William O. Gardner
Professor of Japanese, Swarthmore College, United States

World Expo 1970, hosted by the city of Suita, Osaka, in Japan and organised around the theme of the “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” was the first World Expo held in an Asian country, and attracted a record 64 million visitors. Through its integration of advanced technology, immersive multi-media environments, and dazzling architecture, Expo 1970 Osaka projected Japan as a simulation-site for a future society. Indeed, many Japanese journalistic accounts heralded the Expo as the City of the Future (mirai no toshi).

This future-orientation was in keeping with the thematic of many World Expos, but also reflected the ambitions of multiple collaborators, such as site designer Nishiyama Uzō’s stated intention to offer a model of a “core of a future city,” that would “create a living space with a high degree of density,” while overcoming the “various faults that have appeared in contemporary cities.”1

I will examine how the central Symbol Zone of the Expo 1970 Osaka became the staging ground for this vision of a future city through a process of interdisciplinary collaboration among artists and intellectuals, including architects and urban planners Nishiyama and Tange Kenzō, the artist Okamoto Tarō, and the science fiction author Komatsu Sakyō. In particular, I will explore how the Expo became a showcase for the Metabolists, a group of young avant-garde architects mentored by Tange, and offered them a forum to present key Metabolist concepts to the public, such as the “capsule” as a basis for a fluid, expandible, and customisable architecture. Moreover, another of Tange’s former students, Isozaki Arata, used his assignment to design the “event systems” for the central Festival Plaza to pursue his idea of an “invisible city,” or in this case, an “invisible plaza” that facilitated flexible performances and human exchanges through an infrastructure of computer systems and robots. I will first discuss the origins of the Expo’s themes in an interdisciplinary research group connected with Kyoto University and demonstrate this group’s ties to the emerging discourses of “future studies” and the “information society.” Then, I will turn to the evolution of the Expo’s site design and the architectural experiments that attempted to realise a model “city of the future.” More than just promoting recent architectural innovations, Expo 1970 Osaka became a focal point for debates on the imperilled future of mankind, the coming “information society” enabled by computers and video screens, and the nature and purpose of public space.


The “Thinking the Expo” group and origins of the Expo’s themes

Expo 1970 Osaka was one part of a massive infrastructure development of the Suita region during the apex of the high growth era in Japan (1955-1972), which included the extension of the Hankyū Senri railway line (completed 1967), construction of the Meishin Expressway (1963-65), and the development of the Senri New Town, a planned development of over 1,000 hectares adjacent to the future Expo site, built to accommodate a population of 150,000, whose first units opened in 1962. The Ministry of International Trade (MITI) proposed the Expo to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in 1964 as a showcase for Japanese post-war recovery and modernisation, as a stimulus to further infrastructure development for the Kansai region, just as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had stimulated redevelopment for Tokyo and the Kantō region. Just as the Olympics had been criticised by the Japanese left as diversion from the protest movement that had galvanised over the 1960 renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the left also expressed suspicion over Expo 1970, especially as its scheduled opening coincided with the 10-year automatic renewal of the Security Treaty. Suspicion about the motives of the Expo, together with critique of the ideology expressed by the event, fuelled a lively and creative protest movement throughout the period of planning and execution of the event.

However, the announcement of the bid to host a World Expo in Osaka was also met by constructive critical engagement from a group of Kansai-based intellectuals with connections to Kyoto University. The study group “Thinking the Expo” founded in July 1964, was spearheaded by anthropology Professor Umesao Tadao, communication scholar and media theorist Katō Hidetoshi, and Kyoto University graduate Komatsu Sakyō, who was then working as a journalist and radio scriptwriter while beginning his career as a science fiction author. This circle, which became an important intellectual nexus connecting production of Expo 1970’s central “Symbol Zone” with the emergence of miraigaku, or future studies in Japan, was initially formed around the journal Hōsō Asahi (Broadcast Asahi), published by the Osaka Asahi Broadcasting Corporation, to which Komatsu, Katō, and Umesao were frequent contributors. Indeed, the editorial trends of this journal provide important context for understanding the intellectual background and developing role of the “Thinking the Expo” group.

"The ‘Thinking the Expo’ group offered a series of public critiques that were to have a significant impact on the development of Expo 1970"

From September 1963 until 1966, Komatsu contributed a regular series of articles to Hōsō Asahi entitled “Journeying Across the Area,” featuring reports on regional cultural history from across the Kansai area. In addition to Komatsu’s articles on Kansai geography and local culture, Hōsō Asahi featured numerous articles on anthropology and comparative cultural research by members of the Kyoto University Institute for Research in Humanities, including Umesao, Katō, and Institute co-director Kuwahara Takeo. This institutional nexus serves as background to the Expo’s eventual thematic embrace, under the influence of the “Thinking the Expo” group, of a relativistic, multi-polar humanism, which attempted to highlight the knowledge or “wisdom” of Asian and African cultures in the first World Expo hosted by an Asian nation. One continuing legacy of this ideological focus as well as its underlying social network was the establishment of the National Museum of Ethnology on the grounds of the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park following the Expo. Still open today, the museum was founded in 1974 and headed by first Director-General Umesao Tadao in a building designed by Metabolist architect Kurokawa Kishō.

