Japanese athletes took center stage at the Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony Wednesday night, carrying the games onto the sport field in a much-anticipated gathering that promised good performances and, with the help of the lighter-than-air moon on the raised stadium roof, a touching touch.
The ceremony at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace was presented with a somber tone amid a dark national history and emphasized the country’s connection to sport.
Organizers highlighted Japanese athletes and Olympians, including hurdler Keiichiro Nagasato, who lost both legs in an underground mine explosion; Kamee Shintaro, a 100-meter runner who lost her right leg below the knee; and singles tennis player Yuki Fukushima, who lost her left leg above the knee.
In addition, a video of a young man, Hsu Shuangning, born with a birth defect that left him with only one arm, reciting Olympic victory chants by heart was powerful.
Stars like Usain Bolt, who is entering his fifth Paralympics, performed.
The thousands of spectators inside the palace threw a flare and the crowd broke into a rousing chant: “Unified Team.”
The opening ceremony spent most of its five-and-a-half-hour run time in the sky above the stadium. It gave spectators near the stadium their first view of the moon, and the eye-popping spectacle gave them a surge of energy and delivered a dreamy visual of the country.
Olympic rings floated across the stadium’s domed roof.
A FEELING OF PRIDE
The Paralympics will be a chance for Japanese fans to shine on the world stage.
Tetsuo Miyashita, who lost an arm in a Bataan Death March, competes in swimming. (Hyohei Oba/Pool Photo via AP)
“Every story is different and the most important thing is to have the audience feel pride for your country,” the opening ceremony’s artistic director Hideo Nogi said in an interview before the games.
Hatsomura Masami held a sign written with the words “Thanks” to Japanese officials at the ceremony, saying, “I am very thankful to the government for holding the Paralympics.”
A BLEAK OLYMPIC HISTORY
A depression-era government in Japan only selected 1,780 athletes for the 1936 Games in Berlin because it was financially strapped. About a third of the roughly 2,200-member team arrived without training. The Red Army was sent to coach the countries’ armies that were part of the 1936 Olympics.
As with Berlin, when Tokyo was selected in 2001 as the site of the 2020 Paralympics, Japan’s economy was in a similar state, although not nearly as much of a crisis as Germany’s two years after the Olympics.
The Japanese government offered tax-free tickets to the 2020 Paralympics, which was valued at more than $8.3 million. The 2019 Asian Winter Games, which starts Friday in Sapporo, was given a similar cash-for-tickets deal by the Japanese government.
Not everyone shares such deep and nationwide dedication to the Paralympics, but some do.
A nine-year-old man in a wheelchair, Takumi Matani, approached the number 32, seen in the distance in the opening ceremony broadcast, and handed his creator about four stones, making up the number.
“I want to do my best,” he said.