OSAKA – In the moments after Osaka was awarded the 2025 World Expo on the early morning of Nov. 24, there was jubilation, back-slapping, and wide smiles. More than a few eyes glittered at the thought of what senior business leaders hoped would be a major cash cow. You could almost hear the clicking of soroban (traditional abacus) in the air as they began mentally adding up the profits to be made.
But after the euphoria and the alcohol wore off, the sobering realization set in that 2025 was not only just seven years away but also that the next six months will be the busiest the region has faced in years, and that the world will be watching.
Between now and July 1, Osaka is expected to decide who it wants to run an integrated casino resort, hold local assembly elections that may very well decide the fate of the governor and mayor, and play host to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.
Given the increasingly fractious and disunited G20 process, as well as domestic political turmoil in member states like the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, it’s far from certain all 20 current presidents and prime ministers will still be around by the time everyone is supposed to gather in Osaka on June 28 and 29.
Forget about what that means for global issues the leaders are supposed to discuss — Osaka is expecting a Tokyo-subsidized party for very specific VIPs. If they send their regrets, that means less media attention, fewer photo ops at the takoyaki (octopus dumplings) stand, and no chance for Osaka to accomplish its main G20 goal, which is to directly confirm with top leaders the participation of their countries at the 2025 Expo.
In Kyoto, there are two events of interest. The first is the accession of the new Emperor. In the former capital, there is much speculation as to what related events and ceremonies might be held there. Some have pushed for conducting traditional rites not seen in over 150 years. But from a practical, security perspective, Kyoto officials appear to be more concerned about the city’s tourist hordes not getting in the way.
The other Kyoto event has to do with climate change. In May, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change will meet for a week. It’s the last major climate change meeting before the Osaka G20, where climate change is on the agenda. Though technical in nature, it’s likely to draw a lot of interest, especially among international environmental organizations heading to Osaka in June.
So for the next six months, the Kansai region will see all manner of foreign diplomats, casino operators and lobbyists, political operatives, environmental activists, NGO representatives, climate scientists, Imperial family members, their courtiers, plus over 20 presidents, prime ministers, and their assorted entourages, as well as members of the international media passing through. A veritable Rick’s Cafe Americain (or “Star Wars” cantina scene) of characters and international intrigue, with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui replacing Humphrey Bogart as Rick, but sipping red wine with ice cubes instead of gin or Champagne.
Is Kansai ready? Politicians and business leaders are only starting to fully realize the size of the tasks ahead and that they must decide quickly how to deal with the G20, make 2025 Expo plans and get a local casino resort deal finalized. The last goal is likely to be particularly contentious as Osaka voters go to the polls in April.
As time goes by, can Osaka leaders like Matsui demonstrate the combination of political leadership to get what they want locally and deft international diplomatic skills needed for handling the sensitive egos and dodgy characters one finds in Casablanca nightclubs and G20 meetings? Here’s looking at you, kid.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.