Only 1,000 dignitaries will be in attendance at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the traditional extravaganza, usually a moment of celebration for the host nation.
This time, after a year of pandemic delay, the Japanese public is largely locked in and distrustful of the Games, fearing an influx of infections from foreign visitors.
The ceremony has been shortened to avoid crowding, with the parade of nations, a centerpiece of the show with smiling and waving athletes, drastically reduced.
The flashes of rehearsals witnessed by Tokyo residents suggest a high-tech spectacle that includes a drone display.
The Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, will be the foremost of the VIPs, along with a handful of world leaders and high-level figures, including the First Lady of the United States. Jill biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Tokyo 2020 has had a difficult preparation and the opening ceremony is no exception, with a series of layoffs of people related to the show.
The director of the ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired on the eve of the show for a 1998 comedy sketch referencing the Holocaust.
It came just three days after a composer for the ceremony resigned following an outcry over past interviews in which he described abusing disabled schoolmates.
The creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi sasaki, also resigned in March after suggesting that a plus-size comedian appear as a pig.
The focal point of the ceremony is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, which will conclude a tortuous torch relay that started 16 months ago and has run into several obstacles.
After the flame was lit in a ceremony without spectators in Olympia, Greece, in March last year, the Greek section of the relay was ruled out when a crowd stormed the Hollywood actor Gerard butler in Sparta.
The flame had just landed on Japan when the Olympics were postponed and it was shown across the country until the relay restart in March.
However, nearly half of the relay sections were pulled off public roads or otherwise altered due to coronavirus concerns, and fans stayed away when it finally made it to Tokyo this month.
Concern about viruses remains high in Japan, with Tokyo in a state of emergency when the Olympics finally begin.
Cases in the capital reached 1,832 on Wednesday, the highest since January. Experts estimate that the number will rise to 2,600 by early August, according to Kyodo news agency.