Furthermore, given the importance of the concepts of “information” and the “information society” to the thematic development of Expo 1970, it is significant that Hōsō Asahi was the initial publication forum for Umesao’s groundbreaking article “On Information Industries” in January 1963, which is credited for starting the journalistic boom of interest in information theory, “informatization” (jōhōka) and the “information society” (jōhō shakai). Thus, we can see that the members of the “Thinking the Expo” research group were at the forefront of thinking on information systems, computerisation, and mediatisation of contemporary society at the same time as they were participating in this study group.

The members of the “Thinking the Expo” group researched the history of International Exhibitions paying particular attention to the thematic development of post-war Expos since Expo 1958 Brussels, and studied the ongoing 1964 New York World’s Fair and the planning for Expo 1967 Montreal, in addition to exchanging ideas and critical opinions regarding the Japanese proposal. Concerned by the lack of vision expressed in MITI’s initial proposal to the BIE, the group offered a series of public critiques that were to have a significant impact on the development of the Expo. To summarise, the group argued: first, that it must not simply be a “trade show” designed to feature Japanese products and economic progress, but instead must have clearly articulated themes and serve as a site for exchange of knowledge and information – including information on such complex global problems as, for example, pollution; material scarcity and distribution; and genetic erosion and diversity.2 Secondly, Expo planners should not miss the importance of the Expo as the first Asian World Expo and must emphasise the participation of Asian and African countries. Third, the moulding of the Expo environment must not be carried out by conservative bureaucrats, but rather planners should give cutting-edge artists and architects free rein to realise innovative visions.

"The idea of contemporary 'disharmony' forms the backdrop of the official Expo theme of 'harmony'"

While the “Thinking the Expo” group originally took its mission as pure research, or at most the provision of contextualisation and constructive criticism from the outside, they were soon called upon to consult with local Osaka officials about the planning for the event, and Expo’s central Planning Committee adopted their suggestion to articulate a set of themes for the Expo. Several of the members, including Komatsu and Katō, were soon drafted as Theme Committee members, together with Katō and Umesao’s senior colleague from the Kyoto University Institute for Research in Humanities, Professor of French Kuwahara Takeo, who was responsible for the final written draft of Expo themes. Ultimately, the theme committee emerged with the theme of “Progress and Harmony for Mankind.” A subsequent Sub-Theme Committee elaborated this motto with an equally idealistic set of supporting themes: “Towards the Realization of a Richer Life,” “Towards the Utilization of a More Bountiful Nature,” “Towards the Design of Better Lifestyles,” and “Towards Deeper Mutual Understanding.”3

Nevertheless, despite the rose-coloured sloganeering of the official theme that was widely scorned in left-leaning media and intellectual circles, much of the discussion in the Theme Committee actually focused on the contradictions, disharmony, and danger in the world of the mid-1960s, including the Cold War, the threat of nuclear apocalypse, and problems of overpopulation, social inequality, and pollution. Indeed, even the official theme statement reflects these underlying concerns:

Nevertheless, when we look at the situation of the world […] [we see that] mankind is beset by many forms of disharmony. Due to the high level of development of technical civilization, mankind today is undergoing a fundamental revolution in our entire way of life, but the many problems that arise from this are not yet resolved. Furthermore, in every region of the world, large inequities exist, and not only is the exchange, both spiritual and material, between each region clearly inadequate, but frequently, understanding and tolerance are lost and friction and tensions erupt. Even science and technology themselves, if they are applied incorrectly, hold the possibility of leading mankind to ruin.

With its characteristic rhetoric of multi-polar humanism, the text goes on to assert that wisdom to avoid such a dire fate and unlock the “prosperity of mankind” can be found not in one place but “wherever human beings can be found.” “If the diverse wisdoms of mankind can be effectively exchanged and [allowed to] mutually stimulate each other,” the text continues, “a higher level of knowledge can appear, and from the understanding and tolerance between different traditions, we can achieve the harmonious development of a better life for all of mankind.”4 Thus, the idea of contemporary “disharmony” forms the backdrop of the official Expo theme of “harmony,” and a subtle criticism of Western universalism underlies its expression, through the suggestion that the wisdom to solve mankind’s problems can be found not in one single source (i.e., Western civilisation and enlightenment), but throughout the world. Nevertheless, for the majority of visitors and critics, it was not the statement of the Theme Committee in its entirety, but the innocuous “Progress and Harmony of Mankind,” which was remembered as the official slogan of the event. The tension between the sunny exterior of the official slogan and the underlying debate over the articulation of more critical viewpoints would be repeated in other forms as the Expo unfolded.


