Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka ignited the Cauldron as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games began a year later than planned in front of a near-empty stadium.

The Opening Ceremony here was a surreal affair with no fans allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and only just under 10,000 guests of honour, Games stakeholders and members of the media were in attendance.

Twenty-three-year-old Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion and Japan's most recognisable athlete on the international stage, was heavily tipped to light the Olympic Flame which sat on top of a Mount Fuji inspired stage.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito had earlier officially opened the Games in front of dignitaries including American First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The COVID-19 pandemic heavily influenced the Ceremony after the worldwide health crisis forced the Games back by 12 months.

Organisers tried to convey a message of hope through sport, but the fact that many in Japan are against the Games going ahead was clearly evident by noisy protests which could be heard outside.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach used his speech to thank the people of Japan and in particular the athletes.

"You had to face great challenges," he said.

"You did not even know if this competition would take place at all.

"You struggled, you preserved, you never gave up and you are making your Olympic dream come true.

"You are true Olympic athletes.

"You inspired us to fight like you and for you to make this moment possible.

"Dear athletes, this Olympic community is with you tonight and during these Olympic Games.

"Billions of people from around the world will be glued to their screens, sending you their enthusiasm, and cheering you on."

Highlights of the Ceremony included an interactive pictogram performance and a display of drones forming the Tokyo 2020 emblem.

John Lennon's song Imagine - a nod to Japan's Yoko Ono - featured, alongside the release of virtual doves to symbolise peace.

A lengthy parade of nations saw countries march with much smaller delegations than normal - a result of coronavirus restrictions.

All in all it was a strange affair - with the big moments lacking the normal roars and excitement from a packed crowd and the speeches just met with scattered applause.

Before the Torch reached Osaka, it was carried by Japanese athletes including triple Olympic judo champion Tadahiro Nomura and three-times Olympic wrestling champion Saori Yoshida.

Baseball players Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Hideki Matsui then took their turn before passing the Flame to a doctor and nurse, Iroki Ohashi and Junko Kitagawa, to symbolise the fight against COVID-19.

Paralympic athlete Wakako Tsuchida, who has won gold at both the Summer and Winter Games, handed the Torch to six children from Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures to recognise the Great East Japan Earthquake which devastated these areas in 2011.

Osaka's Torch lighting is a striking moment for Tokyo 2020, which had to deal with controversy in the build-up to the Opening Ceremony after show director Kentaro Kobayashi was sacked for making a joke about the Holocaust in 1998.

Six people - three men and three women - performed the Olympic Oath.

They were sprinter Ryota Yamagata, water polo official Asumi Tsuzaki, judo coach Kosei Inoue, table tennis player Kasumi Ishikawa, surfing official Masato Kato and softball coach Reika Utsugi.

Source: https://www.insidethegames.biz