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Osaka expo plans quietly move forward despite cost and virus worries

  • January 12, 2021
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



OSAKA – On Dec. 25, the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition approved the basic plan for the Osaka-Kansai Japan Expo 2025. International promotional activities for the expo are now underway, and will expand further through 2021.


But increasing costs and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has created growing challenges to ensuring the event is a financial and public relations success.


What is the basic plan for Expo 2025?

Under the grand theme of “Designing Future Society for Our Lives,” the Osaka-Kansai Japan Expo will take place on Yumeshima island on the Osaka city waterfront between April 13 and Oct. 13, 2025. It’s estimated that around 28.2 million people, including 3.5 million inbound tourists from abroad, will visit.


One of the main areas of focus will be emerging technologies related to life science — especially induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, artificial intelligence and robotics, all areas Japanese firms and the government have a great interest in developing as a way to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.


Some exhibits are also expected to focus on technological innovations in renewable energy, especially megasolar energy, and plastic recycling, according to the basic plan.


Who is in charge of the expo?

The event is a national rather than a local government initiative.


Shinji Inoue, appointed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, is the new minister in charge of the expo. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) is the main government body behind planning for the expo and will help promote it domestically and abroad. Private funding is coming from major corporations that belong to Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) as well as those in the Kansai Economic Federation.

Osaka Prefecture and the Osaka Municipal Government will be partially responsible for funding necessary expo facilities as well as the transportation and infrastructure-related projects that will connect Yumeshima to the city.


What arrangements are being made for overseas visitors?

Organizers hope that about 150 countries and territories will participate in the expo with their own booths and exhibits. During the course of the event, it’s expected that VIP guests — including presidents, prime ministers, royal family members and others — will pay visits to their country’s pavilion. There will be a VIP area as well as a landing area for VIP helicopters on Yumeshima.


In addition, many foreign staff will be needed for the expo. The basic plan calls for securing 990 residential units for 2,100 people, and providing shuttle buses for them between the lodging facilities and Yumeshima.


To attract exhibitors and participants from developing countries, the government has pledged to provide nearly ¥24 billion to nearly 100 countries in the form of financial assistance and technical support. The money will be used for costs related to pavilion construction, travel and lodging expenses for the participants, press relations and for travel, lodging and dining expenses for VIPs from those countries who wish to visit the expo on their national days.


What is scheduled between now and 2025 under the basic plan?

The government has already begun approaching foreign diplomatic missions in Japan to promote the expo and ask for their participation.

This year, national and Kansai area political and business leaders will increase efforts to engage with corporations, research institutes, NGOs and NPOs that may have an interest in exhibiting or running events at the expo.


In the autumn of this year, event officials, senior Japanese political and business leaders and senior Osaka political leaders will travel to Dubai to promote the 2025 Expo. Dubai is the site of the 2020 Expo, which, due to the pandemic, was postponed for a year and is set to open this October.


Construction of the various expo pavilions in Osaka and advance ticket sales are slated to begin sometime during the fiscal 2023 year.


What kinds of hurdles do Japan and Osaka face in ensuring the expo is a success?

The main challenges in hosting a successful expo are costs and preparation time.


While the event is five years away, by which time it’s hoped that the international economic damage due to the novel coronavirus will have abated, governments asked to shell out money over the next couple of years for 2025 pavilions may not want to spend as much as they have for past expos. They could present simple exhibition designs that aim to keep costs at a minimum.


For Japan and Osaka, there are concerns that expo-related costs, like the costs for the Tokyo Olympics, could greatly increase. The original estimate was that construction-related costs for the expo grounds would be about ¥125 billion. But the organizers have already announced construction will cost ¥185 billion, and there is no guarantee spending might not rise further.


It has been agreed that the national government, Osaka Prefecture, the Osaka Municipal Government and local businesses will split the costs of construction. Being asked to spend more money over the coming years could be particularly difficult for the corporate community, already suffering from pandemic-related economic damage. Osaka politicians, meanwhile, fear increased costs could further strain the local tax base.

Another worry is whether there is adequate time to prepare for the expo. Most countries are unlikely to seriously plan their own exhibits in 2025 until after the Dubai Expo, now set to close in March 2022. That leaves only about a year or so until fiscal 2023, when current plans call for construction of 2025 pavilions to begin, and just three years — instead of the usual four — between the close of one expo and the opening of the next.


For Japan, political attention is currently focused on dealing with the virus and ensuring the Tokyo Olympics goes ahead as best it can. That means less time for expo preparations and getting the word out overseas, as well as for domestic fundraising activities.


That worries Osaka. While the expo is based there, the city and the region will be relying on Tokyo-based politicians and METI officials to act as expo ambassadors on its behalf over the next five years — not only overseas but also among Tokyo-based business groups, diplomatic missions and international media with which Osaka’s leaders have fewer connections.


Finally, there are concerns about health issues that have been highlighted by the pandemic. Though a vaccine for COVID-19 is expected to be made available soon, expo officials will need to reassure exhibitors and visitors that in the event of mass illness, there will be sufficient medical facilities nearby to treat large numbers of domestic and overseas visitors.

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