National | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

Osaka begins prep for largest international gathering in decades

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

With the summit for the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies coming to Osaka next year, preparations are underway to host the largest international gathering the city has seen in over two decades.

Earlier this month, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura and senior Osaka business leaders met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss Osaka’s, and Kansai’s, role in the two-day summit, which is likely be held in June or July 2019.

The venue is the Intex Osaka convention center along the city’s waterfront district, a 30-minute subway ride from the central Umeda district, where many top-end hotels that world leaders and their staffs are likely to stay in are located.

Preparations include the formation of an all-Kansai business group that will assist with various pre-summit projects. Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka, meanwhile, will work with the central government to spruce up Intex Osaka, an aging facility in need of some renovation.

“Osaka has previously hosted APEC (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 1995) and that experience, plus our facilities and large number of luxury hotels, was weighted in our favor,” Matsui told local reporters earlier this month.

But concern is already growing over what the summit will mean for commuters, especially in Umeda, where trains connect Osaka to both Kyoto and Kobe. Streets will have to be shut down when world leaders ranging from U.S. President Donald Trump to Chinese President Xi Jinping and their long lines of limousines and all manner of security vehicles pass through.

And that’s just Osaka. Now that they’ve been officially asked by Matsui to assist, political and business leaders in surrounding Kyoto and Kobe are likely to pressure the central government to extend invitations to the G-20 leaders, their spouses and other delegation members to pay quick visits to their localities before, during or immediately after the summit.

That could mean anything from a photo-op of Trump visiting Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, to a prime minister delivering a keynote speech to business leaders in Osaka or Kobe, to TV footage of lower-level delegates smiling and laughing while feeding the deer at Nara Park.

Whether publicity of such events would do anything to increase the number of international tourists to the areas afterward is questionable. But Kansai’s business leaders, at least, see an opportunity.

“At present, Kansai is enjoying a huge influx of inbound tourists. The G-20 summit offers Osaka a chance to raise its international profile and show the Kansai region to the world. It’s an excellent opportunity to further invigorate the Kansai economy,” said Masayoshi Matsumoto, chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation.