The Tokyo 2020 closing ceremony had a lot of memorable moments and knowing nods to the past and future.
Notably, there were several Japanese interpretations of iconic French music, making clear the transition that was happening between the two cities with iconic towers, Tokyo and Paris. Perhaps most strikingly, Japanese singer Milet did a Japanese language version of the iconic Edith Piaf tune Hymne à L’amour.
What songs were played at the Tokyo Olympics Closing Opening Ceremony?
Aside from usual anthems, other notable songs and music from the closing ceremony included:
- Tokyo Ska Pardise Orchestra playing Sakamoto Kyu’s Ue Wo Muite Aruko (Sukiyaki)
- Tokyo Ska Pardise Orchestra playing the Demon Slayer theme song, Gurenge which we have translated and explained here, originally perfomed by LiSA
- Tokyo Ska Pardise Orchestra playing the Beethoven’s Ode To Joy
- Milet singing a Japanese language version of Edith Piaf’s Hymne à L’amour
- The Olympic anthem sung by Japanese opera singer Tomotaka Okamoto
- A taiko performance by Kensaku Satou
- Tomita Isao’s version of Clair de Lune.
Compare this to the music that most set the internet alight was a medley of no fewer than 19 theme songs from a range of video game franchises, as listed below.
What video game theme songs were played at the Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony?
Dragon Quest – “Overture: Roto’s Theme”
Final Fantasy – “Victory Fanfare”
Tales of series – “Sorey’s Theme – The Shepherd”
Monster Hunter – “Proof of a Hero”
Kingdom Hearts – “Olympus Coliseum”
Chrono Trigger – “Frog’s Theme”
Ace Combat – “First Flight”
Tales of series – “Pomp and Majesty”
Monster Hunter – “Wind of Departure”
Chrono Trigger – “Robo’s Theme”
Sonic the Hedgehog – “Star Light Zone”
Winning Eleven (Pro Evolution Soccer) – “eFootball walk-on theme”
Final Fantasy – “MAIN THEME”
Phantasy Star Universe – “Guardians”
Kingdom Hearts – “Hero’s Fanfare”
Gradius (Nemesis) – “01 ACT I-1”
NieR – “Song of the Ancients”
SaGa series – “The Orchestral SaGa – Legend of Music”
Soulcalibur – “The Brave New Stage of History”
Strangely enough, none of the Mario themes were included in the medley. This is a particularly notable omission, given that this is undeniably the most recognised video game theme in the world. In the hand-off at the Rio Olympics, then Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, even appeared as Mario, hinting that the gaming icon may play a big part in the 2020 Olympics. Nintendo often does tie-in games with the Olympics, so it is interesting to speculate as to why the moustacheod plumber never made it out of the pipes to appear in front of the five rings…
Controversy over Olympics composer bullying comments
The original composer for the olympics was Oyamada Keigo of Flippers Guitar and Cornelius fame. He was forced to resign after it came out that Oyamada had made extensive comments in magazines in the 1990s outlining how he had taken part in extreme bullying of several people with disabilities.
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Ue wo Muite Aruko (sukiyaki) – Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
This is probably Japan’s most iconic pop song, being the only song to be a no.1 chart topping hit in the United States in the early 1960s.
Ode To Joy - Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Gurenge - Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Gurenge was the iconic opening theme for the animation Demon Slayer (Kimetsu No Yaiba) which stormed the world from around 2019 onwards.
Hymne à L’amour – Milet
In this tasteful nod to the next Olympic city of Paris, Japanese singer Milet performed a Japanese language version of Edith Piaf’s iconic song Hymne à L’amour.
It was good illustration of the camaraderie that exists between the two nations that stretches back the Japonisme movement of the late 1800s. Anyone that has spent any time in Japan can attest to the popularity of french-style breads and pastries, often sold from small shops referred to by the french parlance “patisserie”.
Here’s Milet’s song Inside you.
Olympic Hymn - Okamoto Tomotaka
French National Anthem – Tomotaka Okamoto
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Closing Ceremony stands as a testament of the ongoing connection between Japan and Europe, particularly France, in the Meiji period and continues to this day.
Tomita Isao – Clare De Lune
Tomita Isao became famous in the 70s for recreating classical music pieces on early synthesizers of the time. The inclusion of his version of French composer Debussy’s classic Clare De Lune, was another good way of bringing together the past, the future, classicism and modernism in one neat package to round out the Olympics closing ceremony.
La Marseillaise (Live) - Orchestre National de France
Prologue - Woodkid
Suite Bergamasque, Claire De Lune, No. 3 - Isao Tomita
Other notable performances
Who played the Taiko drums at the Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony?
Kensaku Satou did the striking solo taiko drum performance at the Tokyo Olymics games closing ceremony. Satou touts himself as “the man chosen by the drum”. Satou has performed on some of the biggest stages, at the biggest events in the world. He has performed at the FIFA World Cup in France in 1998, and in “ASPAC”, JCI Asia and Pacific Council with his drum “FUJI” represening Japan.
Taiko drums generally have been used in a wide variety of events and shows. They are an integral part of many religious ceremonies, as well as cultural festivals and other celebrations. Taiko drum artists use their skills to create music with the drums in an attempt to bring people together in celebration.
Ainu traditional dance
The Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan, from the northern island of Hokkaido. Their culture is based on ancient traditions in which they shared beliefs and folklore with the other indigenous peoples of the world. The Ainu people believed in a spiritual world that was believed to be just as real as the physical world and they believed that everything contained a soul. The Ainu people also believed in the importance of dreams, and they would often have ritualistic ceremonies after certain dreams.
The Ainu music & dance culture includes a range of genres, especially Upopo, upbeat ballads on everyday topics accompanied by traditional Ainu instruments. Another is yukar (percussive poetry).
The Eisa dance is a genre of folk music and dance from the tropical, southern Okinawa Islands in Japan. The culture in Okinawa is distinctively different to mainland Japan, with its own musical scales and tonalities. Eisa is often performed with drums, songs, and dances.
The origins of the Eisa dance are unknown but it has been dated back to the 17th century. Eisa is typically performed at festivals, such as Bon festivals.
Nishimonai bon odori
A dance performed in Ugo-machi, Akita, Japan.
Every year on the 16-18th, a traditional Nishimonai Bon Odori dance is performed to show thankfulness and respect for deceased ancestors. It ranks among the top 3 Japanese Bon dances and began as a harvest ritual.
In 1601, after Lord Onodera Shigemichi faced defeat at Nishimonai Castle, he burned his castle down. The people of the surrounding villages danced around the ruins to remember him.
The idea of a truly Japanese modern dance is still being hotly contested by some traditionalists despite the fact that the last incarnation of what one would typically call “Japanese dance” was merged in the late 18th century. That incarnation continues to this day and is celebrated as a large festival every year, drawing people from all over Tohoku, despite efforts to outlaw it in early
Gujo odori is a Japanese folk dance that is typically performed during the Obon festivities, which are Buddhist rituals carried out to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors.
Gujo odori is a traditional Japanese folk dance from the village of Gufo in Gifu, Japan. It is one of the most popular dances in Japan and it was designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1963.
In ancient times, it was believed that the dead would return to visit their families for Obon ceremonies from August 13 to 16. Gujo odori originates from this tradition and it became well-known among people who were living in rural areas.
If you are interested in Japanese music, we have done translations and backgrounds to many Japanese songs here.
We’ve also done a round of the main headline musical acts at the Fuji Rock Festival of 2021.
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Who is behind this site?
I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records. You can hear my music at my bandcamp page: