Japan marks three-year countdown to Tokyo 2020 Games

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan began its three-year countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday with concerts, races and other events meant to drum up public enthusiasm for the games.

The 2020 Games will be Japan's first summer Olympics since the 1964 edition in Tokyo. After a rocky start, organizers are gearing up to get the public more involved.

A 15-day, 1,000-kilometer (about 620 mile) citizens relay began Monday in northeastern Japan's Aomori prefecture. Runners and cyclists will travel through areas ravaged by the 2011 tsunami, reaching the capital on Aug. 7.

Other events included group calisthenics, traditional dancing and surfing at the Olympics surfing venue. In Tokyo, a concert and other festivities were planned after dark.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are due to be held July 24-Sept. 6, 2020.

Since public transport is crowded even without Olympics-related visitors, the government launched an annual "telework" day on Monday to encourage more people to do their jobs remotely, especially during the 2020 Games. Dozens of companies have pledged to participate.

Troubles over the design for Tokyo's National Stadium, the Olympics logo and soaring costs for the events are still casting a shadow as organizers rush to meet tight deadlines.

In April, a 23-year-old employee of one of the Olympic contractors committed suicide in a case believed to be related to overwork.

Asked about the young man's death after having clocked more than 200 hours of overtime the month before, Hikariko Ono, spokesperson for Tokyo 2020, it was "very unfortunate."

"We extend our condolences to the man who passed away and his family," Ono said. The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee is asking the Japan Sports Council to provide details of the case.

"We would like to remind all the parties to be mindful so that similar cases will not be repeated," she said.

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