National | VIEW FROM OSAKA

Sizzling summer threatens Tokyo 2020, Osaka Expo

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The summer of 2019 brought record-breaking heat. Early to mid-September, until last week, felt like late July in Kansai, Tokyo, Nagoya and parts of Kyushu and Shikoku. Only in a few areas of Hokkaido, where temperatures dropped into the low teens at night, were there clear signs autumn was arriving.

For much of the nation — well, for much of the media anyway — the blistering heat and humidity was a wake-up call to the reality that the Tokyo Olympics was a year away and would probably be held in similar weather conditions.

At the same time, there was a certain degree of disbelief felt when watching TV reports on how Tokyo might handle the heat during the Olympics, such as creating artificial snow to cool off visitors. Perhaps that’s one definition of the political and corporate world’s favorite buzzword, “innovation”?

Long ago, the proposal for fake snow would have induced guffaws from Osaka-based media. But not many in the region are laughing today because in six years Osaka will face its own problems with heat and humidity when it hosts the 2025 World Expo.

The six-month expo runs from May 3 to Nov. 3, meaning it will extend through what can be a hot May, June’s rainy season and then through July and August, when it can be a few degrees hotter and more humid than Tokyo. Some 28 million visitors are expected during the course of the expo. By contrast, the Tokyo Olympics is an intimate tea party, as it lasts only 17 days and has been predicted to draw 600,000 visitors.

In its bid dossier, Osaka wrote: “The warm climate from the month of May to October will ensure visitors feel comfortable, as the average monthly temperature during this six month period ranges between 19 and 28.8 degrees Celsius, with few daily fluctuations.”

That is statistically true, perhaps. But be careful of concluding from the above that Osaka’s heat will not be an issue during the worst of the summer months. That’s because specific data on temperatures during daylight hours, when most people are likely to visit, was not included in the bid dossier. While July in Osaka was unusually cool this year, with daytime high temperatures sometimes in the low 20s, August saw daily highs of above 30 degrees and 16 days when the thermometer reached 34 degrees or higher. Humidity levels in August ranged between 65 and 90 percent. Six of the first 10 days of September in Osaka saw daytime highs of at least 34 degrees, with humidity levels ranging between 67 and 83 percent.

In chapter nine of its bid dossier, Osaka explains how it intends to battle the summer heat.

“We will incorporate traditional culture and cutting-edge technology. We will install roofs and pergolas to block the sun in pedestrian walkways and resting facilities, employ cool mist showers in outdoor areas to lower visitors’ sense of temperature, use paving materials that minimize reflected heat, sprinkle water on the street, install bamboo shades and green curtains outside buildings made from plants like bitter melon vines, set up ice pillars, and offer visitors crushed ice.”

No doubt that all sounded good when it was first proposed to Paris-based expo officials in a temperature-controlled conference room a couple of years ago. But one wonders if any of those officials had ever spent much time in Osaka, walking around in the afternoon during the height of summer.

With the nation now legitimately worried about how heat will affect the Tokyo Olympics, it’s time for serious discussion on what needs to be done to address the health hazards posed by the possibly even more extreme heat and humidity at the 2025 Expo.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

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