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

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Week fifteen (July 3, 2005)

Japanese "World" Exposition

Another week goes by and there are still new things coming to the surface that make me critical and kind of angry about the way the Expo is organized. I know that it's dangerous to be overly critical, but I feel like there are many lost chances left to the wayside here.

· The contrast between corporate and country pavilions

As my Belgian colleague Christophe points out in his weblog, a recent article in Wired Magazine might spur some increase in the so far somewhat lackluster media attention towards the Expo here in Aichi. However, if you read the article, you might notice that main information surrounds (once again) the corporate pavilions, whereas foreign countries' pavilions are mentioned only shortly in the last paragraph. The robots, the magnetic train, all kinds of "world's firsts", thought up and presented by the Japanese corporations, are in the center of attention, the rest is only noticed peripherically. That opens up the question: what do we need a world exposition for if all the media's and visitor's attention is focused on the displays of the Japanese corporations? The setup of holding a world exposition and then having it completely overshadowed by the local companies' multi-million budgets is - in my opinion - a contradiction.

Some of the corporate presentations: the maglev JR train

Wonder Wheel

Take, for example, the Japanese web site "From 0 Go to EXPO2005" which offers travel and general information about the Expo. Their sights overview page includes all the corporate pavilions and their technology and displays in detail, and only in the last but one paragraph includes a small sentence: "Apart from that, it might not be a bad idea to get an image of foreign movies and cultures by visiting the Global Commons (foreign pavilions), which enable global exchange." This presentation has nothing to do with a World Exposition, on the contrary, it is a Japanese exposition to show the world what great technological feats this country is (still) capable of.

While it's true that the concept of the "World Expo" when created in the 19th century was all about showcasing the most recent technological breakthroughs - is that really appropriate for our world of the 21st century? Wouldn't it make more sense to use this platform as a means to foster intercultural communication and understanding, the most interesting and pressing issue of our globalized world?

Mountain of Dreams

Mitsui-Toshiba pavilion

The same selective perception can also be found on part of the visitors. The Corporate pavilion zone is always overrun from gate opening time and the waiting times at most of the pavilions normally exceed one and a half hour (no upper limit). You can't blame the visitors though, the crowds of course flock to the most interesting displays, but since the companies' budgets by far exceed the means invested by individual countries, the imbalance is pushed even further and the contrast between the corporate vs. country pavilions (as I already pointed out in my very first entry) is rather big.

Visitor's interest towards the information part of the pavilions (in contrast to the entertainment part) is lackluster at best - I know from my work that most people rush through the pavilions without showing any interest - let alone grasping the meaning - of individual displays. So maybe it actually is time to discard the concept of a "World" exposition and move on to a "Corporate" exposition hosted and sponsored completely by multinational corporations.

Huge crowds in front of the Hitachi pavilion

You can make out the crowds in the center of the image

Focusing once again on the article mentioned above, I must say that my own experience from what I have seen here at the Expo is a totally different one from what is written about. I haven't seen any of the appraised items stated in the article because I - being staff - can never get inside the corporate pavilions where all the fancy stuff is displayed. I already mentioned in my "How staff is treated in Japan" entry that we will probably never be able to visit those pavilions because no "easy access" for staff is granted there. As I said before the countries' pavilion happily ignore this rule, but with the corporate pavilions it is more difficult. For example, the Hitachi pavilion scans visitor's tickets on entering and saves the ID number, so if you have no ticket, it is clear that you belong to the Expo staff and are being sent away. I've also heard from the Japan Pavilion and the Toshiba pavilion that easy access is impossible, even if you know someone from the staff.

So most of us will return home after six months without ever having the chance to see the displays that are being most hyped by the media as Japanese super high tech and what most visitors come to the Expo to see - a weird thought. Word of mouth has it that now the Expo association is looking into a way to open up the opportunity for Expo staff to visit the corporate pavilions after 5 pm with easy access. We'll see what becomes of that. In the meantime, many foreign staff people think that this is some kind of discrimination against them. In their (and mine) thinking, if it weren't for us, the staff, the "regular visitors" would have nothing to see because we keep the pavilions running. So why are we always thought of last? Keep your eyes open for next week's entry which will expand on this topic some more.

· Next week: A trip around the Global Commons (Part 1)