Expo 1970 Osaka and Future Studies

In terms of the intellectual networks outlined in this article, the Sub-Theme Committee was significant as the meeting place between Komatsu Sakyō, Umesao Tadao, and Katō Hidetoshi of the Kansai-based “Thinking the Expo” group with Kantō-based architecture critic Kawazoe Noboru and economist Hayashi Yūjirō, all of whom were later active in the founding of miraigaku, or Japanese future studies. Komatsu traces the genesis of the Future Studies Research Group out of a trip that he took in May 1966 with fellow core “Thinking the Expo” members Umesao and Katō to observe the preparations for Expo 1967 Montreal, including stops in the United States and Mexico as well as Canada, which furthered the trio’s interest in overarching issues of culture and civilisation:

While traveling through Canada, America, and Mexico, we continually discussed “culture” and “civilization.” The issues that we had been grappling with for nearly two years in the “Thinking the Expo” group were now transcending the question of “World’s Fairs” and were becoming the subjects of our interest [in themselves] […] The total inheritance from the past, the diversity of cultures and civilizations, the relationships between nature and man that were being elucidated in every direction by modern science, […] the changes that scientific technology was bringing to societies worldwide […] in the process of thinking about the Expo we had been pressed by the need to think holistically about such issues. However, we had begun to discuss whether there could be a forum where we could consider such issues outside of the context of the Expo.5

Thus, Komatsu writes, he suggested the idea of future studies during a dialogue with Umesao in the Weekly Asahi magazine soon after their return from North America. According to Komatsu, this idea was quickly seized upon by Hayashi and Kawazoe, whose credentials as intellectuals with an interest in future societies were unquestionable. Kawazoe, among other activities, had been a co-author of the internationally noted futuristic architectural and design manifesto Metabolism 1960, while Hayashi, as Director of the Economic Research Institute of the national Economic Planning Agency in 1965, had co-authored an influential report on the lifestyles of the Japanese in the 20-years hence future of 1985. Furthermore, in 1969, after his extensive contacts with the “Thinking the Expo” group members, Hayashi was to publish arguably the most popular and influential book of its era on the “information society,” The Information Society: From “Hard” to “Soft” Society.

"Expo 1970 Osaka emerged as a convergence point in the articulation of ideas of the 'future'"

In the fall of 1966, the Future Studies Research Group was founded by Komatsu, Umesao, Katō, Kawazoe, and Hayashi, and expanded in 1968 into the Japanese Association for Future Studies, which hosted the second International Futures Research Conference in Kyoto in April 1970. Of course, despite Komatsu’s narrative of the genesis of Japanese future studies as a continuation of the work of the “Thinking the Expo” study group, future(s) studies and futurology had been percolating as an area of inquiry worldwide in the 1960s, culminating in the first International Futures Research Conference in Oslo in 1967, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Futures Research Federation in 1973. The basis for this emerging interdisciplinary field was the belief that the future was no longer the province of idle speculation or religious prophecy, but that trends in conceiving the future could be examined critically through historical and semiotic analysis, while new insights into possible and probable futures could be gained through such informational heuristics as data analytics and systems theory, modelling, and simulation.

Thus, Expo 1970 Osaka emerged as a convergence point in the articulation of ideas of the “future” in the context of the overlapping discourses of future studies, comparative cultural studies, media theory and the “information society,” and architecture and urban planning. In an article entitled “The Expo’s Vision” for the Yomiuri newspaper in 1967, Kawazoe expressed the convergence of these issues and discourses as follows: “Japan is not only continuing its high growth. It is the society where population density and mediatisation have progressed the furthest, and Japan itself has become a laboratory for a new civilisation. Therefore, the Japan Expo is not only about the search for Japan’s future, but has a [broader] significance in the history of civilisation.”6

Similarly, in an essay on “The Plan of the Expo Site: From Survey to Design” for the magazine Kenchiku zasshi (Journal of Architecture and Building Science), architect and urban planner Nishiyama Uzō, who worked on the initial drafts of the site design, described the Expo site as “a model for the city of the future.” Touching on many of the official themes worked out by the Theme Committee, Nishiyama writes:

The concentration of population in cities is advancing at a rapid pace in our country, and it is said that soon the great majority of Japanese will live in a belt zone connecting Tokyo and Osaka. From a worldwide perspective, the living space of humans is, of necessity, in a trend towards urbanization. Due to this, however, pollution, natural disasters, and every form of paralysis, disharmony, and degradation of the living environment is also progressing.

[…] To create a living space with a high degree of density, which would overcome the various faults that have appeared in contemporary cities, and to give people the physical experience of such a space—this would certainly give substance to [the ideal of] “progress and harmony” through the site design. This was the reason I endeavoured to create the model of a “core of a future city".7

To this end, Nishiyama offered four principles for his initial site design: 1) to revive the “correct cycle of nature” in the face of contemporary environmental pollution through the design of recycling and purifying air and water systems and artificial lakes; 2) to create a central “festival plaza” where humans can have direct, face-to-face contact; 3) to develop advanced computerised systems to efficiently control the various functions of the site; and 4) drawing upon these systems, to effectively control the flow of the anticipated massive crowds of people in and out of the site.8 While Nishiyama’s involvement was curtailed after the early stages of the site design, and not all of his ideals were fully realised in the final site, his conceptualisation of the Expo site as the core of a “future city” infused the concept of the “future” even further into the rhetoric surrounding the site, and left important conceptual and physical traces on the evolving Expo 1970.


“Symbol Zone” design and the architectural translation of Expo themes

As the Expo planning progressed, the site was divided into spaces for national pavilions, corporate pavilions, peripheral areas, and a central “Symbol Zone,” where the themes of the Expo would be articulated through architecture and design. After the initial drafts by Nishiyama, much of the final site design and execution was overseen by internationally recognised architect Tange Kenzō. Tange also contributed the central architectural feature of the site, the broad Festival Plaza open on the sides but covered by a grand “space frame” roof of prefabricated steel pipes and ball joins in a triangular lattice, topped by a light-weight, translucent polyester film.

