Sayonara, and bonjour: Japanese stars who shone brightly at Tokyo 2020

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Fireworks are seen during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Fireworks are seen during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

As the curtain comes down on the 17-day extravaganza, here are Japan's athletes who took center stage at these Olympic Games and gave a nation something to look forward to.

And that's a wrap.

The competition that started with the softball in Fukushima on 21 July is now past tense, has faded like Japanese fireworks in the summer sky.

Amid unimaginable pressure, the host country of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 performed well on the medals table. Japan rewrote their Olympic record for most golds and total medals won - despite several pre-Games favourites underperforming.

Yet the Japanese athletes were more than about wins and losses. Here are some of their stories:

ABE Uta

With big brother Hifumi taking the judo men's 66 kilogram crown, Uta helped spark the Japanese delegation early on in the Games by winning the women's 52kg, becoming the first siblings to top the podium on the same day.

A special day for the Abes who carved out their own chapter in Japanese sporting history that will be talked about for ages.

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IKEE Rikako

Ikee swam in three relays during Tokyo 2020 - the 4x100m freestyle, mixed and medley, reaching the final in only the medley. Japan finished last in that race.

But for the 21-year-old cancer suvivor who at one point had given up on these Games, getting here was the feat and a miraculous one it was. How she does is the conversation for Paris 2024.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24:  Chihiro Igarashi, Rikako Ikee, Natsumi Sakai and Rika Omoto of Team Japan celebrate after coming fifth in heat two of the Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Chihiro Igarashi, Rikako Ikee, Natsumi Sakai and Rika Omoto of Team Japan celebrate after coming fifth in heat two of the Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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ITO Mima

The 20-year-old won table tennis' inaugural mixed doubles event with MIZUTANI Jun but more importantly to Japan, she helped the hosts break through the great wall of China in the final after years of torment.

With also a silver in the women's team, the best has yet to come for Ito.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Ito Mima of Team Japan serves the ball during her Women's Team Semifinal table tennis match on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Ito Mima of Team Japan serves the ball during her Women's Team Semifinal table tennis match on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
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OHASHI Yui

She became the first Japanese athlete to win multiple gold medals at a Summer Olympic Games with victories in the 200m and 400m individual medleys. In the pool for Japan, the first double Olympic champion since KITAJIMA Kosuke (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008).

With her made-for-TV looks and personality, Ohashi just might be the breakout star for Japan at these Games. Stay tuned.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Yui Ohashi of Team Japan celebrates after winning the Women's 200m Individual Medley Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Yui Ohashi of Team Japan celebrates after winning the Women's 200m Individual Medley Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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UENO Yukiko

It all started for the host country in Fukushima with a strong start from the 39-year-old veteran who was also on the mound when Japan grabbed gold at Beijing 2008.

The evergreen pitcher embodies all the virtues her people embrace - humility, resilience and longevity. Tokyo 2020 was likely her Olympic swansong - but who knows?

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - JULY 27: Yukiko Ueno #17 of Team Japan reacts to the final out to defeat Team United States 2-0 in the Softball Gold Medal Game between Team Japan and Team United States on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on July 27, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - JULY 27: Yukiko Ueno #17 of Team Japan reacts to the final out to defeat Team United States 2-0 in the Softball Gold Medal Game between Team Japan and Team United States on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on July 27, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)
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ABE Hifumi

The other Abe probably fought his fight before the Games in December, when he outlasted MARUYAMA Joshiro in an epic 24-minute play-off for the 66kg spot on the Japanese team.

Hence, the look of peace and satisfaction on two-time world champion Hifumi's face after winning the Tokyo 2020 final.

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HARIMOTO Tomokazu

The highly-anticipated Olympic debut of Japan's prodigal son ended early in the paddlers' singles, being eliminated in the round of 16.

But the 18-year-old, as if to demonstrate why he is who he is, rebounded with authority in the team event, winning all seven matches en route to a bronze medal. With veteran MIZUTANI Jun riding off into the sunset, it is now Harimoto's time.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Harimoto Tomokazu (L) of Team Japan reacts during his Men's Team Bronze Medal table tennis match on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Harimoto Tomokazu (L) of Team Japan reacts during his Men's Team Bronze Medal table tennis match on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
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HASHIMOTO Daiki

Two-time Olympic all-around champion UCHIMURA Kohei calls him "a freak". So it's quite fitting that the 20-year-old succeeded the "King" at Tokyo 2020 as the Games all-around champion.

All eyes - and the pressure - will be on the new "Prince" of gymnastics at the world championships in Kita-Kyushu in October.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Daiki Hashimoto of Team Japan celebrates winning gold during the Men's All-Around Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28: Daiki Hashimoto of Team Japan celebrates winning gold during the Men's All-Around Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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KIYUNA Ryo

Japan's first-ever gold medallist from Okinawa after winning the first - and last, for now - men's kata title at the Games, Kiyuna created one of the more memorable scenes of Tokyo 2020 by stepping onto the podium with a photo of his late mother.

The nine-time reigning national champion was appointed flagbearer of the Closing Ceremony.

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ONO Shohei

Without competing a single time this year, Ono defended the men's 73kg title with conviction to join an exclusive list as one of seven Japanese judoka to win back-to-back championships at the Games.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for the world's best pound-for-pound judoka but a three-peat at Paris is certainly well within reach.

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Baseball

At last.

This is the one gold medal Japan have been craving for ever since baseball became an official Olympic sport, and they finally got it after beating the United States in the final.

The sport will look to rejoin the Games for a second time in 2028 in Los Angeles. And you can bet the house the Samurai will be going all in again to defend the throne.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Hayato Sakamoto #6 of Team Japan celebrates with his teammates after defeating Team Republic of Korea 5-2 during the semifinals of men's baseball on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on August 04, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Hayato Sakamoto #6 of Team Japan celebrates with his teammates after defeating Team Republic of Korea 5-2 during the semifinals of men's baseball on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on August 04, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
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Women's basketball

Tokyo 2020 was the coming out party for Japan's silver medal-winning female hoopers, whose only two defeats here were against the seven-time champions United States with the gap being a lot closer than the scoreline told.

Their first medal in women's basketball, Japan will now have expectations and pressure in Paris. A second successive medal would do wonders to elevate the sport in Japan.

SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Team Japan honors Rui Machida #13 after she broke Japan's all-time assist record in a Women's Basketball Semifinals game between Team Japan and Team France on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on August 06, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Team Japan honors Rui Machida #13 after she broke Japan's all-time assist record in a Women's Basketball Semifinals game between Team Japan and Team France on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on August 06, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Skateboarding

The kids are all right.

In skateboarding's smashing Olympic debut, Japanese teenagers cleaned up, capturing five medals including three golds. A silver in women's park was won by HIRAKI Kokona, making her the country's youngest medallist of all-time.

More of the same in Paris? Why not.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Kokona Hiraki of Team Japan competes during the Women's Skateboarding Park Preliminary Heat 2 on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Kokona Hiraki of Team Japan competes during the Women's Skateboarding Park Preliminary Heat 2 on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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