‘Lady of Shanghai Expo’ sets mark despite tensions


Rain or shine, Tomiyo Yamada was perhaps the most frequent visitor to the Shanghai World Expo.

After the fair opened May 1, Yamada went to the showcase every day, visiting pavilions and exhibitions staged by more than 240 countries and groups from around the world.

It was a feat that thrust the 61-year-old housewife from Seto, Aichi Prefecture, into the limelight as the six-month exposition ended Sunday.

Yamada, “The Lady of Shanghai Expo,” was frequently featured in the Chinese media and Premier Wen Jiabao even made a point of remembering her in an address on the fair’s closing day.

This was not the first time that Yamada had set the most-frequent-visitor record at a world expo.

When the 2005 Aichi World Expo came to her home prefecture, Yamada was a daily visitor to the first world’s fair with an ecological theme.

“Since Aichi Expo took up the environmental theme, I want to find out how the spirit was followed at the Shanghai Expo,” she said in explaining her decision to come to Shanghai.

Yamada said she saved up ¥10 million after the Aichi Expo. She moved to Shanghai last November and rented an apartment near the expo, living there with her husband, Kanetoshi, 61, who had just retired, and their eldest son.

Yamada began visiting the Shanghai Expo site even before it was ready for public viewing, saying she wanted to check on the various pavilions from an environmental perspective.

“My family was a big source of support for me to do this,” she said.

When relations between Japan and China plunged during the September clash over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, organizers withdrew an invitation for Yamada to attend China’s Oct. 1 National Day programs at the expo.

Yamada protested.

“The world expo has no meaning unless it serves its mission as a venue for interaction among people of the world, irrespective of their nationality,” she said. This convinced the organizers to return the invitation.