The 2020(1) Summer Games officially commenced Friday in Tokyo where a scaled back opening ceremony went off without a hitch: it began with the Japanese flag being carried out by a group of children, before dancers representing traditional carpenters re-enacted the construction of traditional wooden dwellings common in Japan.
A wooden set of Olympic rings featured in the ceremony was reportedly constructed from the wood of trees planted in the summer of 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Games. Japan's emperor was on hand to officially open the Games as well.
But while the 1964 Games were a watershed moment for a post-war Japan, the tone was markedly different this year. Crowds of Japanese protesters, furious that organizers are allowing the Games to continue without spectators in the middle of a State of Emergency, gathered outside. First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron were among the special guests in the mostly empty 68,000-capacity stadium.
Still, as one twitter user pointed out, "you have to appreciate the audacity of the Olympics to try to sell the message of unity while Japan's citizens are protesting the Games..."
Have to appreciate the audacity of the Olympics to try to sell the message of unity while Japan's citizens are protesting the games, and after showing the world that they will disregard life and science for the money. https://t.co/zpPB8lK0KI— Zito (@_Zeets) July 23, 2021
And western media outlets published plenty of photos of the sizable crowd, which dwarfed the fewer than 1,000 spectators allowed to witness the opening ceremony in person.
On top of the difficulties posed by the pandemic, the Opening Ceremony was plagued by other obstacles. Three directors and a musical composer were fired over various scandals. Despite the fact that Japan had an extra year to prepare, the planning for the opening ceremony seemed to crumble at the last minute, as Kentaro Kobayashi, the last of the directors, was fired just a day before the ceremony as a standup bit he performed in the 1990s featuring a joke about the Holocaust happened to resurface.
Just over half of the athletes set to compete in the Games marched during the Opening Ceremony (5,700 out of 11,000 athletes), and those who did march observed social distancing protocols.
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The ceremony also stood out for the lack of visible corporate sponsors after top-tier sponsors like Toyota and Panasonic abandoned plans to sponsor the event. Other domestic sponsors, including NTT and NEC, are also staying away, according to Nikkei. Many of the sponsors said they feared having their brands associated with an event that the overwhelming majority of Japanese oppose.