Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron as the Tokyo Games opened on Friday after a year’s pandemic delay and lingering coronavirus threats.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games in an empty Olympic Stadium, after Covid-19 forced organisers to ban spectators at all but a handful of venues.
“I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch, wearing a white surgical mask, in Tokyo’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium.
Osaka was handed the torch by a group of children from the region around Fukushima, which was devastated by a tsunami and a nuclear disaster in 2011.
It was an uplifting moment in a low-key ceremony that unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.
In another high point, nearly 2,000 synchronized drones formed a revolving globe over the stadium, to a cover version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
A reduced parade of about 5,700 athletes, far lower than the usual numbers, filed into the stadium, not all of them socially distanced but all wearing masks.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach acknowledged the Games would be “very different from what all of us had imagined”.
But “today is a moment of hope”, he said in an address.
Japan has spent nearly $15 billion on the Games, including $2.6 billion in extra costs after they became the first to be postponed in modern Olympic history in March 2020.
Tokyo is also battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures though they fall short of a strict lockdown.
Organizers will hope public opinion turns when the full sporting program starts on Saturday, with swimming, gymnastics, road cycling and tennis among the top attractions.