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Japan

Japan’s World Cup Heroics A Huge Boost For Still Reeling Fukushima

Perhaps nowhere was the Japanese team’s World Cup victory more deeply appreciated than in Fukushima. Four months ago the Japanese city was hit by a massive earthquake, a subsequent tsunami and an ongoing nuclear radiation crisis.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun celebrates huge World Cup win
Japan's Asahi Shimbun celebrates huge World Cup win
Michel Temman

FUKUSHIMA -- "Subarashi" (it's wonderful) cry a group of men and women sitting down at one of the yatai (bars) in a lively alleyway in Fukushima, just 60 kilometers away from Japan's damaged Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant.

For a moment at least, people in Fukushima are able to forget about the devastating tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan on March 11. They forget that for the last four months their city has been exposed to the invisible dangers of radioactivity. Japan can breathe…at last.

Helped by a bit of luck, the Japanese women's soccer team, nicknamed the "Nadeshiko" (the name of a Japanese flower), won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup on a nail-biting penalty shoot-out. The Japanese, still traumatized by last winter's disasters, are back on their feet after the apocalypse. They are smiling again, exultant, eager to celebrate this unexpected but so much desired victory.

Last night in Yatai Mura, beer and sake (Japanese wine) were flowing. This is a truly sweet moment for Fukushima. The Japanese soccer players have brought home the taste of victory and offered the country a simple and hopeful idea: the archipelago will be able to cope with its tragedy – and move on.

Last March, Japan was pummeled by a magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated 420 kilometers of the Honshu coast and killed upwards of 25,000 people, according to government figures. The natural disasters then provoked a nuclear crisis. Fearing radioactive fallout, authorities evacuated more than 100,000 people from around the stricken Fukushima plant. Needless to say, this is one of the worst disasters Japan has ever known.

Comeback spirit

Nevertheless, people from Fukushima are ready to fight -- just like Japan's national soccer team last Sunday, which staged a heart-stopping comeback to become the first Asian team to win such a title.

"Fukushima means ‘the isle of happiness!" There's no way we're going to let things get us down. We have to remain confident and energetic," says the mama-san of one of the most popular cafés in the Yatai village.

The idea that the Japanese were able to pull it off, to surprise the world with their win in the FIFA Women's World Cup final in Germany, is still sinking in here. On television and telephones, on the internet and in some blogs, people can't stop talking about it. The miracle has come true.

Over the past two days, the team's heroics have almost managed to overshadow what are still disturbing headlines coming out of the Japanese press: the latest news about the melted Fukushima reactors; radioactivity tests; the risk of food contamination; the slow and difficult reconstruction efforts. Japan needed this victory. It needed this taste of pride, to feel again that it is the master if its own destiny.

Sports may well continue to help Japan forge ahead. On Saturday, Tokyo entered the selection process for the 2020 Olympic Games. "We want to make the 2020 Olympic Games the symbol of our recovery," said Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

In the center of Fukushima, the power of Japan's World Cup victory is everywhere. On the baseball field of the city's biggest high school, teenagers train hard in the hot sun. Never mind that just last week, officials from the nearby nuclear plant tested the grounds for radioactivity. The country is eager to get back on its feet. And Japanese athletes are hoping to show the way.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Asahi Shimbun

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Winter Is Coming: Breaking Down Russian Propaganda Across Europe

Hit by EU sanctions, Russia is working hard to spread its own propaganda through neighboring countries. A new study breaks down exactly what that disinformation campaign is saying — and whether it's working.

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In light of this clash, Moscow's propaganda in the West has taken four different and distinct lines: "The future of the EU will be cold and hungry...," "the EU shot itself in the foot...," "the U.S. economy is also suffering, and is now looking for ways to resume business with Russia...," and "sanctions do not harm Russia, they only make it stronger."

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