In part through the lobbying of the “Thinking the Expo” group to involve innovative artists in the highest levels of planning, the design of exhibition space in the central Symbol Zone and Theme Pavilion was turned over to artist Okamoto Tarō, who proposed the audacious Tower of the Sun, a totemic icon bursting through the roof of Tange’s central Festival Plaza. This exuberant tower, with two wing-like arms outstretched towards Tange’s roof, was crowned by a metallic “Golden Face” reigning high above the roof, and also featured a cubist-inspired “Face of the Sun” at the core of the tower facing frontwards toward the Plaza, a menacing “Black Sun” facing toward the rear, and a “Subterranean Sun” at the underground exhibition area. Okamoto’s tower became the visual focal point of the entire Expo space, and its primitivist, kitschy appearance was seen as an antithesis to the cool rationality of Tange’s “space frame” design.

"Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun became the visual focal point of the entire Expo space"

Also crucial to the conception and design of the site was the transportation infrastructure, as first described by Nishiyama above, and then elaborated in Tange’s later site designs. These infrastructure elements included moving sidewalks connecting the Festival Plaza to a radial set of sub-plazas, a monorail encircling the site, and portals connecting the site to outside rail and highway networks. As Hyunjung Cho summarises, “The Symbol Zone, located at the core of the Expo grounds, was compared to a ‘trunk,’ a central nervous system of facilities that transmits energy and water to various parts of an organism. The moving walkways extending to sub-plazas from the Symbol Zone were equated with the branches of a tree, and various pavilions were likened to colourful flowers blooming on the tree. Tange conceived Expo ’70 as a living organism in which the constant but dynamic equilibrium of the space was coordinated by a vast central management and control system.”9

Both the central Symbol Zone and the prominent transportation network were elements of the Expo’s thematic emphasis on circulation, encounters, and information exchange, which were conceived as illustration, instruction, and acclimatisation for the dawning post-industrial “information age.” In a discussion with Kawazoe Noboru published in the May 1970 issue of the journal Shinkenchiku, Tange develops several themes first articulated by the “Thinking the Expo” members:

During the stage of an industrial society, world expositions had the cultural-historical significance of “exposing” physical things, such as technology and the fruits of scientific engineering. However, such a form [of display] doesn’t have much meaning in the current age, in which we are progressing into an “information society.” Rather than displaying hardware, or going to see it, isn’t it more meaningful to create a software-like environment? Instead [of the old type of expo], we should gather together to exchange direct communication between people, each bringing our own cultures or non-physical traditions to exchange. Rather than an exposition, it would be a festival.10

Tange’s remarks reflect the influence of the “Thinking the Expo” team’s rhetorical emphasis on the importance of the Expo as a site of communication and exchange rather than simply a display of goods. Furthermore, in his use of the key term “information society” to contextualise the social significance of the Expo, he uses a term developed in part by the “Thinking the Expo” research group members, and also employs the distinction between “hardware” and “software,” used metaphorically to distinguish different sectors or stages in the development of society, that was popularised in Hayashi Yūjirō’s book from a year before, The Information Society: From “Hard” to “Soft” Society.

In addition to articulating the conception of “information-age” architecture and design shared in various ways by many of the prominent contributors to the Expo’s design, Tange’s remarks also testify to the emergence of the concept of “festival,” which was not initially part of the Expo’s thematic framework. First proposed by Nishiyama and promoted both by Tange and Okamoto, the idea of the “festival” had different meanings for each figure. For Tange, the “festival” was “the interchange of human energy, the exchange of human wisdom and creativity.”11 For Okamoto, “festival” had a more anarchic, primal valance: “The Expo is a festival,” he stated. “...I don’t think that expositions are fundamentally about learning various types of scientific knowledge. Rather, [they are a place where] surprise and joy are commingled, where old concepts and scientific knowledge are wiped away and tossed aside.”12

The Symbol Zone, which represented a compromise or juxtaposition between Tange’s and Okamoto’s visions in execution of the Expo’s thematic program, elaborated the official Expo theme of “Progress and Harmony,” together with concepts of “exchange of information” and the “festival” through its articulation of space. The official theme of “progress” was articulated through the “mandala”-like temporal and spatial layering of the Symbol Zone’s Theme Pavilion architecture, with an Underground Exhibition space representing the “Past: The World of Origins,” the Ground Level Exhibition, or “Festival Plaza” representing the “Present: World of Harmony,” and the Aerial Exhibition installed in the giant “space frame” ceiling covering the vast Festival Plaza representing the “Future: The World of Progress.” Finally, all three layers were interpenetrated by the Tower of the Sun, representing Okamoto’s primal “Energy of Life.” Komatsu and Kawazoe, two of the Sub-Theme Committee members, were called upon to be sub-producers for different regions of the Theme Pavilion: Kawazoe was responsible for the Aerial Exhibition representing the Future, while Komatsu was tapped as sub-producer for the underground exhibition, representing the Past.


