Japan-Osaka concerned over World Expo slow pavilion construction


Photo taken on July 11 shows the man-made Yumeshima island in Osaka Bay, where the 2025 World Exposition is scheduled to be held. Photo: KYODO

Concerns are growing among the organizers of the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka that the event may flop due to the slower-than-anticipated construction of pavilions by overseas participants.

The event, to be held from April 13 to Oct 13 in 2025 on the man-made Yumeshima island in Osaka Bay, western Japan, is set to showcase technological and cultural exhibitions from around 150 countries and is expected to attract 28.2 million visitors. Its economic impact is estimated to reach about 2 trillion yen.

But with less than two years to go, only South Korea and the Czech Republic have so far drawn up specific plans for their pavilions, a core attraction of the event, stoking fear among the organizers that many of the exhibitions will not be completed before the start of the event.

The construction of the South Korean pavilion, which will be the earliest among the overseas participants, is expected to finish around November 2024, four months later than initially expected.

The delays come as a shortage of construction workers in Japan intensifies and material costs keep rising. Some of the construction companies are also reluctant to sign contracts due to the technological difficulties of building pavilions and the fear of running a deficit.

“Some people point out that (the construction of pavilions) has not gone as planned,” Osaka Gov Hirofumi Yoshimura said. “We have to say it’s true.”

Concerns have also spread to the central government, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in early August instructing the relevant ministers to hasten preparations for the event.

Amid a heightened sense of crisis, the organizers, the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, held an online meeting in July to match participating countries and builders to make up for the delay.

But only a handful of the 56 countries that plan “self-build” pavilions have selected their builders so far. Some countries have not had their budgets approved internally and cannot go forward with their plans, people familiar with the situation said.

A representative at one of the countries that have not decided on their builders said that it has approached over 15 companies only to be unsuccessful.

“They were not interested because they know it will not be profitable,” the representative said.

A lack of construction workers is also preventing builders from accepting orders. The problem is expected to exacerbate in April next year when a new regulation to limit the amount of overtime for construction and other workers is introduced.

The organizers have demanded the government exclude workers engaged in the expo’s construction from the new regulation but this was met with vehement opposition from labor unions in the industry, which said that the organizers are “ignoring workers’ rights.”

“Construction would be much smoother if the event were pushed back by six months to one year,” an official at a general contractor told Kyodo News.

The guidelines made by the organizers state that all the self-built pavilions need to be finished by July 2024, less than one year from now.

However, in the face of mounting challenges, the organizers have toned down their ambition, with a senior official at the organizing association saying the deadline is not an absolute requirement.

“It is a non-binding target set so that we would have time to spare for the scheduled opening,” the official said.

Some past expos were also hampered by a delay in preparations. In some cases, some pavilions were still being built as the event started.

Amid the deadlock, the organizers have proposed a plan for cuboid-shaped pavilions with more unified specifications to be used among the countries that plan to make self-built pavilions.

Under the new plan, the organizers will places orders in place of the participating countries for the sake of quicker construction, with the costs borne, in principle, by the countries. The interior design will be up to the countries.

The organizers are aiming to start construction in the spring of 2024 and plan to hand over the completed pavilions to the countries by the end of the year.

While it will expedite the process, it may make it harder for the participants to build creatively designed pavilions, experts say. In online posts, some people also voiced concerns about the “reduced satisfaction” for visitors.

Aside from self-building pavilions or accepting the organizers’ latest proposal, participants also have the option of renting pavilions made by the organizers or sharing an area inside an organizer-made pavilion with others.

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