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Aichi Expo 2005, which opened Friday, differs significantly from previous world expositions. Its theme, “Nature’s Wisdom,” is the reason why. The six-month fair embodies two overarching principles: environmental friendliness and civic participation. The original construction plan was criticized for its possible impact on the environment, prompting organizers to select a more eco-friendly design.

Aichi Expo demonstrates how far Japan has come in dealing with environmental issues. Thirty-five years ago, in 1970, Japan hosted its first world exposition in Osaka under the theme “Human Progress and Harmony.” It was a landmark year in which Japanese citizens, including local administrations, began thinking seriously about how to balance economic development and environmental conservation. Aichi Expo, with its emphasis on nature, is also a tribute to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which took effect earlier this year.

The Nagoya City Pavilion, located at the center of the fairgrounds, features a dome that seems to symbolize Mother Nature. It is called “Daichi no Tou” (Tower of the Earth), a brown, modest-looking structure that sets itself apart from Osaka Expo’s gorgeous “Taiyo no Tou” (Tower of the Sun).

The Japanese Pavilion nearby, its roof covered with a huge bamboo basket, creates a gentler impression. It incorporates experimental eco-friendly power-generating systems, such as those using solar and wind power.

Indeed, attention to the environment is very much in evidence. Hybrid shuttle buses use fuel cells that do not produce carbon dioxide. Transportation is also provided by magnetically levitated linear motor cars, the first to run in Japan on a commercial basis. Restaurants use dishes and bags made from recycled materials. The floors and stairs of the 2.6-km air corridor are constructed of wood.

One of the biggest attractions — a frozen 18,000-old Siberian mammoth head — is a reminder that climate change might have been responsible for the extinction of certain animals. It thus serves as a sobering warning against humanity’s arrogance toward the environment.

Exhibitions feature, among other things, robots that would replace humans in a variety of daily activities. Among them are ones that guide guests in the daytime and stand guard at night. There are also more humanlike machines that clean rooms, sing lullabies and play music. With Japanese society aging rapidly, the role of robots is likely to increase.

Imagery is another prominent feature. A notable example is the brilliant image of a gigantic sunflower projected on a super-high- vision screen measuring 7 meters by 13 meters.

A world exposition is a technology fair, a place to showcase pioneering technologies and products. This was true for the first exposition held in London, in 1851, just as it is for the one now in Aichi Prefecture. The leading corporate participants are automotive companies and electronics makers.

In a sign of how times change, supermarket chains — which debuted at the Tsukuba science exposition 20 years ago — are nowhere to be seen.

A world exposition also displays diverse cultures. The Aichi Expo brings together 120 countries and four international organizations. Although some pavilions are devoted to science and technology, others focus on cultural heritage or present a combination of traditional cultures, natural systems and advanced technologies. Overall, exhibitions and displays offer a bird’s-eye view of how nations of the world are dealing with the demands of the global environment.

Aichi Expo, like previous expositions, is also a pleasure land. To many visitors, including children, that is probably what counts the most. Music, dancing, eating, shopping — all these are part of what the fair is about.

The expo is not wrinkle-free. Visitors may find their freedom constricted by security measures. Congestion is another likely problem. At Osaka Expo, visitors waited in line for hours just to take a brief look at the “moon stone” brought back by the Apollo spacecraft. That kind of overcrowding can be avoided through effective use of the ticket subscription system (which includes online sales) for pavilions and events.

Organizers expect 15 million people to visit Aichi Expo during its 185-day run. That’s a far cry from the 64 million who turned out for Osaka Expo. Yet it is not necessarily the number of visitors that truly measure the success of an expo, but the kind of dreams it inspires about the future of mankind. The most salient dream of Aichi Expo is a world free of pollution.

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