Getty Images

The tradition of the Olympic torch relay began on Thursday in Japan. The relay will travel across the country and ultimately arrive at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23. 

Members of Japan's 2011 women's World Cup-winning soccer team, who were dressed in white track suits, began the first leg of the relay by jogging from a soccer training complex in Fukushima -- the region of the country that was hit by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in 2011.

Each of the relay's 10,000 runners will carry the torch 200 meters (about 220 yards) across the country. 

"The flame will embark on a 121-day journey and will carry the hopes of the Japanese people and wishes for peace from people around the world," Olympic organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto said, according to NPR.

As the relay continues and draws spectators as it always does, people are being asked to wear masks. The onlookers are allowed to clap, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are asking spectators not to cheer. If there comes a point where too many spectators are at various spots, the torch relay may be halted. It's a good precursor to what will be an Olympics that looks different than most.

Overseas spectators aren't allowed to enter Japan and attend the Olympic Games, and even when it comes to Japanese residents, it's still unclear how many will be allowed to attend.

"This is a great opportunity for Japan to get a real sense that the Olympics and Paralympics are nearing," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

Japan recently lifted its COVID-19 state of emergency, but has had an estimated 462,000 confirmed cases to go along with 9,000 deaths since the pandemic began in 2020. The country has also begun vaccinating residents in recent months.