Clouds Gather over Japan’s Ambitious Osaka World Expo

This photo taken on April 2, 2024 shows construction underway at the site of the 2025 Expo on Yumeshima island, an area of reclaimed land in Osaka. (AFP)
This photo taken on April 2, 2024 shows construction underway at the site of the 2025 Expo on Yumeshima island, an area of reclaimed land in Osaka. (AFP)
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Clouds Gather over Japan’s Ambitious Osaka World Expo

This photo taken on April 2, 2024 shows construction underway at the site of the 2025 Expo on Yumeshima island, an area of reclaimed land in Osaka. (AFP)
This photo taken on April 2, 2024 shows construction underway at the site of the 2025 Expo on Yumeshima island, an area of reclaimed land in Osaka. (AFP)

One of the largest wooden structures ever built is taking shape in Osaka, but hopes that Expo 2025 will unite the world are being dogged by cost blowouts and a lack of public enthusiasm.

The imposing circular centerpiece will be crowned by a 20-metre-high (65-foot) sloping canopy, designed by top architect Sou Fujimoto, known as the "Grand Roof".

It has a circumference of a staggering two kilometers and 161 countries and territories will show off their trade opportunities and cultural attractions at pavilions within the vast latticed ring.

A crane hoisted a block of beams into place this week as organizers said construction was largely on schedule, one year before visitors will be welcomed.

Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be "united" by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.

Russia will not be among the participants at Expo 2025, which will run from April 13 to October 13.

"Of course, there are so many crises around the world, but we want everybody to actually get together and think about the future and sustainability," Yoshimura said.

It has also met a lukewarm response in Japan, where promotion is ramping up and the red-and-blue Expo 2025 mascot "Myaku-Myaku" -- billed by the official website as "a mysterious creature born from the unification of cells and water" -- is ever-present.

A recent Kyodo News survey found that 82 percent of Japanese companies, sponsors and others involved said "fostering domestic momentum" would be a challenge.

Ballooning budget

The construction budget has ballooned 27 percent from 2020 estimates to 235 billion yen ($1.5 billion) due to inflation and Japan's chronic worker shortage.

Some say the costs are also hard to justify when 6,300 people are still in evacuation centers and hotels after an earthquake on New Year's Day devastated parts of central Japan.

Fujimoto's "Grand Roof" alone has a price tag of 35 billion yen and has been slammed by opposition leader Kenta Izumi as "the world's most expensive parasol".

The "Grand Roof" and other structures are temporary, with no clear plan for them other than organizers saying they will be reused or recycled.

The site on an artificial island in Osaka Bay will be cleared after the Expo, with plans to build a resort there containing Japan's first casino.

Jun Takashina, deputy secretary general of the Japan Association for Osaka 2025, acknowledged budget and regulatory "struggles" among foreign participants but said organizers would help make sure the displays are ready in time.

Among the most hotly anticipated attractions are flying electric cars, which take off vertically, showcasing the event's technological and environmental aspirations.

But the vehicles -- subject to reams of regulations -- will be a "kind of experiment", Yoshimura said.

More than 1.2 million tickets have already been sold and organizers hope to attract 28.2 million visitors, including 3.5 million from abroad.

That would be four million more than the last World Fair in Dubai but pales in comparison to the 64 million people who attended the 1970 Expo in Osaka, a record until it was overtaken by Shanghai in 2010.

'Future like science fiction'

The first world fair to celebrate culture and industrial progress was held in London in 1851, with the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Paris World Fair.

Osaka academic Shinya Hashizume, a specialist in architecture history and town planning, said he was amazed as a 10-year-old when he saw a "future that looked like science fiction" at the 1970 Expo.

The first film in IMAX format was shown at that event and visitors could admire rocks brought back from the Moon.

"Those six months were extraordinary for Osaka. Simply put, the whole town was having a party," he said.

The advent of mass tourism and hyper-connected societies may have since lessened the attraction but some Osaka residents still think it's a good idea.

Kosuke Ito, a 36-year-old doctor, said it would "strengthen the economy".

However, Yuka Nakamura, 26, said she might be put off by adult entry fees ranging from 4,000 to 7,500 yen ($25 to $50) a day.



Asharq Al-Awsat Secures 3 Awards in Arab Media, Samir Atallah Named Personality of the Year

The winners of the Arab Media Awards
The winners of the Arab Media Awards
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Asharq Al-Awsat Secures 3 Awards in Arab Media, Samir Atallah Named Personality of the Year

The winners of the Arab Media Awards
The winners of the Arab Media Awards

At the 2024 Arab Media Award ceremony in Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper scooped up three top honors.

Samir Atallah, a writer for the paper, was named “Media Personality of the Year.”

Asharq Al-Awsat’s Ali AlSarai won in the Arab Journalism category with his piece on Iraq post-Al-Aqsa Flood, while Ossama Al-Saeed received recognition for his economic journalism on electronic gaming.

Additionally, the best documentary was won by “In front of the scenes... salt on a wound” on Al Sharq TV.

This brings the total awards for Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) platforms to four for this year’s edition of the awards.

Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, presented the award for the Media Personality of the Year to Atallah in recognition of his contributions to Lebanese media.

Atallah, who started his career at An Nahar newspaper, has been writing his daily column for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Atallah has accrued nearly four decades of experience across Paris, London, and North America, and has authored various books.

Sheikh Mansoor also honored Tunisian writer Abdul Latif Al Zubaidi from the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej with the Best Columnist award. This award was given in recognition of his intellectual contributions, which have enriched the Arab press with numerous articles and ideas.

The investigative reporting award was won by Sahar Al-Maliji from Al Masri Alyoum newspaper.

The category of children’s media was won by Al-Arabi Al-Sagher Magazine.

The award ceremony took place at Arab Media Forum in Dubai.

Under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the 22nd edition of the Arab Media Forum kicked off on Tuesday in Dubai.

About 4000 media professionals are attending the two-day forum, including Arab politicians, media leaders, local and Arab newspaper editors, influential writers, and media personalities.