2005 photo essays
Week twenty-four (September 4, 2005)
Day of Reckoning
Expo organizers, your time has come - this is my final verdict on the failures and missed chances at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. A (bigger than expected) part of this web site already collects some criticisms of mine, starting with the Week 6 entry "Major blunders in the organization of the Expo"). This will be a summary of all the major points were I could see room for improvement.
· Fun with the Expo Association
The Expo Association never failed to surprise by putting out interesting new regulations and memos. The first instance of this was probably the originally intented rule of forbidding people to bring food on the site - this was amended due to the intervention of the prime minister Koizumi himself. PET drink bottles were still prohibited though, supposedly because of the "threath of terrorism".
Another hard-to-believe fact that I learned about only recently is that in the beginning, the Expo Association apparently put out a memo regarding pavilion staff: pavilion directors should take sufficient care of staff coming to the Expo site on their day off not using their accrediting ID card to get in but instead buy a regular one-day ticket. This is truly unbelievable but it wouldn't surprise me if Japanese staff actually obeyed this rule.
Another funny occasion was when, as the weather started getting hotter, the association had people hand over this memo regarding "food poisoning" to foreign pavilion restaurants.
· Official web site and English translations
The official Expo web site had been a pretty mess from the beginning and hasn't become much better in the meantime. Most updates and new services were confined to the Japanese version, whereas the other language sites would lag terribly behind in terms of content and design. Useful features such as the visitor forecast calendar, on-site web cameras, visitor statistics, and weather forecast were not available outside of the Japanese language web site at all. The "Banpaku Watch" page ("Expo Watching", only available on the Japanese version) introduced a few nice categories such as thematic photo collections (such as "Music instruments of the world", "Vehicle fun" or "Round things") or short site overview with movies. On the English version, such weekly digests (up-to-date content) were hardly anywhere to be seen - they put up an alltogether images-only "Expo scenes" page but that's about it.
It's true that probably 95% of the visitors are Japanese-speaking, so the audience for the English version is much smaller, but still, it's not appropriate for a "World Expo" if that bias is so apparent. There's just no question that a 1:1 translation to English is a must. Moreover, the parts of the web site that did exist in English were in general translated quite badly and awkwardly. For instance:
The meaning of EXPO 2005 is conveyed by the symbol mark. The symbol mark is a call for attention, care, thought, and consideration. EXPO 2005 is an event with a purpose, and that purpose is embodied in this mark. In addition to its symbolic meaning, the mark also speaks to people, saying things like, "How do we create a new Earth?" "Look carefully!" and "There's a problem!" (Source)
Even though the site was available in six languages (Japanese, Chinese, English, Korean, French, Spanish), the other language sites were even worse than the English one, some with only the most basic information pages translated, the others simply pointing to the English version. This is also haphazard - do it proper or just leave it. I would have preferred a two-language web site with identical Japanese/English content instead of the mess that it is now, that would be fitting for a World Expo. Also as my colleague Christoph pointed out in his blog, a one-way web site announcing official information is not appropriate in this time and age - up-to-date information should be provided by weblogs and internet forums.
The lackluster treatment of the English language can also be seen when taking a look at the weekly periodical of the Expo, the "Event Guide". The Japanese version was a full-color eight-page affair and contained color photographs and articles, whereas the English edition was a simple two-page pamphlet listing the daily events. It's clear that for an exposition that attracted less than five percent of foreign visitors (most of them coming from neighbouring Asian countries), the English language information material is disregarded to some extent, but I consider such an extreme difference as poor style.
· Traffic mismanagement
The group of persons responsible for the design of the traffic access to the Expo site was either rather detached from reality or decidedly sadistic - consider the Linimo. Starting the very first day of the Expo, the Linimo was running at full capacity, creating queues at the terminal station in the mornings and evenings - and that was during a time when there were less than 50,000 people coming to the Expo. While chaos reigned already with that low number, imagine the situation in September with five times that number of people to be moved to and from the Expo site.
The same was true for motorized traffic - there was exactly one access road to the Expo site which carried all personal traffic, shuttle buses and delivery trucks. Even though there was a restriction on individual motorized traffic around the site, there are still tens of thousands of people that have to be trafficked on this route - an absolute disaster, especially for staff who goes to and from the site nearly every day.
The situation could only get worse when the Linimo, the only public traffic to the site, breaks down, which happened a few times during the last few weeks. At the beginning of September, I happened to be on my way home in the afternoon, and arrived at the station when it was announced that the train is broken. I waited for about 30 minutes, observing the situation - the queue of people who had been standing outside of the station in the rain mostly remained, minus a few people who inquired about alternative ways to return: they were told to walk to the North Gate (+20 min.) to get a shuttle bus or take a taxi.
Nobody complained, so I finally took the role of the obnoxious foreigner and inquired "when the emergency bus shuttle will arrive" - in Japanese, of course, so everybody around me would understand. I was told that "the upper level is thinking about it, we have inquired but we got no answer". I told them that I hoped that they wouldn't just let us queue like that, and that they should get something done quickly - others were of the same opinion and asked to be let inside the station to get away from the rain. This caused great chaos when shortly after, the train was moving again, and the Linimo staff tried to actually remove all people from the station to - get this - buy tickets. In the end, a huge crowd of people was let inside the station to meet the already immensely crowded train. Really poor management.
· Treatment of foreign staff
I touched on this subject numerous times before - I reported that it took one month to introduce morning shuttle buses to the Expo, and evening buses were only available during the Golden Week in May, only to be introduced in July once again. However, the sad aspect about this re-introducing of service is that it was not the numerous complaints by foreign pavilions that made the Expo Association organize it, but complaints by Japanese visitors with the Linimo operating firm.
The story goes like this: at times during the weekend when the West Gate Linimo station has waiting times of more than 30 minutes, some clever foreigners skipped the regular queue by telling the staff that they are going in the opposite (not crowded) direction to get into the train station, but then took the train into the other direction, towards Nagoya. It seems that some African Expo staff was caught when they tried this trick, and consequently complaints by Japanese visitors about this practice were finally taken so serious by the Association as to set up separate staff buses for us foreign staff.
· "Easy access" system for corporate pavilions
There had been a lot of fuss about the Japanese corporate pavilions and their practice of not letting other Expo staff in, not even when they would queue up like regular visitors (not even to think of "easy access" - I reported about this way back in June). This caused a lot of anger among foreign pavilions' staff. The problem became more serious when ever more frequently, their staff would still come to other pavilions (including the German one), asking for easy access, therefore skipping queues of several hours.
This situation was finally amended in July (two months before the end of the Expo) with the introduction of a special system for complimentary entrance to Japanese governmental and corporate pavilions. Anyway, the procedure was somewhat complicated and numerous restrictions applied, but in the end, you could get your reservations for easy access to the Japanese pavilions. I used this procedure myself on two afternoons, visiting eight of the pavilions - a rare ray of light and really delighting!
It is obvious to see that the Expo Association responsible for the organization of the World Expo in Aichi 2005 was in some areas absolutely not up to the task to provide a working environment for an international exposition of that scope. During some times, I was surprised to see situations go completely out of hand, which led to an (for Japan) unprecedented amount of chaos and anarchy. Of course, the staff on hand, not being used to anything remotely like it, was usually completely overwhelmed by these situations. Makes for a rare and kind of interesting sight in Japan, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth. Many of the above mentioned problems could have been avoided with a bit more experience and foresight.
· Next week: Corporate Japan vs. The World's Countries revisited