Emergence of the “City of the Future”

In addition to the “mandala”-like temporal-spatial arrangement of the Theme Pavilion dramatising the progression from past to future, many of the national and corporate pavilions also placed a heavy emphasis on temporality, specifically the emergence of the society of the future, in their architecture and choice of displays. For example, the two most popular national pavilions at Expo 1970, the United States and Soviet Union pavilions, both highlighted the exploration and future development of space, through the exhibit of NASA technology as well as a “moon rock” collected by the Apollo 12 astronauts in 1969 in the U.S. pavilion, and a life-size model of a Soyuz-4 and other spacecraft in the Soviet pavilion. The corporate pavilions, especially the Mitsubishi Future pavilion, Sanyo pavilion, Midori pavilion, and Takara Beautilion, presented visions of future lifestyles and consumer products, including the celebrated “human washing machine” or ultrasonic bath pod in the Sanyo pavilion; while technologies of the future, including flight simulators and wireless mobile telephones, were demonstrated in such pavilions as the Hitachi Group pavilion, the IBM pavilion, and the Electronic Communications pavilion.

However, arguably the greatest factor in creating the public image of Expo 1970 as a “city of the future” would be the dense juxtaposition of innovative architectural forms, including Tange’s Great Roof, the low inflated dome of the U.S. pavilion and aggressively pitched roof of the Soviet pavilion, and most especially, the contributions of the young Japanese architects and designers associated with the Metabolist movement, including Kikutake Kiyonori’s Expo Tower and Kurokawa Kishō’s Toshiba IHI Pavilion and Takara Beautilion, all interpenetrated by the futuristic transportation infrastructure of monorails and moving sidewalks – including “street furniture,” monorail, and electric cars designed by Ekuan Kenji. This was the eclectic architectural gestalt that would be extensively publicised in the Japanese press as the “city of the future.”

In particular, the Expo served as a major demonstration of the Metabolist theme of “capsule” construction, i.e., the establishment of a frame or core which can be fitted with prefabricated, modular, detachable capsules, evolving in shape and design as the life cycles and needs of the building’s users change. These frame/capsule elements exhibited at the Expo include the Aerial Exhibition illustrating the “World of the Future” in the central Theme Pavilion, featuring capsules designed by various architects from both inside and outside of Japan, which were “plugged” into Tange’s “space frame” roof overhead of the Festival Plaza. These included “capsules for living” designed by Kurokawa Kishō and Kamiya Kōji, including ultramodern prefabricated kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom capsules; a plug-in model of a networked city (i.e., a city whose form is determined by information networks) designed by Fumihiko Maki; and architectural and urban design displays by European and American architects, featuring such key interlocutors for the Metabolist movement as Archigram (UK), Moshe Safdie (Canada), and Yona Friedman (Paris).

"The Expo served as a major demonstration of the Metabolist theme of capsule construction"

Scattered throughout the Expo site were more examples of frame/capsule architecture, including Kikutake’s Expo Tower, in which spherical polyhedron capsules used as viewing chambers were attached to a vertical space frame core, and arguably the most elegant of Expo buildings, Kurokawa’s Takara Beautilion, with a delicate pre-fabricated, modular, and expandable tubular lattice framing rounded-edge cubical capsules, employed as showrooms for Takara’s products for the beauty industry, with sumptuous interior spaces designed by Ekuan Kenji and his GK design firm. Due to the prefabrication of units, the Takara Beautilion was assembled in a mere seven days.

Elsewhere, the Metabolist biological metaphor of cellular growth, decay, and replacement was made explicit in a “Wall of Capsules” display in the Symbol Zone, curated by the Metabolist group, including photographs of cells and other biological forms, as well as a model of a foetus as a “capsule of life.” Meanwhile, the connection between the capsule form and the spacecraft, space station, or space suits as paradigmatic “capsules” of the Space Age was made clear by the inclusion of a model of an Intelstat communications satellite plugged into Tange’s “space frame” roof, as well as such forms as the “projector towers,” whose conical, visored capsule shapes evoked an astronaut’s space suit, protruding above the underground hall connected to Kurokawa’s Takara Beautilion.

Ultimately, in its atomised form, enclosure from the outside world, industrial fabrication or pre-fabrication, and capacity for “stacking” or “clustering,” the “capsule” as seen throughout the Expo environment could be seen as the logical extension of the thousands of condominium and apartment units for individuals and nuclear families being constructed nearby in Senri New Town. In retrospect, the Expo’s juxtaposition of ubiquitous form of “capsule” with a highly secularised and carefully managed space of “festival” seems to presage the dominant form of urban lifestyle of the post-high growth era, which was divided between highly atomised living spaces and the secular “festival” spaces of shopping centres and amusement parks.

"Expo 1970 Osaka’s Festival Plaza was designed with a minimum of permanent displays"


Expo 1970 Osaka as Cybercity

As mentioned earlier, Expo 1970 Osaka’s Festival Plaza was designed with a minimum of permanent displays. Rather, the space itself was designed as an “invisible monument” in which the exchanges of information between visitors to the Expo were to occur. While Tange Kenzō oversaw the design of the physical environment of Festival Plaza and its massive space frame roof, Isozaki Arata was placed in charge of designing the plaza’s event systems, in order to actualise communication in the form of stage events in the performance area of the plaza to the rear of the Tower of the Sun. Isozaki’s work was concentrated not on creating any permanent architectural features but rather on the establishment of an interactive “environment.”

