Olympic bouquets carry deep meaning for northeast Japan

The bouquets that winners receive at this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics aren’t just something to wave at the cameras. Each bunch features flowers grown in the prefectures hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in northeastern Japan. And for residents of the region, seeing the flowers on TV is proof of just how far they have come in the past decade.

In the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Kawamura Hiroshi has been glued to his TV all summer watching the Olympics and Paralympics. Kawamura is a flower farmer and grows eustomas on a plot just 7 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Olympic organizers won’t say who made the eustomas in the bouquets, but Kawamura will admit that he’s delighted to see athletes from around the world smiling as they receive their flowers.

Kawamura used to run a care facility in Namie and grew vegetables for the residents’ lunches. But he had to give up farming when the government declared the town a no-go zone after the nuclear accident. Though restrictions have been lifted for some parts of Namie, few residents have come back. But Kawamura returned, saying he felt a need to contribute to the town’s revival. He decided to do so by growing flowers.

Kawamura growing flowers
Kawamura grows about 50 types of eustomas.
Kawamura growing flowers

Olympic and Paralympic organizers prepared 5,000 bouquets for the Tokyo Games, featuring eustomas from Fukushima and gentians from Iwate Prefecture. At the Olympics, the arrangements also included sunflowers from Miyagi Prefecture—the type of flower planted on a hill in Miyagi by parents who lost children in the disaster. For the Paralympics, the sunflowers were replaced by Miyagi roses.

each victory bouquets

The Recovery Olympics

Tokyo 2020 had been dubbed the “Recovery Olympics” because the government hoped they would show the world just how far Japan had come since the 2011 disaster.

Olympic officials chose Fukushima as the starting point for the torch relay to put the spotlight on reconstruction efforts, and scheduled baseball and softball games there. But a surge in coronavirus cases meant most events had to be held behind closed doors and northeastern Japan lost its chance to welcome people from around the world.

And so, for Kawamura, the bouquets took on an even greater significance.

“I wish we could have got people from around the world to come and see areas that have been rebuilt,” he says. “But we were able to convey the feelings of local residents through the bouquets. I’m determined to use this opportunity to switch from “reconstruction” to “promotion” of local communities.”

Seven years have passed since Kawamura started growing flowers. Now, he has his sights set on medals of his own. He hopes to take part in the next Floriade Expo, a once-a-decade horticultural event in the Netherlands that has been called “the flower Olympics.”