2005 photo essays
Week seventeen (July 17, 2005)
· "Ten Thousand Countries Fair"
Here we go with yet another continuation to the previous entry "Japanese World Exposition". I promise that I will focus on some other topics from then on which may help to paint a more friendly and positive picture of the Aichi Expo. Right now, I will expand on what I wrote before and once again question the concept of the so-called "World" Exposition which is held here in Japan.
· World Exposition - of what and for whom?
Maybe it's just me that is mistaken about what makes up a "World Exposition" - is it a fair to present the world to the visitors of the home country or to present the host country to the world? The former (which up until now was my way of thinking) definitely is not the case here; the latter seems to be the way the organization of the Aichi Expo was prepared, quote: "This will be the first Expo hosted in Japan since the 1970 Osaka World Expo, when Japan first took an interest in the rest of the world. The Osaka Expo was a showcase for cutting-edge Japanese technology such as cell phones and transistor radios. However, for this event 35 years on, Japan will present to the world not only more technological innovation, but also the lifestyles of the Japanese people and their positions on various issues." Very well, but then why not have a "Japan Fair" or "Nippon Expo" instead of an "Universal/World Exposition"?
The next problem, about the "presenting to the world" thing, is that due to its island location, foreign visitors to Japan and the Expo are few and far in between, and I think it is extremely unrealistic to aim for 1,8 million foreign visitors (more than 10% of the forecast visitor number) as the Expo association did. Even though the estimated number of 15 million visitors will be exceeded by far, (we are almost at 12 million now and it's still two months to go), I am sure that the foreign visitor rate will be below 5% - probably not 3% as with the Osaka Expo, but not much more. So what remains of the idea of a "World" exposition when it's actually Japan presenting itself to the Japanese people, with some foreigners thrown in here and there for credibility's sake?
No matter what, I think that when you call something a "World Exposition" this "world" should play some kind of role in it. Even though the English term "World Exposition" still holds an ambiguity to it (whether the world presents itself to the host country or the other way round), the Japanese term is - for me - unmistakenable: "Bankoku Hakurankai" or for short "Banpaku" means "World Exposition", but if you translate the characters that make up the word bankoku directly (ban - usually read man - means "ten thousand / very many" and koku "country", the literal meaning becomes "ten thousand countries' fair". Nothing could be further from the actual set-up of the Aichi Expo though - this is mainly a one-country affair and that country is called Japan.
I haven't thought about it much before but after a while it becomes quite obvious that the host country of Japan is extremely highlighted here at the Aichi Expo, with the other countries playing only a distant second role. I might spot a conspiracy here where there is none, but it still strikes me as curious that the Japanese corporate pavilions are located directly at the main entrance of the Expo site, the North Gate, which also has the Linimo station "Banpaku Kaijo" ("Expo site") running to it. No need to go visit any country pavilions when you have the Japanese pavilions located that conveniently, right?
Also, the whole area below the elevated Global Loop walkway that connects the various areas is the so-called "Japan Zone". This area features the Aichi Prefecture pavilion, the Japan Pavilion Nagakute, the Nagoya city Earth Tower and various (Japanese-run) restaurants. The separate Seto area is a completely Japanese-only affair. I don't know about you, but imagine your own country hosting a world exposition and dedicating one third or more of the area for your own country? I know that at the Hanover EXPO 2000, there were numerous pavilions sponsored by German companies (Bertelsmann, Deutsche Post, Telekom), and they did play a central role there, but I am sure that there was no "Deutsche Zone".
The Corporate pavilion zones and the Japan definitely draw the largest numbers of visitors, so if you come visit the "World Exposition" as a Japanese it's quite easy to spend the whole day without ever coming close to anything from a foreign country - since the country pavilions seem to carry an image of "being rather boring", that's maybe exactly what the Expo Association deemed right when setting up the site. Of course, when comparing the efforts of the corporate pavilions and the pavilions created by the countries, you need to take in account the different amount of money involved: the budgets of the country pavilions range between next to nothing (such as the Bosnia-Herzegovina or Chad pavilions) and around 15 million Euro (France, Germany and the USA). I haven't yet found any numbers on the Corporate pavilions, but I expect them to be significantly higher.
Update 2005-08-29: Upon reflecting on the design of the site once again, one can't help oneself to realize a certain pattern in the site layout. It can't be a coincidence that even though the Global Commons are arranged clockwise, the Asian countries make up Common 1 and 6 - the two locations closest to the North Gate - whereas the European and African countries are located further away. The most extreme example is the Russian pavilion, which is stowed away in the southernmost corner of the Expo site - does this tell us something about the relationship of Japan with certain countries?
Previous world expositions often excelled in bringing forth displays of architectural landmarks - the most famous being the Eiffel Tower (built for the International Exhibition of 1889) which stands to this day and has become the very symbol of Paris and France. Other Expos brought forth their own symbolic archtictural masterworks such as the Atomium (built for the Belgium Expo in Brussels 1958), the Seattle Space Needle (built for the Century 21 Exposition in 1962), or the Sevilla Expo 1992. Having the individual countries design their representation building in their manner is part of the fun - all imaginable kinds of pavilions are created this way, ranging from desert castles and ancient temples to futuristic domes or weird twisted towers.
Here at the Expo in Japan, this is different once again. By regulation of the Expo association, the country pavilions in the six Global Commons had to be constructed from standardized pre-fabricated modules measuring 18x18x9 meters, enabling easy manufacturing, breakdown and reuse. Let's be honest, the Japanese probably got this idea from the Expo 2000 in Hanover, which was the first one to use the existing fair grounds, but even there, some countries displayed extraordinary examples of fine architecture (more on that in the upcoming entry "EXPO2000 vs. EXPO2005"). Check out the aerial maps from Hitachisoft on the top of this page - you can make out the six Global Commons by the white cubical buildings, whereas the corporate pavilions around the North Gate (long white bow-shaped building) vary in form, size and design. Update 2005-08-20: This recent article in the Canadian Architect takes an interesting view on architectural aspects of the Expo (while being somewhat overly frantic about the Spain and Croatia pavilions).
What strikes me as rather suspicious is that the Japanese pavilions are not bound by these rules - they are built in completely different fashion so that no two of them look alike and so that they instantly stand out by their outward appearance (take the Wonder Wheel, Toyota pavilion, Gas pavilion or the Hitachi pavilion for example). Check out my Week 15 entry for some more photographs of the exterior appearance of the corporate pavilions. The architectural extravaganza of past Expos was only allowed for the Japanese pavilions at the Aichi Expo - another way in which they overshadow the country pavilions.
Some of the country pavilions tried to work with what was given to them and created some nice exteriors within the restrictions imposed on them concerning building size and form. Due to the necessity of using the warehouse-like modules, some countries' pavilions look like a rather haphazard affair, though. A rather sad example of this is the Laos pavilion temple which is robbed of all of its charm because it is placed in one of those neon-lit standard modules instead of being out in the open with a nice garden and all. Other countries didn't even go that far and basically just put up a sign with their country name outside while keeping the "warehouse look". The German-French Common House is no exception to that.
Okay, now you have had the chance to read another few conspiracy theories of mine. I know that in some respects this is rather exaggerated and that I might be seeing connections where there are none. But still, in Japan everything might be possible - I wouldn't be surprised at all if everything had been laid out with very specific purposesit by some old Japanese men pulling the strings in the background.