Philip Barker

The Olympic Flame was to have been lit tonight at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo as the climax of the Opening Ceremony. Instead, the day signals 364 to go until the Games.

For now, the Olympic Flame is in what Tokyo 2020 describes as "careful safe keeping". The plan is to put it on display at the Japan Olympic Museum but organisers will be wary after huge crowds turned out when it was first shown in Tokyo back in March before the Games were postponed.

There are "multiple scenarios", but International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach seemed cautiously optimistic when he looked ahead to the Opening Ceremony of 2021 after the virtual IOC Session last week.

"You have to take into consideration the opening ceremony is the opportunity for the host country to present the culture of Japan," Bach said.

"It is also the opportunity to present the Olympic values and to make it a once-in-a-lifetime, or at least a unique event for all the competitors. I am sure the Organising Committee will find the right balance."

When Tokyo first hosted the Games in 1964, the ceremony was every bit as symbolic but it now seems from another age.

Japan had originally the 1940 Games but war made them an impossibility. The decision to award Tokyo the Games of the 18th Olympiad signaled international rehabilitation after that war.

Enthusiasm was growing in Tokyo and even rehearsals were keenly reported. On the big day itself, Reuters news agency reported that some 4,000 spectators had camped outside the stadium waiting for the gates to open.

Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila was among the flag-bearers at the Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila was among the flag-bearers at the Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

In those days, the Opening Ceremony was usually held in the afternoon. It was a day of bright sunshine and blue skies. The organisers were lucky, the previous day it had been raining. 

"Electronic music" greeted the arrival of Emperor Hirohito and the ceremony began at precisely 2pm local time.

The organisers wanted to "Maintain the spirit of the Olympic Movement" and "Carry out all the ceremonies in a well defined and orderly manner."

Their aim was to "endeavour to create a Japanese atmosphere", and in doing so, "Make full use of sound, colour and light in the technical arrangement of these ceremonies."

The teams entered, to what were described as "inspiring band selections" which included a specially composed Olympic March. The very same music was played when the 2020 Olympic Flame arrived on Japanese soil.

In 1964, a band of some 560 drawn from the Ground and Maritime Self-Defense Forces, police and fire brigade took part. The choir of 350 singers was drawn from the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, the Tokyo Art University of Music and the Kunitachi and Musashino Colleges of Music.

Greece led the parade into the stadium. Flag-bearer George Marcellos, a 110 metres hurdler, had been the first Torchbearer in the relay from Ancient Olympia.

The flag-bearers of other nations included distinguished Olympic champions. Abebe Bikila, a guard at the Imperial Palace, carried Ethiopia’s flag, and later won the Olympic marathon for a second successive Games.

East and West Germany marched under the same flag, a German tricolour emblazoned with five Olympic rings in white carried by Ingrid Engel-Kramer, double diving gold medallist at the 1960 Rome Games.

Yesterday marked a year until the new date of the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
Yesterday marked a year until the new date of the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

The watching fashionistas noted that the British flag-bearer Anita Lonsbrough and her female teammates wore precisely the same shade of pink as the Germans.

New Zealand also opted for a gold medallist from Rome. Peter Snell, champion over 800m, performed the duties before victory over 800m and 1,500m in Tokyo. Crown Prince Harald carried the Norwegian flag as a prelude to competing in sailing.

The Cubans received what was described in the Japanese press as an "amused ovation" when they pulled out miniature Japanese flags "and waved them enthusiastically."

The Dutch flag was carried by Anton Geesink, their world champion judoka. It was an appropriate choice. His gold medal in the prestigious open category set the seal on judo’s Olympic debut.

Double shot put gold medallist Parry O’Brien carried the stars and stripes for the United States. They wore 'LBJ' hats, so called because they resembled the headgear of the new President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

There were also new flags at the Tokyo Games.

The two Cameroonians were among those making their Olympic debut wore long pale yellow robes and a traditional headdress.

