By Masashi Kato
TOKYO (Reuters) – For most people, going to watch the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but for 92-year-old superfan Naotoshi Yamada it has become a quadrennial ritual over the last five and a half decades.
Yamada, known to his Japanese compatriots as “Olympic Ojisan”, or “Olympics Grandad”, first experienced the Summer Games when Tokyo last hosted the gathering in 1964 and he has been there for every minute of every one since.
“Mexico, Munich, Montreal, Los Angeles, Moscow. Japan did not even participate at the Moscow Olympics but I went to see that Games,” Yamada told Reuters in Tokyo.
“Moscow, Seoul, Barcelona, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London. I went to all Games from the opening to the closing ceremony … There is not such a person like me. I am the only one on the earth.”
Yamada, in his distinctive gold top hat, red jacket and beaming smile, has become one of the most familiar and colourful figures at the Games, regularly followed by television cameras and cheered by other fans.
Now, he has one final wish — to live long enough to witness the sporting spectacle when it returns to Japan next year.
“It will be the culmination of all my years cheering the Olympics,” said Yamada.
Yamada was a relative stripling of 38 when he attended his first Olympics, not just to witness the sporting spectacle but from an earlier desire to experience the world that was inspired by a speech given at his university by Emperor Hirohito.
“The Emperor said he wanted the young generation to rebuild our country,” Yamada said.
“I felt that I wanted to do something for my country. I think that it is one of the reasons why I started to visit the Olympics.”
Yamada’s first Games outside Japan was Mexico City 1968, where he paired his classic Haori Hakama kimono with a Mexican sombrero.
Yamada said it was impossible for him to choose a favourite from the 14 Olympics.
“If you have … different colours of crayons and someone asks which colour is the favourite one? Black? Red? Blue? Green? … each colour has its own character,” said Yamada, a wide grin etched across his face.
“So I cannot tell which is my favourite one. Each of the Olympics were fascinating.”
Yamada loves the international nature of the Olympic Games and has a vast collection of souvenirs he has collected over the years, some of them acquired through swaps with other fans.
His haul of flags, stamps, photographs and other items are on display at a gallery in his hometown of Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture.
“The Olympics is only the international festival for all humankind,” said Yamada.
“Athletes and tourists from more than 200 countries will gather at one place.
“For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so many people want to come to Japan.
“I think that 2020 will be amazing event.”
(Reporting by Masashi Kato; additional reporting by Jack Tarrant; writing by Jack Tarrant; editing by Nick Mulvenney/Greg Stutchbury)