Philip Barker

Hair braided in cherry red, the national colour of Japan, Naomi Osaka turned out to be the chosen one who lit the Flame here in Tokyo.

It was the final positive flourish of a journey that had been fraught with difficulty to the extent that some questioned whether it should have gone ahead at all.

The masterstroke came a few moments before Osaka appeared, when the Flame was received by a group of young people from Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima, the three prefectures most affected by the earthquake and tsunami which devastated the coastal region in 2011.

This was a more positive moment which they will surely remember for the rest of their lives. It brought back memories from 2016 of Jorge Gomes, a boy from the favelas of Rio who lit the permanent Cauldron in the Candelaria district of the city. 

It soon became known that Gomes had been abandoned at birth and yet had eventually found solace in sport.

An Olympic Opening Ceremony is always laden with symbolism and here, it came as no surprise to find many references to the first time that Tokyo had staged the Olympics in 1964.

Those Games were about regeneration in a different way as Japan sought international acceptance in the years after the Second World War.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was only ten years old at the time.

He spoke last night of the "outstanding Olympic Games of Tokyo 1964."

The signature moment when the rings were assembled was performed with more refreshing simplicity than had been seen at most recent Olympics. There were no complex computerised displays of light emitting diodes as seen at Beijing 2008 and eventually at Sochi 2014.

In 1964 athletes who travelled to the Games had been invited to bring seeds to be planted as commemorative trees. These were distributed throughout Japan. The wood cleared from what became known as the "Exhibition Forest" was used in fashioning the Rings.

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka had the honour of lighting the Olympic Flame during the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka had the honour of lighting the Olympic Flame during the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

The resonance of those first Games would return again in a sequence demonstrating pictograms, first used in 1964 when language skills were not so widespread.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto had been born only a few days before they opened so does not have any first hand memories.

She only took up her post back in February, but was well aware of the idea that a Tokyo Olympics might help the recovery from that natural disaster.

"Many of the affected communities were losing the will to pick themselves up and move forward. 

"People from all over the world extended a helping hand, encouraging us to "Move forward together!"

"Now, 10 years later, we can show you the extent of Japan’s recovery," Hashimoto said this evening.

Bach for his part had paid tribute to what he described as "gracious hosts."

His opening address was heard in the stadium only by dignitaries and media. 

He talked of: "A difficult journey with unprecedented challenges along the way, first reconstructing after the great East Japan Earthquake, then the coronavirus pandemic."

"Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined," Bach said.

"Let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together, living under one roof together in the Olympic Village."

The togetherness theme was one that was imprinted throughout the ceremony as though it were a piece of seaside rock.

Bach has been successful in adding the word "Together" to the Olympic motto, originally devised in the 1890s as "Faster, Higher Stronger." The new wording was displayed on the stadium floor.

Another sequence was called "Unity in Diversity."

A sequence demonstrating the sports at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics through pictograms was a highlight of the Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
A sequence demonstrating the sports at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics through pictograms was a highlight of the Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

Performers rearranged 45 apparently random boxes into a circle that looks like a colourful flower, or the sun. The "arrangement" transformed into the Tokyo 2020 emblem.

The evening had begun with Arisa Tsubata, a nurse and a boxer, running on a treadmill, a reminder that so many Olympic athletes have been training remotely over the last year. 

For that matter many others had also found solace in online fitness coaches when the gymnasiums were closed because of "lockdown."

A group of dancers used elastic rope to convey the inner workings of the body and the heart as the stadium was bathed in red light.

The light and projections of virtual imagery conveyed a three dimensional effect in a sequence entitled "Apart but not Alone."

This was followed by "Kiyari Uta", a communal work song that has been sung since the 17th century.

In this scene, it is sung not by performers, but by actual members of the Edo Firemanship Preservation Association.

"We have been encouraged by your commitment in spite of all the difficulties you’ve had to endure," Hashimoto told the athletes and assured them.

"Step onto this stage with confidence. The world is waiting for you!" 

According to tradition established in 1928 Greece led the athletes parade.

Each of the nations had nominated joint flagbearers. 

Gymnastics champion Eleftherios Petrounias was accompanied by Anna Korakaki, the gold medal winning shooter who had begun the Torch Relay in Ancient Olympia.

The IOC Olympic Refugee Team, now mercifully using an acronym of the French name Equipe Olympique Refugies followed next, an innovation for this year.

Greece led the Athletes Parade at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony, following a tradition established in 1928 ©Getty Images
Greece led the Athletes Parade at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony, following a tradition established in 1928 ©Getty Images

At the end of the procession, the United States and France immediately preceded the host nation in recognition that Paris will stage the Olympics in 2024 and Los Angeles will follow in 2028.

World champion freestyle wrestler Yui Susaki and National Basketball Association star Rui Hachimura brought in their flag.

A new style Oath, taken even before the Emperor opened the Games, saw a male and female coach and judge join two athletes to speak a revised Oath, together of course.

Speaking in Japanese they said: "Together we stand in solidarity and commit ourselves to sport without doping, without cheating, without any form of discrimination.

"We do this for the honour of our teams, in respect for the fundamental principles of Olympism, and to make the world a better place through sport."

Solidarity and togetherness also rang through a performance of "Imagine" by John Lennon . The song written 50 years ago, was led by a children’s choir.

The arrival of the Olympic Flag was another highly symbolic moment. This year it was "broadened to include citizens who have also dedicated themselves, as essential workers to bring day to day help and support to those in need."

A performance inspired by traditional Kabuki theatre was the prelude to the finale.

In the climactic moments the Flame had arrived in the stadium to the sounds of Ravel’s Bolero, music synonymous with sporting excellence ever since it was used by ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean to win gold at the Winter Olympics in 1984.

It was carried by the two triple Olympic champions originally selected to collect the Flame at the handover ceremony in Athens.

Judoka Tadahiro Nomura and freestyle wrestler Saori Yoshida had been absent friends in Athens, but now passed the Flame to a succession of runners which included Olympians, Paralympians and essential workers.

The Flame will burn in a similar Cauldron at Tokyo’s waterfront for the duration of the Games. The only sadness is that the great Japanese public will not be allowed to come together to see it.