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Exposing the Challenges of Expo 2025

What is happening?

One of the most significant events taking place in Japan within the next two years will be the Expo 2025, which will take place in Osaka from April 13 to October 13. Japan’s third largest city will host the famous world exposition for the third time, following up on Expo ’70 and the 1990 International Horticultural Exhibition. The third time is the charm, but it surely will not be easy for this expo to succeed, as the organizers have to deal with challenges including countries withdrawing their participation, pavilion construction delays, skyrocketing costs and limited public support.  

What is the broader picture?

The history of World’s Fairs goes back to 1791 when the first industrial exhibition took place in Prague to celebrate the sophistication of manufacturing, industry, and agriculture in the Czech lands. Many types of World’s Fairs and exhibitions have since taken place, evolving in nature and form. The World Expo takes place every five years for six months and facilitates the participating countries’ nation branding as they try to build and improve their respective images through national pavilions.

However, operating a pavilion at the World Expo is usually expensive, which resonates even more strongly these days when countries around the world have to deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation, and the consequences of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which includes an influx of refugees, deteriorating stability of global security environment, the need for increased defense spending, and accelerated transformation of energy infrastructure. In early November, Mexico and Estonia announced their withdrawal from the next expo due to domestic financial issues, while 160 countries and regions have confirmed their participation.

Russia, whose spending on defense and security is set to reach around 40% of its entire budget next year, has few financial resources to spare. Not only does the country face fierce Ukrainian resistance, but it also experiences heavy sanctions from democratic countries which significantly reduced their dependence on Russia’s natural resources. Since Japan is also a democracy, it is no surprise that at the end of November, Russia formally canceled its participation in the Osaka expo, officially blaming it on “insufficient communication” with the host. As the themes of the upcoming expo are “Designing Future Society for Our Lives” and “Saving Lives, Empowering Lives, and Connecting Lives,” the presence of a Russian pavilion would be highly controversial. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is incompatible with the 2025 expo theme of designing a future society for our lives. If the current situation remains unchanged, Russia is not expected to participate in the Osaka Kansai Expo,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

Why does it matter?

Japan also has to address the issue of rising costs of the already delayed constructions, which are currently at ¥235 billion (the original estimate was ¥125 billion). On top of that, constructing the Japan pavilion, implementing security measures, and supporting developing countries’ participation will entail a further ¥83.7 billion. Thus, these challenges are expected to create a further obstacle– a continued decline in public support for the Osaka expo, which is already low, with 55.9% of respondents considering the event unnecessary and only 20.3% supporting it. The expo could thus be yet another blow for the Kishida government, whose support rate dropped below 30 percent in November, the lowest since he took office in 2021.