Amid a backdrop of ongoing construction, Osaka's vision for the 2025 World Expo, intended to symbolize global reconnection post-Covid, is gradually coming to life. The architectural masterpiece, once completed, will encompass grand timber walkways surrounding a serene "forest of tranquility", exhibiting the rich history, culture, and technological innovations from over 130 participating nations.
These wooden frameworks, constructed via traditional nail-less methods, have added significant depth to the Yumeshima Island's otherwise empty terrain. "There's a visible transformation," remarked Takumi Nagayama, from the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition.
Yet, beneath this optimism, concerns are simmering. Numerous challenges, from financial burdens to labor shortages, have led some to ponder possible scale-backs or even delays for the event.
Historically, world expos have been grand stages for nations to exhibit their achievements and discuss pressing global issues. This tradition, which began with London's Great Exhibition in 1851, saw its last installment in Dubai in 2021.
However, since being awarded the hosting privilege in 2018, the Osaka Expo has faced a series of roadblocks, including budgetary issues, lack of adequate planning, and dwindling enthusiasm from prospective participants. Yet, the city remains optimistic, hoping to mirror the 1970 Expo's success, which catapulted Japan into an era of unparalleled economic growth.
Amongst the participating countries, only South Korea and the Czech Republic have made their design submissions. Concerns about budgetary overruns, escalating to potentially £1.1 billion, have made Japanese firms hesitant about contractual commitments.
The Japanese economy's existing labor shortage issue is also spilling into the Expo's progress, especially as stricter overtime regulations will be instituted in April. This decision has caused a rift, with the Expo's organizers seeking an exemption.
Accessibility is another concern, as the Expo's remote island location poses significant logistical challenges. Existing infrastructure might not suffice for the projected 2.8 million visitors, causing potential bottlenecks.
Despite these hurdles, national and regional leaders, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, are pushing for steadfast progress. Alternatives, such as utilizing standardized pavilion designs from local companies, are being considered.
Sachiko Yoshimura, part of the Expo's communication team, reiterates the unwavering commitment to the 2025 timeline, emphasizing its importance in a world fractured by global crises.
Critics question the relevance of such grand in-person exhibitions in today's interconnected digital age. However, proponents believe that now, more than ever, such events are crucial. "In a world torn by pandemics, environmental issues, and geopolitical tensions, the Osaka Expo aims to bridge divides," concluded Yoshimura.