Tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics to mark the official start of this year’s delayed Games.
The Japanese Grand Slam winner carried the Olympic torch on the steps of the cauldron sitting atop a Mount Fiji-inspired summit, with a flower-shaped sphere with its petals open.
Earlier, athletes carrying the flags of their respective nations marched through the Tokyo Olympic Stadium with their delegations.
Sailor Hannah Mills and rower Mohamed Sbihi led the 22 athletes of the GB team, the flag bearers bumping their fists while waving the Union Jack.
Greece came first according to tradition, followed by the Olympic refugee team – while the host country came in last.
The other 204 delegations were arranged in the order of the Japanese alphabet – Iceland and Ireland therefore preceded Azerbaijan.
An orchestral mix of iconic Japanese video game songs served as the soundtrack for the parade – including the theme of the Final Fantasy series and âVictory Fanfare,â the song that plays when a player wins a match.
But there were also signs of opposition to the Olympics being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Outside the stadium, protesters clashed with police as they held up signs saying “Stop the Olympics – No Olympics” and “Cancel the Olympics! Save lives!”.
Protesters criticized the Japanese government for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health and called for the Games to be abandoned.
Near the nearly empty stadium, protesters were also seen waving banners reading “The Olympics kill the poor” and chanting “Cancel the Olympics”.
The Games, which are held largely without spectators and opposed by much of the host nation, are taking place a year later than expected due to the COVID pandemic.
Opinion polls show that most Japanese residents are against the decision to hold the world sporting event in the capital, which is under a coronavirus emergency state.
The event began with an artist appearing to transform from seed to plant through the use of overhead projections.
A video compilation then showed the path from Japan to the Games since being selected as host country in 2013 – with a notable focus on the impact of COVID-19.
Athletes were seen training alone in domestic spaces as they prepared for the Games.
A countdown sparked fireworks above the stadium, which turned indigo and blue in the shape of a fan – an auspicious symbol in Japanese culture.
Lone performers dressed as athletes were shown training on equipment as projections of lines and circles connected them to each other, a nod to how the internet connected people during the pandemic.
The dancers performed using pieces of red elastic ropes that tied them together.
The Japanese flag was carried through the stadium by athletes and a paramedic, leading to a depiction of Mount Fuji.
The national anthem of Japan was sung and a minute of silence was observed to remember “the friends and loved ones who are no longer with us”, especially those lost to the pandemic.
There was also specific mention of members of the Israeli Olympic team who were killed by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
The families of the 11 victims had long asked the International Olympic Committee to observe a minute of silence during an opening ceremony of the Games, but without success before.
Guided by the light of many paper lanterns, giant wooden rings were carried across the field on a platform.
The pull of a rope transformed them into an Olympic symbol.
The performance of assembling the rings began with the “Kiyari Uta”, a traditional working song that has been sung for centuries by workers to synchronize their efforts.
The rings were made from trees grown from seeds brought in by international athletes in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games.
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus received the Olympic Laurel for his pioneering work as a micro-lender hailed for reducing poverty across the world.
After the parade, performers rearranged 45 rectangular boxes in different colors to form the Tokyo 2020 emblem from above.
The twinkling light from 1,800 drones formed the same emblem in the sky.
Their movement formed a globe above the stadium, after which John Lennon’s Imagine was performed by John Legend, Keith Urban and others.
The Games were delayed for a year and spectators were banned two weeks ago due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media are on hand to watch the event live in a stadium designed to accommodate thousands of people.
Only 15 world leaders are in attendance, along with Japanese Emperor Naruhito and American First Lady Jill Biden.