’70 Expo Osaka museum relocation stirs forum to mull site’s future use

by Kenzo Moriguchi

OSAKA — The planned relocation to central Osaka of the National Museum of Art from the Expo ’70 Commemoration Park in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, has drawn no public protest, but for some people it stirs deep emotions about one of their most memorable events in decades.

About 40 people have joined an e-mail forum since its launch earlier this month to consider ways to utilize the building the museum is currently using and the other areas in the park that are being vacated.

“The relocation of the museum takes away the core spirit of the expo park,” said Katsuya Yamaguchi, a member of the Suita Municipal Assembly and one of the mailing-list organizers.

The 1970 Expo Osaka, commonly remembered as Banpaku, impressed many Japanese as a huge showcase of advanced technology and foreign cultures. During its six-month run it attracted more than 64 million visitors, a record for any exposition held in Japan.

Now, after 32 years, the 2.6 million-sq.-meter park, including amusement facilities, is losing its key structures.

The Tower of the Sun, designed by the late artist Taro Okamoto, will remain the main symbol of the expo, but Expo Tower will be torn down by next spring. Demolition work began earlier this month.

The Tower of the Sun, which represents the origin of life, is widely loved by locals, but Expo Tower, representing advanced science technology, was not as popular, said Shinya Hashizume, an associate professor at Osaka City University. Hashizume, who visited the expo more than 10 times while in elementary school, is one of the organizers of the mailing list.

According to the Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition, which runs the park, Expo Tower is being dismantled simply because it is old and dangerous to leave as is.

The four-story building with a tilted glass roof was initially the Expo Museum but since 1977 has housed the National Museum of Art. That museum will be relocated to central Osaka in 2004, as the current structure is aging and has limited storage space.

Yamaguchi said the park’s cultural zone, including the museum, represents the expo’s “harmony” theme in the best possible way. The zone also includes the National Museum of Ethnology.

No plan to utilize either the building or the space has been put forward by local governments or by the commemorative association. The building will probably be demolished and the land left empty or turned into a parking lot.

Hashizume lamented that there has been no protest over the museum relocation. “In Kyoto or Tokyo, there could have been such an argument,” he said. “There was no such voice (here).”

The forum organizers plan to present ideas to the national and local governments by the end of the year on how to use the site.

“If nothing comes out of the discussions, we can do no more,” Hashizume said. “In that case, when the building is torn down, I will come and collect some of the rubble.”