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"Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan" Getting Ready to Move Forward! A "Huge Cultural Festival" to Co-create the Future [Expo 2025 Collaboration Project] Updated in October 2021

Akina Horikawa and Takayuki Honda
Fellows at Knowledge Mobility based System Institute (KMS); Science Communicators

Image of "Expo 2025" venue (Provided by Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition)

"Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan" is the first international exposition held in Japan since "Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan" 20 years ago. The logo, which expresses the theme "Designing Future Society for Our Lives," became a topic of conversation immediately after its announcement. We interviewed Mr. Imamura Harutoshi, Division Chief (at the time of the interview), Strategic Business Planning & Promotion Department, Public Relations Strategy Bureau, Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, who is preparing the event.

A "New Expo" Begins in Osaka─the Expo City

Osaka is a city of expositions. The Japan World Exposition (Expo '70) held in 1970 at Senri Hills (Suita City, Osaka Prefecture), even after half a century, is still in the hearts and minds of the people of Osaka.

Expo '70 became an opportunity for Japan to show off its rapidly growing science and technology sectors and to exude presence to the world amid a period of rapid economic growth. Under the theme "Progress and Harmony for Mankind," the Expo brought together new technologies and cultures worldwide. The future of science and technology seen from that time, such as linear motor cars, electric cars, and cell phones, remained in the eyes of some 65 million visitors.

While expectations are growing for Expo 2025 Osaka, Mr. Imamura says, "I believe that this Expo will be something that overturns the conventional image of expositions."

"When I asked older men and women about Expo '70, they would say, ‘I miss it. I'm looking forward to the next one. So, what kind of "tower" will be built this time?’ In this Expo, we will not present one particular symbol, but we would like to work with everyone to create a new Expo." (Mr. Imamura, hereafter)

Mr. Imamura, Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition (Interview conducted in March 2021)

"Designing Future Society for Our Lives"

A world expo is an international exposition held based on an international treaty called the BIE Convention. It is held upon approval by the Bureau of International des Expositions (BIE). The BIE was established in 1928 with its headquarters in Paris, France. As of May 2021, the number of member countries has reached 169.

To date, Japan has hosted five expositions: the Japan World Exposition (Osaka, 1970), the Okinawa International Ocean Exposition (Okinawa, 1975), the International Science and Technology Exposition (Ibaraki, 1985), the International Garden and Greenery Exposition (Osaka, 1990), and the 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan (Aichi, 2005) (See Table 1).

International expositions are divided into two main categories: "registered expositions" (Registered Expo) and "specialized expositions" (Specialized Expo). Formerly, they were divided into "general expositions" (General Expo) and "special expositions" (Special Expo), but the BIE Convention was revised in 1988 to create the current classification.

Expo '70 was held as a General Expo. The upcoming Expo 2025 Osaka is a Registered Expo, which has to have a broad and extensive theme. It is held every five years for a maximum of six months. On the other hand, a Specialized Expo lasts for three months or less and only takes place once between two Registered Expos, within a five-year interval (however, the Okinawa International Ocean Expo and the International Science and Technology Expo both lasted six months).

Table 1: International expositions (World Expos) held in Japan in the past and their themes (Compiled from Exposition Materials)

So, what is new about Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai? The most important feature of the Expo is that it aims for co-creation. "The expos in the past were places to demonstrate national prestige and the latest science and technologies. The expos of the new era value the notion of creating together," says Mr. Imamura.

To realize the theme of "Designing Future Society for Our Lives," Expo 2025 will feature 150 countries and 25 international organizations, as well as corporations and citizens' groups. It aims to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and chart a future beyond them (See Fig.1).

"Contributing to the achievement of the SDGs is one of the vital missions of this Expo. The word ‘Lives’ in the theme does not only refer to human life. Since ancient times, Japan has had a saying, ‘all things have a spirit.’ I believe that the Expo will be an opportunity to think about the diversity of all living beings, and even the earth that nurtures us."

Figure 1: Project Structure of Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan (Prepared with reference to the master plan for the 2025 World Exposition, p.18)

What Is "TEAM EXPO 2025", and How Does it Symbolize Co-creation?

Specific ways to participate in Expo 2025 include exhibiting at pavilions and sponsoring themed projects undertaken by eight front runners from various fields. From among these, the "TEAM EXPO 2025" program ("TEAM EXPO" hereafter), which will start well before the actual event date and conclude after the end of the event, is a participatory program that invites proactive groups from the general public to join and get involved in. It is going to break through the conventional notion of "going to the Expo site to see something. "

There are two ways to participate in the TEAM EXPO program. One is the "Co-Creation Challenge," which is open to individuals and teams taking on or planning any proactive action to realize the expo theme. This indeed requires the power of individuals.

