Hundreds of representatives from Japan’s sports community and thousands of well-wishers joined some 200 young children from the northern part of Japan for a sports festival in Tokyo to mark the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

This demonstration held early this month on the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, utilizes the power of sports to unite and energize a nation is one of the core values of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic bid.

Participants in the 3/11 Memorial ‘Kizuna’ Walk and Run included schoolchildren and young athletes from the affected area, who spent an unforgettable day meeting sports heroes and participating in games including football and rugby.

Thrilled to receive personal instruction from former and current athletes, the young participants drew strength from the powerful medium of sport and the bonds (kizuna) of fellowship.

Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda said: “On behalf of the Japanese sports community, we sincerely appreciate the generous, heartfelt support and encouragement from friends worldwide as Japan strives to recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Japanese athletes and the sports community also have made great efforts to support the healing process. Events such as this embody our shared desire to give strength to those most affected. This same belief in the power of sports underpins Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

A 5km walk was led by Akio Usami, a three-time consecutive Marathon Olympian, who said: “It was a real pleasure to participate in the event and coach young people from the affected area. The strong bonds I felt with everyone reminded me of sport’s capacity to bring the world together. I sincerely hope we helped to energize everyone and give them new hope.”

The event, which also raised donations for schools and an orphanage association, took place at Shiokaze Park, the planned venue for Beach Volleyball during the Tokyo 2020 Games.

As one of the 16 venues in the bid’s Tokyo Bay Zone, the park offers impressive views of the waterfront, Rainbow Bridge and the skyline of the world’s most sophisticated urban metropolis.

Added Takeda: “The ‘kizuna’ event showcases sport’s capacity to inspire dreams, hopes, goals and positive change. Tokyo’s bid has extra significance as a spiritual and physical symbol of Japan’s recovery from a national tragedy. We have a great sense of responsibility to inspire and unite the entire population behind a common vision of Japan’s future.

It is a bold national project to help us realize a better future by setting no limits and striving for excellence, as taught by the Olympic values.”

The Japanese sports community also is managing an ambitious five-year project to send Olympians and Paralympians to the affected area to inspire the area’s youth.

The Sports Kokoro Project will visit 542 schools during this Olympic year, aiming to put smiles on the faces of some 46,000 school children and fill their hearts with joy.