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WORLD EXPO 2025

Osaka sets sights on 2025 World Expo, but formidable challenges remain

by

Staff Writer

Earlier this month, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui led a delegation of local politicians and business leaders to Paris, where they formally announced at a general assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions that the prefecture was bidding to host the 2025 World Expo.

Speaking to the assembled delegates, who will decide the winner in November 2018 after conducting site visits over the next year or so, Matsui introduced the Osaka bid, but did not delve into specifics. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also delivered a video message of support. Paris, home to the bureau, is also bidding for the event, along with Ekaterinburg, Russia and Baku, Azerbaijan.

Why was the name, originally the Osaka Expo 2025 bid, changed to the Osaka Kansai Expo 2025 bid?

The central government, especially the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, along with local business leaders, were worried that Osaka alone did not have enough international recognition, at least outside of East Asia, to successfully beat Paris, which Japan sees as its main rival. By changing the name to “Osaka Kansai,” Abe’s government hopes the added international appeal will be the chance to visit a number of cities, including Osaka.

The decision to change the name was somewhat last minute. At late as April, Osaka officials and Japanese media were talking about the “Osaka Expo 2025” bid.

Who is behind the bid?

The Osaka Expo bid was formally proposed in 2014 by Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), the political group based in the city that has a plurality in the Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies and is part of Nippon Ishin no Kai.

One key figure backing the proposal is 82-year-old former Economic Planning Agency head Taichi Sakaiya, who has been a major supporter of Osaka Ishin and wields behind-the-scenes influence on the Abe administration. Many in Osaka also credit Sakaiya for helping make the 1970 World Expo there one of the most successful events ever.

In addition to Sakaiya and Osaka Ishin, other supporters of the bid include trade minister Hiroshige Seko, who hails from the Kansai region, as well as Kansai Electric Power Co., Osaka Gas and major Osaka-based construction companies.

What’s the theme of the proposed Expo? When and where would it take place?

Under the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives,” the Expo would run between May 3 and Nov. 3, 2025.

The original proposed theme had actually focused on “health and longevity,” but this was rejected by the central government since the topic would hold little appeal to delegates from nations that, unlike Japan, are less concerned about a rapidly aging society.

The location would be Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay.

So how was the bid presented in Paris?

In his address, Matsui emphasized history and technology. He talked about famous temples and World Heritage sites like the Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion while also promoting Osaka as a base for life-science research and a center for food and sports industries.

While Matsui spoke of Osaka’s highly developed transportation structure for domestic and international travelers, he also mentioned “world-leading public safety.”

Supporters in Osaka have said one way Osaka could conceivably beat Paris is if the Bureau is convinced that hosting the Expo in Japan greatly reduces the chance a terrorist attack, although debate over what kind of a beefed-up police presence would be needed — and who would pay for it — has yet to take place.

What are the projected attendance figures and costs for an Osaka Kansai Expo?

Assuming basic operating hours of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. over the six months of operation, official estimates predict between 28 million and 30 million visitors, including about 3.5 million from abroad. That’s less than half the 64 million who attended the 1970 Expo, but more than the 22 million who visited the 2005 Expo in Nagoya.

Construction costs are projected at ¥125 billion, and the cumulative economic effect for Japan as a whole will be about ¥1.1 trillion, according to the trade ministry’s estimates.

What are the major challenges the Expo faces?

There are three: local and national political support, financing a necessary rail link to Yumeshima, and a strong bid by Paris.

Unlike the 1970 Expo, Osakans have mixed emotions about hosting another expo. French media polls show Parisians demonstrating more public enthusiasm for their bid than do Osakans. While Seko and Abe are strong backers, there is also concern in Osaka about what happens when Abe finally either steps down or is forced from office, especially if these political shifts were to occur before the expo’s November 2018 vote. It’s unclear whether there would be the same level of support under a new prime minister, even one from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, given that Matsui is close to Abe but less popular with other LDP leaders.

Finally, while Matsui regaled the Bureau with details of Osaka’s excellent public transportation system, he neglected to mention that a new rail link to Yumeshima would have to be built. There are concerns in the local business community about who will pay for this. With 2025 a mere eight years away and Bureau officials expected to visit Osaka in the coming months, the issue of the rail link could play an important role in Osaka’s chances in beating out its rivals, especially Paris.