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Osaka Will Host the 2025 World Expo. Can Japan Pull It Off?

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Osaka Will Host the 2025 World Expo. Can Japan Pull It Off?

Japan is pushing a PR campaign for the embattled Osaka Expo in 2025, despite waning public enthusiasm.

Osaka Will Host the 2025 World Expo. Can Japan Pull It Off?
Credit: Photo 317922395 © Mirko Kuzmanovic |

It’s business as usual for organizers of the Osaka World Exposition as they prepare to open in less than 12 months while construction remains significantly behind schedule. The main expo venue is expected to be completed in time. But there are concerns that the Expo’s participant-built pavilions, which display each nation’s architectural innovation and artistic flair, will not be completed in time due significant construction delays.

The 2025 Osaka Expo hopes to match the success from the 1970 Osaka Expo. The city of Osaka carries immense pride and nostalgia from attracting approximately 64 million people, which was the highest number of attendees of all the world fairs until the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

But the 2025 Expo is facing a series of setbacks, starting with the construction schedule losing one year as a result of the pandemic. The Osaka Expo was left with a shorter construction time after the Dubai 2020 Expo was pushed back to 2021. The surging cost of raw materials and a labor shortage make it even more difficult to meet the completion date. A global supply shortage of steel means, in most cases, it takes six months from order to delivery. The construction of a new semiconductor factory in Japan by Taiwan chip maker TSMC has been linked to the steel supply crunch.

Amid the many obstacles, the number of countries that will construct pavilions has fallen from an initial 60 to 40. Mexico and Estonia were the latest to withdraw.

The overarching theme for the 2025 Osaka Expo is “Designing a Future Society for Our Lives” presented in three angles: “Saving, Inspiring and Connecting Lives.” Global PR Director Yoshimura Sachiko stressed that the event has a strong relevance in the current international climate and would serve as a way to “unite” global participants. Yoshimura told French news agency AFP that the event is about getting people “together to think about the future and sustainability.”

The Expo is now less than one year away. The government is eager to move forward from the construction controversy by introducing the official mascot and lighting up the 700-meter diameter wooden roof that will serve as the fair’s main circulation path. But a public survey by Yomiuri Shimbun in late April found that 65 percent of respondents had no interest in the 2025 Osaka Expo.

Some people have voiced criticism on social media for a lack of a compelling “main attraction,” such as the unveiling of a flying car first seen in 1970. Others say the costs cannot be justified while thousands of people remain in evacuation centers following the Noto Peninsula Earthquake that struck northwest Japan on New Year’s Day.

There is also an issue with the host site itself. Yumeshima is an artificial island in Osaka Bay previously used for industrial waste and construction debris. The Expo site was built on soft, waterlogged soil, which has been described as “loose” and “tofu-like.” There are concerns about the toxic chemicals buried in the soil as well as the ground possibly liquifying in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Japan has a lot pinned on the success of the six-month long event. The Osaka Expo represents a chance to present the country as a global technological leader. But the delay in pavilion construction has thrown a spanner in Japan’s ambition to show it can hold a world class event and win influence.

There is also lingering trauma from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics having faced a one year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Olympic Games were part of Japan’s revitalization project, to show the world it could overcome economic stagnation and the catastrophic 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown “triple disaster.” Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo also hoped that by hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan could reach its goal of attracting 40 million tourists by 2020 to help grow the economy. But in the end, the decision to ban spectators to manage pandemic risks saw Japan lose $800 million in ticket revenue.

From the Tokyo Olympics to the Osaka Expo, ballooning costs are a recurring theme in the major international events held by Japan. Expo organizers need to convince people in Japan that the event does not only carry short-term financial goals, and the projected economic boost from the event will benefit all sectors of the economy.