Kansai business leaders seek nationwide support for World Expo bid

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai-area corporate leaders urged the local business community on Friday to boost efforts to promote Osaka’s bid to host the World Expo 2025, and called on Tokyo to be more involved in the process.

Wrapping up a two-day Kansai Economic and Management Summit — a month before an international delegation will visit Osaka to assess its Osaka-Kansai/Japan bid — more than 600 leaders discussed what needs to be done to win the expo, as well as the region’s economic future, including tourism promotion efforts and the possibility of a casino resort.

In one session of the business leaders’ annual meeting, attendees underscored the vital role of the business community in the months before the winning expo bid is announced in November.

Representatives from the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) will be coming to Osaka in March to judge Osaka’s technical ability to hold an expo, and to gauge the level of local and national public support for it. This makes it crucial for Osaka to drum up support.

Despite the withdrawal of main rival Paris — as well as a growing belief that Osaka is the front-runner — concerns remain over whether there is sufficient public support in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, for the World Expo bid.

While expressing confidence that Osaka had the best technical bid, the attendees did not hide their concern over the lack of public interest expressed so far, especially in the nation’s capital.

“There’s no feeling at all in Tokyo of passion toward the expo. Opportunities to raise support nationally must be created,” said Chiyono Terada, co-founder of moving firm Art Corp. and one of Kansai’s most prominent female corporate executives.

The race for the expo also includes Baku, Azerbaijan, and Ekaterinburg, Russia. Although Baku recently sent a delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos to promote its bid, Ekaterinburg is more on the minds of Kansai leaders.

“We see our main rival as Russia (Ekaterinburg),” said Kansai Economic Federation chairman Masayoshi Matsumoto.

When a senior BIE official visited Osaka in December, Matsumoto had warned that not only local but also national support plays a key role in determining the host city for a bid. However, nationally, the focus now is on ensuring the success of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka also needs to tackle budget concerns.

Within Osaka, doubts are growing about whether spending money on the transportation infrastructure needed to host the expo on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay, is wise given the aging population and growing need for more social welfare services. Kansai corporate leaders, however, see the expo as the catalyst for Osaka’s urban renewal.

“The 2025 World Expo is an excellent opportunity if a new area, including infrastructure, is provided for it,” said Masami Kuroda, a partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLC.