expo 2005 photo essays
- weekly report from the World Exposition in Aichi, Japan

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Week zero (March 20, 2005)

Corporate Japan vs. The World's Countries

I read an article about EXPO in a magazine recently which was mainly focused on the pavilions of Japanese corporations but hardly mentioned individual countries' pavilions. I started wondering how the pavilions created by the world's countries fare against the ones funded by corporate money.

The thing about the big companies is that (even more so than in the West) they permeate every aspect of your life in Japan. You realize that when your car, your washing mashine, your fridge, your hairdryer, your toothbrush, and your condoms are all manufactured by the same company. Considering this it's no big surprise to see that Japan's companies have invested heavily in their presence at EXPO. Let's see how the free (and semi-free) world's countries, who have no money, hold up against Corporate Japan, which has heaps of money, with their pavilions at EXPO (note: this article is based solely on the impressions created by the presentation of the respective pavilions, not on actual first-hand experience; all images are taken from the official EXPO web site).

· Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) vs. Lao People's Democratic Republic



Wonder Wheel pavilion by JAMA


Lao People's Democratic Republic pavilion

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association includes all major and minor car brands of Japan from Daihatsu to Yamaha and Isuzu to Toyota. Their exposition at EXPO is comprised of a 17m (50 feet) tall ferris wheel which runs through the exposition space building halfway. The exposition focuses on "the relationship between cars and society" and the "past, present and future of the relationships between people, vehicles and the Earth". Hmm, I'd say those relationships have been pretty one-sided so far.

On the other hand you have the pavilion of Laos. I don't have anything against the design, but it looks damn similar to the pavilion Laos presented at the 1970 EXPO in Osaka, Japan. Of course, they say "don't change a winning team", but I still don't know. I actually visited the Lao pavilion at the 2000 EXPO in Hanover, which was designed in very much the same fashion. Maybe it's time for some new ideas, what do you think?

Even though I like Laos a lot (I spent a few months there a few years ago), and even though I love Lao beer and coffee, the Laotian pavilion loses against JAMA. You can't just beat a ferris wheel embedded into a red plastic building with yet another temple. Therefore I declare JAMA vs. Laos: 1:0.

· Toyota Group vs. United Mexican States



The Toyota Group pavilion, “The Dream, Joy and Inspiration of Mobility in the 21st Century”


Mexican pavilion. Note that this is an artist's
depiction.

Bland blander blandest. I have nothing against shiny silver buildings, no, I think they are pretty futuristic. Whereas Toyota's pavilion (construction photos here) sports the motto of “The Dream, Joy and Inspiration of Mobility in the 21st Century”, Mexico's message stays somewhat in the dark. However, these two are equal oppenents: Toyota's website is an annoying mess of flash movies, which all lead to the same point. On the other hand, Mexico's no-frills website features some lo-fi photographs and an actual view of the Mexican pavilion. Also be sure not to miss Toyota's main performance at EXPO. Excellent! This is a draw if I ever have seen one, Toyota vs. Mexico 0:0!

· Hitachi Group vs. Republic of Singapore



Hitachi Group Pavilion's "Ubiquitous Entertainment Ride"


"The Uniquely Singapore Experience"

The next two contenders are top-notch. You know that you have built a nice house if you have a giant waterfall running right through it. You know you might have an even nicer house if you have a huge pixelated outer wall and a dramatic sunset right there.

Hitachi Group's "Ubiquitous Entertainment Ride" aims to bring people in contact with rare animals from the red list of endangered species. This is not a zoo, of course, so you won't be able to actually see or touch real animals. Hitachi uses so-called Mixed Reality techniques "to give interactive life to the endangered animals in each scene allowing for full contact". Also, the pavilion features interactive performances using the mysterious "mu-chip" included in every admission ticket. They probably identify ticket fakers by the way the rare White Bengal Tigers in the pavilion start singling out specific visitors.

I can't find anything bad to say about the extremely slick, if somewhat spooky, Singaporean pavilion. Their (excellent) website asks you to "scream, shout, shiver" and warns you that "as you approach the pavilion, you will find trees that will talk to you, perhaps even comment on the dress you're wearing." Well I hope you have a really good AI installed there, Singapore, so your trees don't get abusive against badly dressed people. Also I think the talking trees should throw in a "We have agreed that you are not an orc" or "Rarum-rum! We are going to war!" for authenticity's sake every now and then. The content seems quite interesting and features, among others, a library of biographies of Singaporeans, graffiti artists, artificial rainstorms, and tasty cuisine in the World Café.

I'm not going into the showy mottos of the two pavilions, which I can't even translate into my own language. I just suppose that some ostentatious marketing agents are responsible for this pompous use of flamboyant language. It's a close fight between these two but I declare 1:2 in favor of Singapore.

· Japan Gas Association vs. Romania



The Gas pavilion by the Japan Gas Association


Romanian pavilion "under construction"

You have probably never heard about the Japan Gas Association. Me neither, but it's a corporate association of more than 200 city gas utilities and more than 250 firms involved with the gas business. "Dream Energy for People and the Earth" is the motto of their joint pavilion, and they present a show with special effects, images, music and live performers "overflowing with excitement and entertainment". Generally I must say that the Fire Magic Theatre and the exhibition about the "future possibilities and versatility of gas energy, including ice that burns" doesn't exactly blow me away. I'm sorry, but "gas" just doesn't have that exciting ring to it.

Now let's see what the Romanians have come up with so far. I guess the photograph leaves no questions unanswered. Actually I do appreciate their honesty of presenting an actual photograph and not some rendered computer image with balloons and birds as everyone else does. But in this case not showing anything at all (like most African countries) might have been the better choice. Even though I'm not thrilled by the gas show, I still rate 1:0 in favor of JGA.

· Mountain of Dreams Joint pavilion vs. Republic of Kiribati



Mountain of Dreams Joint pavilion


The... uhm... pavilion of Kiribati?

Hello? What is this thing? This eyesore is the "Mountain of Dreams" pavilion, which is jointly hosted by local companies such as Brother Industries, Sekisui House and the Chunichi newspaper. The design is supposed to "evoke images of Mt. Fuji". Uh huh. Still, the inside seems to contain quite a few interesting exhibitions. For example, it features the world's largest floor screen, where a performance by director Mamoru Oshii ("Ghost In The Shell") will take place. If that's not something.

On the other hand, you can't deny Kiribati a certain down-to-earth charm. The above photograph is the actual official Kiribati representation at the EXPO website. Anything wins against the Mountain of Dreams you say? No! Photographing a bag in front of your country map is an unanticipated move in this contest and a low blow for the opponnent. Kiribati wins for style 0:1!

· Final Result

3:3 - it's a draw! Who would have thought? The countries of the world still have a stand against the corporate giants of Japan. I hope you enjoyed this quick round-up of corporate vs. country pavilions, so tune in next week when I have actually arrived in Japan and will deliver first-hand experience to you.

· Next week: My trip to Japan develops into a major disaster