Northern Rhodesia also paraded at the opening ceremony. Marathon runner Trev Haines carried a blue ensign with a Union flag in the canton denoting that it was still a British colony. It was the last time they would do so. On the final day of the Games, Northern Rhodesia was no more and the new republic of Zambia came into being.

There was at least one political incident. Iraq refused to march alongside Israel.

The Japanese competitors were the last to enter. Dressed in cherry-red jackets and white trousers, they removed their headgear in unison as they passed the Imperial box. They were greeted with "a thunderous roar."

Daigoro Yasukawa, President of the Olympic Organising Committee welcomed the 5,900 athletes and "expressed his felicitations on the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the International Olympic Committee". The words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, initially recorded for the 1936 Berlin Games, were relayed by loudspeakers.

The Olympic Flame arrived in Japan earlier this year ©Getty Images
The Olympic Flame arrived in Japan earlier this year ©Getty Images

IOC President Avery Brundage told the gathering: "The Olympic Movement, with its 118 National Olympic Committees, has now bridged every ocean, and the Olympic Games at last are here in the Orient, proving that they belong to the entire world."

Brundage spoke the last words of his speech in Japanese, inviting the Emperor to officially open the Games.

The Olympic flag was trooped in by a colour party of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and raised to the sound of the Olympic anthem. The original Greek lyrics by Kostas Palamas had been translated by the poet Akiro Nogami.

The raising of the Olympic flag was followed by the arrival of the ceremonial 'Antwerp' flag which passes from city to city.

In those days the handover took place at the Opening Ceremony. It was the preceding host city Rome which placed the flag in the keeping of the Tokyo city authorities for the next four years.

The protocol was changed in the 1980s, so Tokyo 2020 is already in possession of the current handover flag after receiving it at Rio 2016. If all goes as planned, it will pass on to Paris next year.

To mark the moment, the official orders for the ceremony stipulated: "There will be a first salute of guns, 3 salutes at intervals of 5 seconds." Some 12,000 coloured balloons filled with helium were released.

The final runner was no secret. Nineteen-year-old Yoshinori Sakai had been named weeks before. He was born on the very day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.

He described his selection as "proof of the high hopes that Japan places in the younger generation."

On the morning of the ceremony, Sakai had joined his coach and mentor for a meal of sekihan, a festive red rice, before setting out for the stadium. Runners brought the Flame from the Imperial Palace. The average age of the group was 17.

Japan's Blue Impulse team pays homage to the Olympic rings earlier this year - recreating the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo ©Getty Images
Japan's Blue Impulse team pays homage to the Olympic rings earlier this year - recreating the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo ©Getty Images

Sakai appeared dressed all in white. When the Flame was handed to him on the morning of the ceremony, Sakai admitted, "I was under so much stress that I could not even take a look at the spectators in the stadium. When I ran up the stairs and stood on top of it I could relax. I am glad I fulfilled my duties."

As the runner entered the stadium, chrysanthemum perfume was released over the spectator stands. As the Flame burned, gymnast Takashi Ono took the Olympic oath on behalf of the other competitors.

Pigeons were released around the stadium forcing many of the competitors to duck for cover.

Five jet planes of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Blue Impulse aerobatic team, led by Captain Haruhide Matsushita, "described five gigantic rings of colour, the Olympic emblem in the sky." The current members of the squadron formed a similar display to welcome the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch.

For Gyo Hani writing in the Japan Times, "it was a flawlessly executed, colour filled ceremony."

It was simple by modern standards but 1924 Olympic 100m champion Harold Abrahams, attending his ninth Olympic opening insisted "it far exceeded in every way, all I have previously experienced. It was a veritable field of the cloth of gold."

The ceremony was seen in Europe by satellite. Pictures were beamed from the Syncom 3 satellite to Relay 1 and the US and then transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean to the ground station at Pleumeur-Bodou in northern France.

"An unexpected stroke of luck has put the satellite in the right position at the right time", said a television spokesman.