was streamed online for viewers around the world.

"The torch of Tokyo 2020 will become a bright light for hope for Japanese citizens and citizens in the world and a light at the end of the tunnel," Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the local organizing committee and a former Olympian, told The Associated Press.

The torch will spend the next four months being handed from athlete to athlete. It will head south from Fukushima through the country, passing through Osaka and making its way to the island of Okinawa. The flame will then travel north to Hokkaido before beginning its way down to Tokyo.

About 10,000 runners will take part in the Olympic Relay, stopping in all of Japan's 47 prefectures. The torch will arrive in Tokyo on July 9 and will journey around the Japanese capital until the opening ceremony on July 23.

Olympic Torch ceremony
Aerobatics pilot Yoshihide Muroya smiles at Hibarigahara field during the Tokyo Olympic Games torch relay in Minamisoma, Fukushima, Japan.
| Credit: Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images

Spectators who try to catch a glimpse of the torch have been told to socially distance and refrain from cheering. Organizers have said they will stop or re-route the relay if spectator crowding becomes a problem.

The relay is the first official event linked to the Olympics that Japan is hosting this year. Many people are watching to see how organizers will respond to the challenges of holding the games during a pandemic.

Much about the games is going to look very different this year. Foreign spectators and overseas volunteers will not be allowed into Japan and athletes will be kept in "bubbles" in the Athletes Village to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Information about each Olympic venue's capacity is expected to be released soon.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.