Another way to participate is as a "Co-Creation Partner," which calls for corporations and organizations that create and support various co-creation challenges. They are required to endorse this program and to proactively and continuously develop unique activities that match the program.

Mr. Imamura talking about TEAM EXPO 2025 program

There used to be an inevitable gap in how people interacted: For example, people on stage versus those in the audience. However, he reminds us that "In the upcoming Expo, everyone can take a leading role. Let's work together to create the Expo."

"Through TEAM EXPO, I hope participants can work with other members to solve as many issues as possible and to accumulate experiences through which you can feel improved aspects of our society. I believe that the key to solving the big issues of the SDGs surely lies in the voices of individuals and communities."

A "Huge Cultural Festival" on a Global Scale

The application process for TEAM EXPO started in October 2020, and in the six months up to March 2021, 105 individuals/groups have registered for the "Co-Creation Challenge," and 59 organizations have come forward as "Co-Creation Partners," with the numbers still growing. "There are various projects: some are with a regional focus and others have an eye on overseas expansion. We have received more ideas than we had imagined, and I'm excited about future developments," says Mr. Imamura.

For example, the robot science club at Otemon Gakuin Otemae Junior and Senior High School is proposing ideas to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs under the theme "Osaka's Youth Challenge: Robot Development Project to Solve the SDGs."

The popular music club at Osaka Prefectural Sakurazuka High School has joined the program under the theme "Promoting the Expo to the World with Original Music!" The students wrote and composed an original song to cheer the Expo and prepared an English version to distribute to the world via YouTube. This was not a request from the association but a spontaneous project by the students.

Co-creation partners have also organically linked with individual co-creation challenges, resulting in synergistic effects beyond the association’s expectations. These projects will not just end as each group's effort but should develop into something bigger involving other challenges and partners. It is indeed "creating an Expo together," under the theme of co-creation.

In addition, Expo 2025 will provide TEAM EXPO participants with both real and virtual (online) communication opportunities (see Fig.2). Sharing the results of pre-Expo activities will create new collaborations and co-creation, transcending time and space constraints.

Figure 2: TEAM EXPO 2025 program encourages co-creation and participation (Prepared with reference to the website of the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition; Image provided by Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition)

"Thanks to TEAM EXPO, there are no longer any restrictions on the expo's duration or venue. Expo 2025 has already begun, and there is no need to specify an end to it in 2025. We want to expand the circle of activities further and encourage people worldwide to participate so that the activities of TEAM EXPO will remain as a legacy even after the expo is over. In that sense, an expo could be considered a ‘Huge Cultural Festival.’"

Each of Us Will Navigate a New Era

Each of us can take a leading role and express life─ Expo is about to become a place that embraces and accepts this idea. Mr. Imamura strongly felt this when he took charge of the project to create the logo, announced in August 2020.

Mr. Imamura with the logo of Expo 2025

What do you associate this logo with? People searched for something that resembled the logo on the Internet, such as a plant called guarana or a doughnut, and it was like a big look-alike search game.

"I was amazed at the great response to the logo and thought that if everyone enjoyed themselves and participated spontaneously, it would lead to ‘Creating an Expo together.’ As long as you meet certain requirements, you can participate in TEAM EXPO in various ways on any theme you wish to work on. Starting today, I hope that you will consider registering with the Co-Creation Challenge or Co-Creation Partner."

Mr. Imamura says that he wants the younger generation in particular to use the expo as a platform to output what they like and what they want to do.

"I believe that there are people who want to try something but don't know how to go at it. Our Co-creation Partners include groups that back up such thoughts and ideas. I hope that students in particular will make use of TEAM EXPO. Let's work together to boost Expo 2025!"

Expo 2025, Osaka, Kansai, Japan, has already begun to expand its circle of activities with its participatory approach. From Japan to the world, a big step forward is about to be taken to open up a new era with the energetic power of each individual.

Imamura Harutoshi

Former Division Chief, Strategic Business Planning Division, Strategic Business Planning & Promotion Department, Public Relations Strategy Bureau, Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition

Completed Environmental Engineering study at Graduate School of Engineering, Kyoto University in 2009. After working in the private sector and local government, he worked in planning and public relations strategy for Expo 2025, Osaka, Kansai, Japan, for about two years, from April 2019. He was in charge of the TEAM EXPO 2025 program and logo designing project.

Original article was provided by Science Portal and Science Japan.
This has been translated by Sakura Science Club secretariat.