By Hideyuki Sano
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s Emperor Naruhito opened the Tokyo Olympics on Friday with a subtle departure from the script his grandfather used in 1964, a shift reflecting the solemnity of the Games being held in the shadow of a pandemic.
Unlike his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, who used the word “celebrate” in declaring the Games open, the 61-year-old Naruhito opted for a more neutral Japanese word closer to “commemorate”.
The Olympic charter states the exact wording to be used by a head of state when opening the Games, and there had been wide speculation that Naruhito would make the slight change.
The head of the Imperial Household Agency said late last month that Emperor Naruhito “appears concerned” about the possibility the Olympic Games could cause the coronavirus to spread as feared by many members of the public.
While the 61-year-old emperor’s concern was framed as the official’s impression rather than something he explicitly expressed, the rare revelation into the monarch’s thinking stirred speculation he had worries about the holding of the Olympics during the pandemic.
The Tokyo Olympics have been greatly complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and battered by a series of scandals. Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Japanese are against holding the event during the pandemic.
The head of the International Olympic Committee met with the emperor on Thursday and assured him organisers were doing their utmost not to bring infections into the country.
The 1964 Tokyo Games were enthusiastically embraced in Japan and abroad, and heralded a new era for the nation after it emerged from the devastation of World War II and was on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse.
The Oxford-educated monarch attended the ceremony without Empress Masako or other members of the imperial family, after organisers banned spectators.
In 1964, Emperor Hirohito was accompanied by Empress Nagako when he declared the Games open. The emperor has no political power but is widely respected as a figurehead in Japan.
(Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by David Dolan and Hugh Lawson)