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Universal Expo 2025 in Osaka: promises and controversies in Japan

Delicately, a crane hoists an imposing structural element up to the “big roof”, the flagship structure of the Universal Expo in Osaka (western Japan) scheduled in a year, but which is currently weighed down by various controversies and difficulties.

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Universal Expo 2025 in Osaka: promises and controversies in Japan

Delicately, a crane hoists an imposing structural element up to the “big roof”, the flagship structure of the Universal Expo in Osaka (western Japan) scheduled in a year, but which is currently weighed down by various controversies and difficulties. Designed by Sou Fujimoto, one of the stars of contemporary Japanese architecture, this ring of approximately 2 km in circumference and 20 meters in height will be one of the largest wooden structures ever built in the world. The pavilions of the 161 participating countries and territories will be built inside this grandiose circle to symbolize “a united world”, boasts Sachiko Yoshimura, communications manager for Expo 2025 interviewed by AFP on the site.

But this ideal vision clashes with the reality of conflicts and tensions in the world, from Ukraine to Gaza. Russia has decided not to participate in the Expo. And in Japan, the event is far from unanimous for the moment. According to a recent survey by the Japanese news agency Kyodo, 82% of Japanese companies and organizations involved in the event are concerned about the lack of public enthusiasm for the moment.

Local media have been highlighting for months the explosion in construction costs, due to soaring prices and labor shortages in Japan. The project budget for the organizing country, two-thirds financed by the city of Osaka, its department and the state, was reassessed to 235 billion yen (1.4 billion euros), a jump of 27%. compared to the previous estimate in 2020. The “big roof”, on which visitors will be able to wander and under which they will be able to shelter from the rain or the sun, must alone cost 35 billion yen (more than 210 million euros), which earned it the nickname last year “the most expensive parasol in the world” by Kenta Izumi, the leader of the main opposition party in Japan.

The bill for the Expo seems all the more steep as its structures are supposed to be temporary: after the six months of the event (April 13-October 13, 2025), the city wishes to recover the site, the artificial island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay, planning to eventually build a tourist complex there with a casino.

The Expo has also been accused by some critics of monopolizing Japan's efforts, at a time when the government should, according to them, focus on rebuilding areas devastated by the January 1 earthquake in the center of the country. Around 6,300 people are still living in evacuation centers or hotels.

The Japanese government, however, has ruled out canceling or postponing the event. “Most of the construction is on time,” according to Ms. Yoshimura. Jun Takashina, deputy secretary general of Expo 2025, admits “difficulties” for certain foreign countries building their own pavilions, also facing soaring costs and having to adapt to strict Japanese construction standards. “We will ensure that all the pavilions are ready for opening,” he promises, noting that “groundbreaking” ceremonies are increasing these days. That of the French pavilion, whose theme will be “A hymn to love”, is scheduled for April 23.

Electric vertical take-off flying cars (e-VTOL) are one of the most anticipated attractions at this Expo focused on sustainable development, whose main theme is “Designing the future, imagining our lives tomorrow”. But the use of these experimental aircraft, which face regulatory obstacles, appears to be limited.

Organizers are expecting 28.2 million visitors (including 3.5 million from abroad), or 4 million more than at Expo 2020 in Dubai. More than 1.2 million tickets have already been sold. Promotion of the Expo is intense in Osaka, where its official mascot “Myaku-Myaku”, a strange red and blue extraterrestrial creature with five scattered eyes, is omnipresent.

“It will be a good opportunity to boost Osaka, as many people are expected to come from abroad, it will strengthen the economy,” Kosuke Ito, a 36-year-old doctor, told AFP. Yuka Nakamura, a 26-year-old saleswoman, agrees. But she is not yet sure about going to the Expo, worrying about the “high prices” of tickets (from 4,000 to 7,500 yen per adult for one day, or 24 to 45 euros).

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