Isozaki’s design featured moveable lighting suspended from trolleys mounted in Tange’s space frame roof, moveable stage and seating components, and two giant robots, nicknamed Deme and Deku, to assist with the staging. Deku was designed as a “sub-control station” or moving control tower for directing lights, sound, and photography; Deme, designed as a “performance robot,” was equipped to emit light, sound, smoke, and scents to contribute to stage performances. Deme’s anthropomorphic form included two arms for moving stage components, props, and even people, as well as two transparent spherical “eyes” that were actually control rooms for robot operators. While both robots included stations for human operators, they were also designed to respond automatically to environmental conditions on stage and among the crowd; the pattern of these responses, in the form of light and sound generated by the robots, was programmed in advance as a type of score. Isozaki argued that the stage devices for his Festival Plaza “liquified architecture, which had been solid and spatial, into something momentary, experiential, and temporal.”14

Similarly, Kurokawa Kishō argued that the extensive use of video and multiscreen environments throughout Expo 1970 Osaka’s pavilions transformed the Expo site into a “training center” preparing visitors for a new experience of the highly mediated, information-based city. Like Isozaki, he suggested that the solid physicality of architecture was already in a process of dematerialisation; for Kurokawa, physical architecture will enter a new state of “interpenetration” with intangible images and “spiritual” impulses. In an interview with architecture critic Martin Pawley, he explained:

I think architecture is destined to become a very metaphysical thing. You know today architecture is still fundamentally walls, floors and windows, but there is already an imaginable state of affairs where all these elements could become somehow simply images—there is going to be an interpenetration between very spiritual, very visual things and the physical world that we now work with. It is pointless to suggest that people will not understand this—they live with it already, information overload is the norm for urban man. What we must do is to learn to select and discriminate. I see the multiscreen, mixed media pavilion as a training center for just that.15

Kurokawa also conceived of the capsule, which was an architectural form that he promoted throughout the Expo, as a cybernetic “feedback mechanism” to help the occupant receive, filter, and transmit information. As he put it in his “Capsule Declaration,” “just as an astronaut is protected by a perfect shelter from solar winds and cosmic rays, individuals should be protected by capsules in which they can reject information they do not need and in which they are sheltered from information they do not want, thereby allowing an individual to recover his subjectivity and independence.”16 The traditional “sheltering” function of the home would thereby be applied to the new era in which physical and intangible forces interpenetrate. Furthermore, Kurokawa suggested that the information economy will pass through two stages: the first in which information is purchased monetarily by the individual consumer in a primarily unidirectional flow and the second being a multidirectional age of “creative information” in which specific information possessed by or created by the individual will be bartered in exchange for information from the outside. During this latter phase, a capsule that can “transmit, receive and feed back information at any time” will be of high value.17

Isozaki’s event systems presided over by the robots Deme and Deku, the cybernetic environment of the capsule as promoted by Kurokawa, and the pervasiveness of multiscreen and multimedia displays in the various individual pavilions, frequently controlled by computer systems, were some of the prominent elements contributing to the realisation of the Expo’s “city of the future” as a highly cybernetic, mediatised environment – which we might retroactively term a model or simulation of a “cybercity.” The Expo site infrastructure further included numerous applications of information technology that were promoted in the press and in official Expo publicity for their innovations. These included computer systems to track, compile, and display data on numbers and locations of Expo visitors, the flow of automobiles in parking lots, and information on missing children and lost articles; searchable visitor guide information terminals located throughout the grounds and pavilions; and extensive electronic communications systems and infrastructural support systems. Indeed, as explicated by Kawazoe Noboru, Tange and his collaborators conceived of the entire Expo site, with its various transportation and information subsystems, as a “giant physical environmental system” or “device” on “the scale of a city.”18

However, this collaborative technical and social vision also became the target of critics concerned about the development of the Japanese city along the technocratic and information-capitalist lines exposed by the Expo. For such critics, the Expo’s utopian “city of the future” was in fact an urban dystopia heralding a coming “managed society” distinguished by electronic surveillance and bureaucratic control – a “techno-structure,” in the words of art critic Haryū Ichirō, in which “information” itself became a fetish and the collusion of the State and corporate capital led to the repression of individual freedom and expression.19 For example, artist Yoshimura Masanobu (himself a collaborator on Isozaki’s plaza), in a piece for the Asahi newspaper, referred to the Festival Plaza as a “managed plaza” where authoritarian control and security took precedence over spontaneous human exchanges, while in the Mainichi newspaper, Yoshida Mitsukuni, a science historian, similarly described the Expo site as a space where visitors would be “constantly managed and monitored by computers and security guards, and hustled along.”20

Citing the example of security guards breaking up a spontaneous go-go line dance that formed in the Festival Plaza between regularly scheduled performances, Haryū Ichirō stated that “the plaza, which was supposed to liberate people from their everyday existence, has, on the contrary, become a symbol of Expo ’70: a plaza built by power and imposed on the spectators.”21 Summarising his critique of the Expo, Haryū wrote, “In terms of economics, Expo ’70 stands for the liberalization of capital, the reorganization and strengthening of industry in order to achieve economic domination over Asia; in terms of culture, under the banner of the information revolution, the Expo represents the merger of science and art and the use of technology in order to consolidate and manage ideology within the system.”22

