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Friday, March 25, 2005

Dignitaries, musicians, robots fete opening of World Expo

Staff writer

NAGAKUTE, Aichi Pref. -- Emperor Akihito, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were among some 2,400 people who attended a formal ceremony to mark the opening of the Aichi Expo on Thursday, one day before the gates open to the public.

News photo
Crown Prince Naruhito flips a switch Thursday to officially start the opening ceremony of the 2005 Aichi World Expo at Expo Dome in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture.

The opening ceremony featured performances of works by Holst, Chopin and Stravinsky, while a children's choir and saxophonist Sadao Watanabe performed together. It also featured musical greetings from one of the Expo's star attractions -- talking, and dancing, robots.

The Aichi Expo marks the second time Japan has hosted a World Expo. The first, in Osaka, was in 1970.

"At the time of the Osaka Expo, Japan was rapidly industrializing and gaining prosperity. But there were severe environmental problems. Now, 35 years later, as we welcome the Aichi Expo, there is a strong desire to create technology that protects the environment and guards life," the Emperor said in his opening remarks.

Meanwhile, Koizumi said in his address: "Science and technology hold the key to the simultaneous pursuit of environmental protection and economic development.

"In Japanese, we have the word 'mottainai,' which sums up the spirit of 'waste not, want not.' This means using and reusing things as long as they can be made to last and minimizing what we throw away."

Under the theme of "Nature's Wisdom," the Aichi Expo offers visitors a peek at the latest in environmental technologies, robots, and environmentally friendly energy sources.

In addition to the future, the Expo also showcases the past, including an 18,000-year-old mammoth fossil.

A total of 120 countries and four international organizations are participating in the Expo, which is expected to draw 15 million people until it closes on Sept. 25.

Excitement in the Nagoya area appears high, though the event has been plagued by thematic and logistic controversies. Several major Japanese environmental nongovernmental organizations are boycotting the Expo, while international activists have condemned it as little more than a festival of corporate propaganda about the environment.

Many countries were initially reluctant to commit to large pavilions, citing high costs and doubts over the need for an Expo at a time when international travel is accessible to more people than ever before and smaller gatherings that target specific audiences are the norm.

Responding to the criticism in his address Thursday, Wu Jianmin, president of the International Exhibitions Bureau, insisted that Expos are more necessary than ever.

"The Expo is far from being obsolete. Multilateralism is the best way to achieve the goals of world peace, rule of law, democracy and prosperity in the 21st century, and an Expo is multilateralism in action," Wu said.

But multilateralism does not come cheap. To help defray exhibition costs, Japan gave 6 billion yen in financial assistance to 79 nations, money specifically earmarked for building pavilions. But logistic problems ensued, with some building materials being held up at customs and failing to arrive at the Expo site until several days ago.

Nearly a third of all pavilions were still under construction as of late last week; the sound of hammers and saws could be heard Wednesday evening and Thursday morning at a number of pavilions.

While the opening ceremony went off smoothly, organizers remain anxious over what will happen beginning Friday when the Expo welcomes the public.

Last weekend's preview revealed a number of problems that could cause further headaches for organizers, including long lines and security measures viewed by many as unnecessarily strict.

Repeated breakdowns afflicting a new maglev train system, which is one of the main transportation links to the site, have also been a problem, forcing the addition of more shuttle buses from Nagoya Station to the Expo site.

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The Japan Times

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