East meets West in Tokyo — Japan gets gold for Osaka Olympics

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan on July 23, 2021.
REUTERS/Mike Blake

Asia’s Olympic host country of Japan earned the first gold medal on opening night for staging a bold, and awesome ceremony that spoke volumes about diversity to a global audience.

The deserved prize was not ordained however on July 23, the far east destination whose unique banner displays a perfectly circular red sun bordered by white space, exemplified progressive, thoughtful and diversity that resonated with admiration and perhaps envy.

That amidst restrictions and challenges posed by the lingering global pandemic — demonstrators on their own soil and a myriad of dissenting voices, Japan managed to spotlight 206 nations during the Parade of Nations procession almost normalized the usually friendly tribute associated with the quadrennial sports competitions.

From Micronesia, the continents of Asia, Africa, South America, Europe encompassing the tiniest delegations of only two representatives from the Caribbean islands of Dominica and St. Lucia to the 615 majority America — brandishing stars and stripes — cheers, smiles, cellphone cameras and pride overshadowed the empty seats disguised and replaced by greenery.

For the first time a male and female flagbearer from each country displayed gender equal prowess.

Proud wavers from the Caribbean represented by less than 10 nationals fashioned the hopes of Grenada, Barbados, the Bahamas, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

From the region Jamaica boasted a cool running crew comprised of 65 athletes while Trinidad & Tobago sent 33.

And as impressive the first glimpse of the united nations, anticipation heightened for a big reveal of the chosen individual to light the flame.

There was much speculation about who would receive the high honor. A topical debate pondered the possibility of traditional heroes — an elder, Japanese sports icon etc. Shrouded in secrecy its unveiling proved a highlight of the ceremony.

Beginning with a relay of baseball players, a doctor and nurse (essential workers), a gold-medal winning Paralympian passed the torch to Naomi Osaka, a biracial Haitian-Japanese tennis champion.

Osaka emerged the chosen one worthiest over other worthy citizens from the land of the Rising Sun.

She is the first tennis player to ever light an Olympic cauldron, the first in a gender equal Parade of Nations and first on so many levels.

She represented an east, west, north, south phenomenon.

Recognized by a nation steeped in traditions of preserving ancient mores Osaka caused a firestorm on social media.

Who could have thought it?

Not in the land of Samurai swordsmen, geisha girls and traditional customs of women walking behind their counterpart to show respect.

Not in a million years, but there she was, the 23-year-old petite, biracial champion, sporting braids in her hair, looking confident as she stepped up to the pinnacle inspired by Mount Fuji to blaze a trail for the gender, biracial individuals, Japan and the Caribbean.

As she maneuvered the steps there was a hush from spectating athletes, first-lady Jill Biden and the select sparse gathering of Japanese leaders, officials of the International Olympic Committee, goodwill ambassadors, performers and medical assistants.

When Osaka torched the giant cauldron, the whole world cheered.

East, west, north and south.

Osaka is ranked number two in the world, four-time Grand Slam winner, advocate for reforms to mental health, human and civil rights proponent.

Indelibly imprinted in the minds of many was her gesture at the US Open here to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The hroughout the tournament Osaka wore seven separate masks — one for each round — emblazoned with the names of Blacks victimized by police brutality.

Among them — Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Philandro Castile, and George Floyd.

Her prominence vaulted when she beat her idol Serena Williams.

Trained by her father, Leonard Francois, a tennis coach who was born in Jacmel, Haiti, at the age of three, Osaka moved from her birthplace Japan to live with her father’s relatives on Long Island.

Along with her tennis star, mother Tamaki Osaka — a Japanese native who was born in Osaka — they remained in the north east before moving south to Florida when she was eight years old.

The call of the west lured Osaka to California.

Reportedly after championing numerous tournaments, earlier this year, the east-west-north-south migrant purchased a house in Beverley Hills.

Her reputation escalated when she quieted the noisy French media recently after they criticized her for refusing to comply with their invasive interviewing tactics.

Truth be told, she silenced them.

To further fuel a seemingly overactive news cycle, Osaka cancelled her appearance in France and also skipped Wimbledon in England explaining the need to focus on her private torment battling depression and mental illness.

The admission endeared understanding.

She did not fall from grace but seems to be ascending from support secret sufferers of the malady often scorned and denied.

Japan’s example to the world displayed humanity, compassion and like the summation of Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk signaled “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And for all the Wow! moments exhibited during the opening of the games, Japan’s phenomenal drone display presented another example of their advanced technological capacity.

It was no small feat to align drones to shape countries and continents.

Precision and technological ingenuity worked to morph a global orb that spectacularly hovered over the Olympic Stadium and city.

Amazing but expected from the island reputed for being first to see the sunrise, Japan outdid expectations.

With that said, what resonated most on this Insider was that a Japanese-Haitian, former US citizen who lived east, west, north and south of the United States, brightened numerous corners of the world by lighting the flame to start the contests between nations now participating.

Kudos to the land of the Rising Sun for choosing Naomi Osaka, a global standard bearer.

Not only did Japan deserve the first gold of the Olympiad but by executing the stellar showcase without an audience the host must be commended with merits of bonus silver and bronze medals too.

By the way, in her first round contest on Sunday, Osaka walloped her Chinese opponent Zheng Saisai…just sayin’.

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