2005 photo essays
Week twenty-four (September 4, 2005)
· Day of Reckoning
Expo organizers, your time has come - this is the final lashing-out at the people responsible for organizing the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. A good part of this web site already consists of complaining about the situation here (starting with the Week 6 entry "Major blunders in the organization of the Expo"). Now, this will be the final summary and my last word about this matter.
· Fun with the Expo Association
The Expo Association never failed to surprise by putting out new regulations and memos. We sure had some fun with some of the mind-boggling plans they schemed - every other week, they would think of something new to make for our amusement and anger. Let's not even talk about the stupid pre-Expo idea of not letting people carry any food on 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". Yeah sure.
Another mindbending fact I learned about the association only recently is that in the beginning, they 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. Does it get any better? The evil aspect of this is that some Japanese staff in the beginning probably 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. It's a shame that somebody (the taxpayer?) had to pay for this bullshit.
· Official web site and English translations
The official Expo web site had been a 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.
Yes I know that the largest part of the visitors are Japanese-speaking, so the audience for the English version is much smaller, but still, it's ill-fitting for a "World Expo" if the bias is so apparent, it's supposed to be an international affair after all. Moreover, the English parts of the web site were not well translated and would at times make awkward statements. Please read the following paragraph carefully, and then try thinking about what it actually says - yes, there is a problem!
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 pointing to the English version (see the Spanish version of "Expo sites", "Áreas de la EXPO", to see what I mean). I'd say you can do it proper or just leave it - anyway 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.
It is common knowledge that the lack of knowledge of the English language in Japan is rampart, but I'd say the Expo should have some kind of examplatory status. Please, just get the signs right at least!
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. If I were responsible, it would really make me stop and reconsider, if from 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 wasa 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.
It gets even better 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 get everybody out again to 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.
Their official web site wouldn't mention a thing about this of course - only old news items and quite superficial descriptions of their "special technology". They didn't even announce up-to-date information, such as waiting times at the stations - in my world, that would be the only useful information when, say, you want or need to go to the Expo and consider taking the Linimo. It might be quite useful to know whether it makes sense going to the Linimo station at all.
· 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. I don't know about you, but my conscience would simply forbid this unfair behaviour - you might say it's not their fault and that it wasn't their decision, but fairness would commend that you do not claim what you cannot provide yourself.
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!
· Next week: Corporate Japan vs. The World's Countries revisited