It's World Expo time again: that mega event, held every five years, where countries get to strut their national stuff and the host city gets to bask in the glow of the global spotlight, all in celebration of the human spirit and progress & etc. Starting in London in 1851, World Expos have traditionally been a big deal, featuring some of the most exciting endeavors in invention, art, and technology -- including the telephone in 1876 and the Eiffel Tower in 1889.
World Expo 2005 is being held in Aichi Japan, just outside of Nagoya, and will last until September. The theme -- embracing nature's wisdom -- is very worldchanging. The event is designed to highlight the "global matrix of ecological understanding and technological innovation", writes the International Herald Tribune. A total of 121 countries are participating and over 15 million visitors are expected to visit the Expo. The really cool bit: there is a 18,000 year old Siberian mammoth on display, frozen in an archeological refrigerator lab.
Yet there are signs that all might not be right with World Expos these days. Like many 20th century mega-events, the amount of attention they receive has dwindled. The US, for instance, nearly didn't participate this year, thus sending all kinds of bad signals. Embarrassingly, environmental groups are boycotting the event for a variety of reasons (some serious, some not) and other critics are calling it "Toyota Expo" given the corporation's heavy involvement. Indeed, one might ask whether these World Expos have the global leverage and punch that they used. Growing up in Vancouver, I was a teenager when my city hosted the event in 1986. While a big deal at the time, the hyped expectations that the event would transform the city into international center never fully materialized, the hang over of which still lasts today.
Having said all this, this year France and Germany are doing a joint exhibition, something that would have seemed inconceivable even twenty years ago. And anything that shines a light on ecological understanding has to be good for the world. The bigger question I'm asking is perhaps it's time to update the brand image of the World Expo to one that is less nation-state centric? We still need places and spaces for global sharing and collegiality to emerge, but the world has changed a lot in the past 100 years. Heck, why isn't there a worldchanging exhibition? I'm joking, of course, but future exhibitions may need to think of out-of-the box about the many transnational collaborations worth showcasing as well. Maybe Aichi is already doing this. And to give Aichi some credit, they have tried to evolve the concept in an important way by focusing on global environmental interdependencies. Bravo Japan, a clean and green leader in many ways. So in addition to witnessing the majesty of the Spring cherry blossom festival -- one of nature's truly spell-bounding bounties if there was ever one -- you now have another reason to go to Japan.
I must be putting on the years, because I went to the '85 Expo in Tsukuba.
And I second your comment about Hanami -- this is definitely the best time of year to visit Japan (April 1 ~).
Unfortunately, the theme of this Expo, "Nature's Wisdom," was only adopted in response to an international campaign by environmental NGOs to try and stop this event planned to provide an excuse for massive spending on infrastructure (learn more at http://risk.kan.ynu.ac.jp/matsuda/expo-e.html).
NGOs opposed the event's "greenwashing," the fact that plans were not subjected to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment--and yet construction destroyed much of the Kaisho Forest, a biologically diverse secondary forest that includes the habitat of the endangered otaka goshawk.
Pictures on Japanese TV of the Expo show a metallic wasteland with virtually no trees, and exhibits that seem to have little to do with nature or stimulating participants to think about the supposed theme.