Haryū also levelled an unsparing critique of Kurokawa Kishō’s vision of capsule living promoted at the Expo, in which consumers could freely choose and assemble their living spaces from a repertoire of prefabricated components. For Haryū, Kurokawa’s vision, “based on the premise that in an information society the alienation of industrial society will vanish and that harmony between technology and humanity will naturally prevail,” is delusional in that it “deliberately disregards how this stunning process of transformation and renewal is born not out of human desire, but provoked by the entreaties of capital.”23 In mass-producing components for living, different types of units would be manufactured to respond to different consumer desires. However, under this logic, Haryū warned, capital would be capable of manipulating and even manufacturing desire. “Computers will be capable of turning people’s desires into numbers to be calculated, and in doing so, strengthen the manipulation and domination of the masses.” Made-to-order production, he concludes, “does not necessarily bring individuality and collectivity into harmony. Rather, a situation emerges where individual desires are bypassed and wrapped in a false notion of the public, while capital supporting private enterprise monopolises individuality and freedom of expression. The information society that Kurokawa paints with rosy colours is transformed into a tightly controlled society based on a techno-structure.”24


“Managed” utopia and hidden apocalypse

Many of the visions of the future offered by the Expo pavilions were fundamentally utopian in nature, from the convenient ultra-modern lifestyles promoted by the Sanyo and Takara pavilions to the promise of technological advancement offered by the electronics and communications displays. The overall Expo site design offered a vision of the future city as a place of social management through a combination of spatial design and computerised systems that would monitor and manage the flow of people and promote carefully controlled interpersonal exchanges – a “science fiction” of the future city as a bureaucratically managed “information society.” However, even from within the displays and discourse generated by the Expo site planners and designers themselves, darker possibilities for the future could not be completely suppressed from the Expo site and its predominant vision of future “Progress and Harmony” through technological progress, urban planning, and technological management.

For example, perhaps the most iconic element of the Expo, Okamoto Tarō’s Tower of the Sun, included among its four sun faces an enigmatic “black sun” facing the rear of the Festival Plaza space. In one newspaper interview, Okamoto stated that the multiple faces of his Tower would “express anger at all the disharmony and contradictions in the world,” and that the “Black Sun” in particular would “glare at the ceremonial space for receiving the prime ministers of all nations.”25 Several commentators, including Sawaragi Noi and Bert Winther-Tamaki, have linked Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun, and particularly his “Black Sun,” with the theme of “nuclear dread” expressed more explicitly in his concurrent mural in Mexico City, “The Myth of Tomorrow” (completed 1968–1969), which was subtitled “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” and depicts skeletal figures in flames, as well as a representation of the Japanese sea trawler Lucky Dragon #5, which was irradiated by an American hydrogen bomb test in 1954.26

"The overall Expo site design offered a vision of the future city as a place of social management"

Elsewhere within the Expo’s Symbol Zone, Kawazoe Noboru, as sub-producer of the “World of the Future” aerial exhibition, tried to address concerns about the dystopian possibilities for mankind’s future through the inclusion of a “Wall of Contradictions,” which sought to draw attention to the possibility of both the “instantaneous destruction” of nuclear war, and the “gradual destruction” of environmental damage, as well as the lingering global “contradictions” of racial discrimination and other social ills through displays of photos and photo montages.

Similarly, in the article “From Expo to Pollution: A New Stage for Future Studies,” published soon after the closing of the Expo, Komatsu Sakyō warned of the potential destruction of modern civilisation by environmental imbalance and catastrophic climate change—a warning that the endless “progress” and development promised by the official Expo thematic program might not be sustainable:

If the “accumulation of heat and carbon gas” in the air and water resulting from the enormous energy consumption of our giant industrial society reaches a certain level, then the “thermal balance” of the atmosphere and oceans will naturally collapse. If this happens, the polar ice might melt and cause a great advance of the oceans, or cloud cover might increase, causing a “man-made ice age.” This is not simply a science fiction fantasy. [...] In the near future—probably, nearer than we expect—our civilization may have to live much more modestly—more from the restrictions of “environmental balance” than from the [limitations] of natural resources. I have my doubts, however, about whether our hypertrophied “industrial civilization” can learn to “behave modestly” before it is visited with destruction.27

However, as Komatsu’s article bitterly notes, elements of critique and warning regarding the “Progress and Harmony of Mankind” in the Expo were actively suppressed by government officials. Most conspicuously, the Symbol Zone producers were compelled to remove from the “Wall of Contradictions” graphic documentary photographs of corpses and keloid scars of Hiroshima victims, intended to illustrate the horror of nuclear warfare, leaving a less gruesome, but still apocalyptic photomontage of mushroom clouds and urban destruction in its place.

