TOKYO – Shota Okamoto was running an errand with his wife and two daughters on Monday when they decided to get a photo with the Olympic Rings near the Olympic Stadium. They arrived at the Rings to find a long queue that snaked around the block, and waited more than an hour for their photo.
“Before the Olympics started, we were not sure about the Olympics being in Japan. But now that it’s happening, we’re cheering on the athletes,” Okamoto said.
The Olympics are now underway, and some local residents in Japan are getting into it – despite the collective angst that had been building for months leading up to the Games. Public polling had repeatedly shown that a plurality of Japanese voters wanted the Games to be canceled or postponed once more, fearing the spread of coronavirus.
Although spectators have been banned from the majority of matches and the capital is under a coronavirus state of emergency, these Japanese residents are still finding ways to get into the mood and catch a glimpse of the international event held in their country.
Hours before the Opening Ceremonies, at least 2,000 people gathered at a park near the Olympic Stadium to watch the air force’s aerobatic squadron, Blue Impulse, draw the Olympic rings in multicolored smoke. During the Ceremonies, crowds packed the streets outside of the stadium to listen to occasional music seeping out of the stadium and watch the fireworks.
TV viewership in Japan for the Opening Ceremonies last week averaged 56.4 percent in and around Tokyo, the highest Opening Ceremonies viewership since the last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Games in 1964, according to Mainichi Shimbun.
And a recent cycling road race drew huge crowds of spectators gathering in the streets to cheer on the athletes and take photos, prompting Olympic officials to ask locals to refrain from attending roadside events. Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in and around Tokyo, while vaccination rates remain in the low-20 percent range.
“We are requesting general audiences to refrain from coming to the roadside, under the current situation,” Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said during a briefing Monday. “We should thank those people who did not come and stay in their homes to watch those events.”
Early gold medal wins by Japanese athletes have further buoyed fans here. The Abe siblings won a pair of golds on Sunday in judo, becoming the first brother-and-sister duo to win the gold at the same Olympics. Two Japanese athletes clinched the first-ever Olympic title in street skateboarding, Yuto Horigome in the men’s competition and Momiji Nishiya in the women’s competition, becoming the youngest-ever Japanese gold medal winner at age 13.
Japanese public opinion on the Olympics is mixed, from disappointed former ticket-holders to those who vehemently oppose the Tokyo Games. But many residents said that now that the Games have begun, they want to enjoy it and experience it however they can.
Okamoto, for example, said he was still concerned about the spread of coronavirus during the Games but he hopes that the protocols that Olympic officials have established are working and being followed. In the meantime, he is especially rooting for Japan in judo. He and his family watched the Opening Ceremonies at home, and his older daughter, 4, danced along to the music.
“Yesterday was amazing,” Okamoto said, referring to the Abe siblings’ win.
Dozens of people stopped by the Rings on Monday afternoon to take selfies and pose with the Rings. They went to the nearby Olympics gift shop to purchase T-shirts, Japanese flags and Olympics figurines. Some people stuck their hands through the fencing separating them from the Olympic Stadium to take a photograph of the venue, from the closest angle possible.
The Tanimotos, a family of two who waited in line to take a photograph with the Rings, have been watching the Games on television. They said they wished that the Olympics would allow a limited number of fans, rather than instituting a ban. They believed “it’s too late to do anything” to stop the Games, and felt that the protests are over the top.
Yuki Yoshino, 16, sat on the lawn in front of the Rings on Monday with four classmates, still dressed in their school uniforms. The five teens attend high school near the Olympic Stadium and stopped by to hang out there after school.
Their school originally had scheduled a field trip to watch the Olympics. While that trip is canceled, the girls are still just as excited about the Games. and said they were “moved” that the Olympics was being held in their country.
When asked about their favorite Olympic sport, the girls collectively shrieked, “Table tennis!” Then they giggled as they talked about their excitement about watching table tennis finals and went about chatting on the lawn.