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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Cold snap thins Expo's first crowd; robot, mammoth exhibits popular


Staff writer

NAGAKUTE, Aichi Pref. -- Strong winds, chilly temperatures and snow flurries could not dim the enthusiasm of thousands of visitors who lined up early Friday morning for the first day of the Aichi Expo.

By around 8:30 a.m., nearly an hour before the gates opened, an estimated 2,500 people were standing outside the main entrance to the Expo's Nagakute site, trying to keep warm.

"It's really cold. But we wanted to get here as early as possible, so we got up at 5 a.m.," said 37-year-old Nagoya resident Atsuo Yoshii, who came with his family to see the woolly mammoth exhibit as well as the Southeast Asian pavilions, to "think warm thoughts."

The unseasonably cold weather might have been a blessing in disguise. The six-month Expo opened amid concerns that it was not ready to handle large crowds. But organizers said the freezing temperature and strong winds might have kept many away.

At last weekend's preview, there were numerous complaints about the event's strict security measures. But many who came Friday said that they had been alerted via a local public relations campaign to the kinds of items prohibited from the site.

They said they had also been warned that if they carried lots of metallic items it would take them longer to pass through the metal detectors.

While lengthy handbag and briefcase searches prompted some audible grumbling, organizers reported no major problems. Most people got through in one or two minutes.

By the early afternoon, more than 27,000 visitors had arrived. The robot and woolly mammoth exhibits boasted the longest lines, but many of the international pavilions were easily accessible. Among the most popular pavilions were those representing Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, France, Germany, Egypt and Tunisia.

One of the more popular pavilions was also one of the most controversial. Lines were long at the South Korean pavilion, and the section featuring information on South Korean TV dramas drew special interest.

In the same room, however, were maps of South Korea featuring the disputed islets in the Sea of Japan that have become the focus of a recent bilateral row. The South Korean-controlled islets are known as Takeshima in Japan and as Tok-do in South Korea. On the maps, the islets were not named.

"When you draw up a map, it is only common sense to put on the map those territories that form your country. But the purpose was not to create political problems. It was simply to show people the islets," said Young Soo Cho, the pavilion's deputy director.



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