Soon, less than 500 days will remain until April 13, 2025, date of the scheduled opening of the Osaka-Kansai Exposition.
Like the Summer Olympics of 1964, Japan's politicians remain stuck in a mental time warp, clearly hoping to replicate its successes of the previous half century -- in this case the Japan World Exposition, Osaka, 1970 or Expo '70 for short -- which was held in Osaka's Suita City from March to September 1970 under the theme of "Progress and Harmony for Mankind."
The Osaka Expo had the distinction of being the first world's fair held in Asia, and over six months welcomed a record-setting 64 million visitors, a record that stood until the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.
Even as a much more modest effort -- with a projected gate of only 28 million visitors -- Asahi Geino (Nov 23) is unreservedly negative about the exposition's prospects. In the headline it even uses the term zetsubo (hopeless).
A reporter visiting the site noted that around noon at Yumeshima's single convenience store, long lines form at the cash registers where workers purchase cigarettes or lunch boxes.
"I always bring my box lunch from home, but this time I forgot," one of the workers at the site told the reporter. "Since we're not allowed to drive here in our own cars, I ride together with my colleagues in a company van, but many commute to work by bus."
"Smartphone connections are poor out here," another told the magazine. It even takes a while to download maps on the screen. "During our lunch breaks there's nothing else to do to keep occupied."
As journalist Fumikazu Nishitani explained, the initial cost estimate of 1,235 billion yen has already ballooned 1.8-fold. Of this, 160 billion yen is said to have been earmarked for water mains and sewerage, expanding the width of the elevated highways, extending the subway line and other infrastructure. And that doesn't include 7.9 billion yen for measures to prevent ground liquefication.
It seems the island's foundation is in the process of sinking, some say by as much as five meters.
"You can see the ground water come bubbling up," says Nishitani. "Dealing with this requires a lot of time, and is one of the factors causing delays."
Initially conservative party Nippon Ishin no Kai had proposed that after the expo, the site be redeveloped into an integrated resort/casino complex. Which led Tadashi Shimizu, a former Japan Communist Party parliamentarian, to raise objections that funding for Expo 2025 was being treated as a hidden slush fund for casino development.
"Yumeshima is a man-made island reclaimed by using human-generated rubbish and mud," Shimizu told the magazine. "The soil has been contaminated with toxic wastes like dioxin and PCB, and its foundation is extremely soft. It's a completely inappropriate site on which to build the kind of high-rise structure that would house a casino.
"What's more, the island faces risks of other natural catastrophes such as an earthquake along the Nankai Trough or a tsunami," Shimizu added. "I wonder if safety can be secured for the 28 million projected visitors. The organizers have yet to develop an emergency evacuation plan, which I see as a major problem."
Workers at the site also confided that at the current pace, construction would very likely not be completed in time for the opening.
"Since limits have been placed on worker overtime hours, construction is slowly moving toward three shifts over 24 hours. But where will the extra workers come from?" a worker in his 50s asked rhetorically.
Another gorilla in the room is that any enthusiasm by foreign countries had for participating appears to be fading fast. On November 10, the government of Mexico announced its intention to withdraw from the exposition out of "difficulties in securing a budget."
The Japanese organizers are now terrified Mexico's withdrawal will unleash a domino effect and indeed Estonia and Russia have also dropped out. Nevertheless, even if visitor turnout is low than expected, this will not affect the bottom lines of the foreign countries and cities that participate.
"Based on the construction costs of 235 billion yen, expo's fiscal burden on each citizen of Osaka is estimated at 14,152 yen," the aforementioned Shimizu told the magazine. "But the combined total burden on Osaka residents and citizens of the nation is more likely to be in the neighborhood of 77,000 yen for a family of four."
Shimizu added that with very few exceptions, most of the pavilions on the site will be demolished at the end of the exposition. Where else can you find waste of that order?
By the time the 2025 expo opens, organizers might also need to rethink their projected number of visitors. According to a survey of Japanese adults conducted by the Kyodo news agency earlier this month, 68.6% of respondents voiced the opinion that the expo was "unnecessary."© Japan Today