The government is set to launch a project encouraging local governments nationwide to aid about 200 countries and territories in their preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, with "one town" assigned to support "one nation."
The programme will be modeled on the "one school, one nation" campaign in which each local school supported a foreign country, conducted before and during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano.
In autumn, the government will start inviting participation in the planned campaign from local governments wishing to promote exchanges with foreign athletes and visitors in the run-up to the 2020 Games.
A liaison committee overseeing the initiative, which was established Friday, is chaired by Olympics Minister Hakubun Shimomura and staffed by members of the Foreign Ministry, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, and others.
The municipalities could receive an additional boost if they continue international exchanges after the Olympics.
Under the project known as Host City-Town, the government plans to assign each municipality to a liation or territory to support after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when teams will begin stepping up efforts to select training sites for the Tokyo Games.
The government plans to introduce the nations' embassies, Olympic committees and other groups to the municipalities, with the idea that embassy staff, athletes, cultural figures and Japan-based expatriates from those countries will visit their host community before 2020.
The municipalities could design educational materials on the nations for use in general studies classes at local schools, or create opportunities to learn about the language and history of the nation they will be supporting.
Demonstrations of the events that the paired nation is strong in, as well as its traditional cuisine or ethnic culture, could be organised for local residents.
Then, when 2020 arrives, supporters could attend competitions to cheer on their assigned nation. Meetings between locals and athletes could even be organised.
The government is planning to provide funds for some of the activities.
After the Games, the government hopes ties will be maintained, such as through visits by children or sister-city connections.
Nagano, Nakatsue maintain bonds
It is hoped that omotenashi, or Japanese-style hospitality, will give a warm welcome to visiting athletes.
International exchanges that began with past Olympics and other events continue to this day in communities across the nation.
Nagano's one-school, one-nation campaign paired 76 primary and middle schools in the city with athletes from 106 nations and regions.
During the last school year, children from Turkey and other countries visited 11 schools in the city, continuing a valuable legacy of the Nagano Olympics.
The exchanges have apparently encouraged some children to say they want to become athletes or study abroad.
Hiroyasu Koide, who chaired a Nagano international friendship club, said he wants to carry these experiences over to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The former village of Nakatsue-now part of Hita, Oita Prefecture-hosted the Cameroon national team during the 2002 World Cup, which Japan cohosted with South Korea, and has maintained ties that were forged more than a decade ago.
In January, the community formed an Indomitable Lions Association, named after the team's moniker. Local children made banners to support the team, and former Mayor Yasumu Sakamoto and others travelled to Brazil to support the squad.
The organising committee for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics is also considering a one-school, one-nation campaign to support areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Ideas include inviting primary, middle and high school students from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures to attend the opening ceremony of the athletes village.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education is also preparing activities to be held at Tokyo schools.