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Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony features Naomi Osaka, blue humans and Tongan flag-bearer

Fewer than 1,000 spectators were present for the night's pageantry, speeches and parade of athletes.
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The Tokyo Olympics officially kicked off in a virtually empty stadium Friday night after a yearlong delay due to the pandemic.

As the Games face the ongoing threat of Covid-19, with the Japanese capital under a state of emergency and many of the country's residents adamantly opposed to hosting the Olympics at all, viewers were still treated to the night's festivities that marked the beginning of the world sporting event.

Follow NBC News' Olympics coverage throughout the Games

But instead of the 68,000-capacity crowd cheering as athletes from more than 200 countries paraded with flags through Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, fewer than 1,000 spectators were present for the night's pageantry and speeches.

Here are some of the night's biggest moments.

Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron

Tennis star Naomi Osaka climbed atop a pyramid of steps to light the cauldron, officiating the start of the Tokyo Games.

Image: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony
Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts after lighting the cauldron during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics, on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo.Ashley Landis / AP

Osaka joins the ranks of other famous athletes who have carried the final Olympic flame, including heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Finnish nine-time Olympic champion runner Paavo Nurmi and South Korean figure skating champion Yuna Kim.

The return of the shirtless Tongan flag-bearer

The shirtless flag-bearer returned.

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan taekwondo athlete who walked the Olympic opening ceremony shirtless and oiled up, captured the internet by storm for the third time in a row.

The athlete even caught the attention of the official Olympics account.

"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," the Olympics tweeted along with photos of Taufatofua of the 2016 and the 2018 Olympics.

Taufatofua, who has become something of a tradition, secured his spot at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo after beating Papua New Guinea’s Steven Tommy in a qualifying event in Australia.

Blue humans or logos?

Toward the end of the ceremony, viewers were in for a fun surprise.

In a series of human pictograms, performers donning all-blue outfits re-enacted what appeared to be the logo of every Olympic sport — prompting confusion, shock or maybe even joy on social media.

"This was the most stressful thing to watch but it was so cool," one person tweeted.

Another spectator called the performance "brilliant," going so far as saying that it "even got my girls' attention away from their phones."

Remembering the lives lost

The opening ceremony began on a more somber note with a video of Japan's journey to the Olympics and its montage of athletes practicing for the Games, at home and in isolation — a significant departure from the usual ornamental performances that showcase the host country's culture and history.

"The creators have tried to place this ceremony in its time," Savannah Guthrie, NBC's "TODAY" show co-host and Tokyo Olympics host, said during the live broadcast.

Image: Japanese singer Misia sings Japan's national anthem "Kimi Ga Yo" during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo
Japanese singer Misia sings the national anthem "Kimi Ga Yo" during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

After the Japanese singer Misia performed the country's national anthem, spectators were asked to observe a moment of silence to remember those who have died due to the pandemic.

Commentators also made note of the victims who have died during the Olympic Games and the athletes who were not able to attend the event.

Homage to Japanese culture

In keeping with tradition, the ceremony made several nods to the Olympics' host country.

Dozens of performers opened the show against the backdrop of moving bright lights and a steady rhythm. The dancers, adorned in all-white outfits and connected with red strings, were meant to portray the inner workings of the body and heart.

Image: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony
Performers are seen during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.Phil Noble / Reuters

The ceremony then transitioned into another performance featuring dancers dressed like carpenters who built an Olympic village in honor of the Japanese arts. The tightly choreographed and well-rehearsed display of national pride culminated in a rollout of the Olympic rings, all made from the wood of trees that grew from seeds brought to the Japanese capital by athletes when it last hosted the Summer Games in 1964.

A spectacular fireworks display erupted over the stadium following the performances.

Parade of athletes

Greece, home to the first Games held, led the pack in the world's first official introduction to this year's Olympians.

With their flags unfurled and their faces clad in masks, athletes from over 200 countries marched around Tokyo's Olympic Stadium set to classic video game songs — a quintessential part of Japanese culture. Some countries practiced social distancing while others did not.

Image: Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony
Anna Korakaki and Eleftherios Petrounias, of Greece, carry their country's flag during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the Summer Olympics, on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo.Petr David Josek / AP

Each nation was allowed for the first time in Olympic history to have two flag-bearers — a man and a woman — for the traditional Parade of Nations. Carrying the Stars and Stripes were U.S. women’s basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez.

'Imagine' a new world

After the parade ended, musicians from around the world performed a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," which was also sung at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Image: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony
Drones are seen above the stadium during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.Marko Djurica / Reuters

Singers John Legend, Keith Urban, Angelique Kidjo andAlejandro Sanz took part in the performance as 1,800 drones soared over the stadium to form the shape of the Earth, a glowing circle in the Tokyo dark sky.

NBC’s live coverage in the U.S. began at 6:55 a.m., and viewers can tune into the ceremony during its rebroadcast at 7:30 p.m. and once more overnight.