The Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics featured some of the oldest traditions in Japanese culture, as well as some of the newest.
The moving presentation welcomed the Parade of Nations with thousands of athletes from around the world and concluded with a hopeful and symbolic lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
From pop culture to centuries-old customs, here's a look into some of the hidden and not-so-hidden references of Japanese culture that took center stage at the ceremonial kickoff of the Tokyo Olympics.
Videos Games & Manga: Soundtrack of the Opening Ceremony
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Japan’s rich manga and video game culture had a strong visual and audio presence in the Opening Ceremony.
“The walk-up music for the entrance procession are from video games,” Japanese culture expert Ayako Kiyono said. “Also, country names are in speech balloons. People are tweeting that is a nice combination of Japanese games and manga.”
Familiar gaming tunes blared in the background as thousands of Olympians from around the world marched into the arena during the ceremony’s Parade of Nations. Some of the iconic songs from poplar games featured include “Victory Fanfare” from Final Fantasy, “Star Light Zone” from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, and “Roto’s Theme” from the Dragon Quest series.
Kiyono says that video games were highlighted because of the widespread popularity and association with Japanese culture – and at all began with Nintendo more than 30 years ago.
“Nintendo started in Kyoto,” Kiyono said. “It was just a very small playing card company. In the last 30 years, it has spread to the very big one.”
The influence of Japanese manga in the country’s culture is also undeniable
Known as one of the most popular forms on Japanese entertainment, University of Pittsburg’s Akiko Hashimoto says that magna was created by artist Kitazawa Rakuten in the 1900s after he was inspired by early American comic strips in newspapers.
Hope. Diversity. Change.
International tennis superstar and Japanese national Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron in what competition officials called “a symbol of hope for her home country.”
Osaka was chosen as the final torchbearer in what some say is a nod to diversity, emphasizing the Olympics' “Stronger Together” theme.
“She is the person who symbolizes the Olympics very much,” Kiyono said. “I believe she was chosen because she overcame so many difficulties of being Japanese because her color is different.”
Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, chose to represent the country in which was born at the Olympics after giving up her U.S. citizenship before she turned 22.
The young tennis star became a leading voice for social justice during the U.S. Open by wearing face masks bearing the names of African Americans slain at the hands of police brutality. Osaka also used her platform to publicly speak out against anti-Asian hate crimes earlier this year after the U.S. saw a recent spike in incidents.
“She was chosen a symbol of diversity,” Kiyono said.
Following the moving and symbolic ceremony, Osaka tweeted saying that lighting the cauldron was “undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life.”
A Performance Inspired by a Traditional Game
Dozens of interpretive dancers clothed in white garments twisted and twirled their bodies around long, red ribbons of string. The dancers moving performance pulled inspiration from a centuries-old game in Japanese culture called “Ayatori.”
Ayatori is game of skill and talent that involves manipulating string, usually made of yarn, to form various shapes and figures. The cultural tradition can be played alone or with a friend.
“When Japan was very poor there was not much expensive games we could enjoy, so the girls can play with their friends by really making different shapes with string,” said Masa Hattori, a Japanese national guide.
Historians say the game was commonly played by young girls but has since become a gender-neutral activity for all ages. Versions of Ayatori has been found in many cultures around the world, including “Cat’s Cradle” played in the United States.