The Tokyo Olympics officially commenced today with a four-hour opening ceremony that featured pomp and flare, but no fans, according to NPR.
Japan declared a state of emergency earlier this month due to the country’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases. As a result, fewer than 1,000 spectators were permitted inside Tokyo’s 68,000-person capacity Olympic Stadium. Protestors nonetheless gathered outside with signs that read “Stop the Olympics” and “Lives Over the Olympics.”
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and First Lady Jill Biden were among the attendees, along with other foreign dignitaries, diplomats, International Olympic Committee members, and sponsors.
Athletes representing over 200 countries did their best to convey enthusiasm behind masks, waving flags as they paraded through a sea of choreographed performances, including traditional Japanese Kabuki dance.
“Over 4 billion people across the world will be watching these Olympic Games,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “In that context, overcoming the hardship of the Coronavirus and to be able to hold the Games, I think there is real value in that.”
Footage of athletes training through quarantine conveyed the gravity of this year’s ceremony, according to NBC. Following a performance of the Japanese national anthem, there was a moment of silence for those lost during the pandemic.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron to signal the official start of the Games, as a dramatic fireworks display lit up the sky over the stadium.