It is fascinating to observe in the statements above a shared critical vocabulary employed by three of the principal collaborators on Expo 1970’s Symbol Zone, through such key words as “disharmony,” “contradictions,” and “destruction.” Both Okamoto and Kawazoe attempted to highlight contemporary society’s “disharmony” and “contradictions” amid the prevailing utopian atmosphere of the Expo, while Kawazoe and Komatsu even raised the spectre of an apocalyptic environmental “destruction” alongside the omnipresent threat of nuclear Armageddon – a spectre of environmental disaster that, as articulated by Komatsu, could be visited on “industrial civilization” as a result of the disruption of the “thermal balance” of the atmosphere and oceans. These remarks highlight a shared critical consciousness underlying the articulation of the official Expo theme of “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” and show the degree to which the Expo was not only a physical meeting point for a network of artists, architects, writers, and academics, but the scene of intellectual exchange and contention as well.


This article was first published in the 2021-22 edition of the BIE Bulletin entitled "World Expos: Architectural Labs" and is an adaptation by the author of portions of William O. Gardner, 'The Metabolist Imagination: Visions of the City in Postwar Japanese Architecture and Science Fiction', Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020.



1. Nishiyama, U., “Bankokuhaku kaijō keikaku: chōsa kara kikaku e” [The Expo Site Plan: From Survey to Design] Kenchiku zasshi 85.1021 (March 1970), 197.
2. Komatsu, S., “Bankokuhaku wa mō hajimatte iru” [The Expo Has Already Begun], in Bankokuhaku shiryō [Expo Documents], ed. A. A. P. (Osaka: A.A.P., 1966), 61, 64-65.
3. My translation of the Japanese version of the sub-themes, as listed in Nihon bankoku hakurankai kōshiki kiroku, vol 1. [Official Records of the Japan Expo, vol 1] (Osaka: Nihon Bankoku Hakurankai Kinen Kyōkai, 1972), 62.
4. My translation and summary of the Japanese version of the theme statement. “Nihon bankokuhaku no kihon rinen to têma” [Fundamental Principles and Themes of the Japan Expo] in Nihon bankoku hakurankai kōshiki kiroku, vol 1. [Official Records of the Japan Expo, vol 1], Osaka: Nihon Bankoku Hakurankai Kinen Kyōkai, 1972, 57.
5. Komatsu, S., “Nippon - 70 nendai zenya” [Japan – on the eve of the 1970’s], Bungei shunjū. February 1971, 261.
6. Kawazoe, N., “Bankokuhaku no bijon” [The Vision of the Expo], in Kawazoe Noboru hyōronshū vol. 2, Tokyo: Sangyō Nōritsu Tanki Daigaku Shuppanbu, 1976, 201.
7. Nishiyama, U., “Bankokuhaku kaijō keikaku: chōsa kara kikaku e,” 197.
8. Ibid., 197-98.
9. Cho, H., “Expo ’70: The Model City of an Information Society.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society (23), December 2011, 61.
10. Tange K., with Kawazoe, N., “Nihon bankokuhakurankai no motarasu mono” [What the Japan World Exposition will bring], Shinkenchiku, May 1970, 147.
11. Tange, K., “Bankokuhaku kaijō keikaku: kikaku kara keikaku e” [The expo site plan: from project to plan], Kenchiku zasshi 85.1021, March 1970, 203.
12. Quoted in Yoshimi., S., Banpaku gensō: sengo seiji no jubaku [Expo illusion: the spell of postwar politics], Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2005, p. 58.
13. On the Expo media environments, see Kawazoe, N., “Bankokuhaku to kenchiku” [The Expo and architecture], in Nihon bankokuhaku: kenchiku, zôkei, ed. Okamoto T., and Tange, K., Tokyo: Kôbunsha, 1971, 209–12; “Bankokuhaku wa kankaku no kakumei” [The Expo is a Revolution of the Senses] in Kawazoe Noboru hyōronshū, vol. 2, 203–207; Pawley, M., “Architecture Versus the Movies, or, Form Versus Content,” Architectural Design 40.482 (June 1970), 288–309; and Furuhata, Y., “Multimedia Environments and Security Operations: Expo ’70 as a Laboratory of Governance” Grey Room (54), Winter 2014, 56-79.
14. Mori Bijutsukan, Metaborizumu no mirai toshi [The future city of Metabolism], 192–93.
15. Pawley, “Architecture versus the Movies,” 290.
16. Kurokawa, K., Metabolism in Architecture, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977, 82.
17. Ibid., 83.
18. Kawazoe, “Bankokuhaku no kenchiku” [The expo and architecture], 209.
19. Haryū, I., “Expo ’70 as the Ruins of Culture,” Review of Japanese Culture and Society (23), December 2011, 51.
20. Yoshimura, M., “Omatsuri hiroba ka kanri hiroba ka: kanryōteki henshitsu no gisei” [Festival Plaza or managed plaza? The sacrifices of bureaucratization], Asahi Shinbun, August 11, 1970, quoted in Cho, “Expo ’70,” 66; Yoshida, M., “Senri o fututabi midori ni” [Making Senri green again], Mainichi Shinbun, September 13, 1970, quoted in Funakoshi, M., “Nihon bankoku hakurankai: ‘Seiji no kisetsu’ to ‘keizai no kisetsu’ no hazama de.” in Banpaku kaifû: taimu kapuseru Expo ’70 to Ôsaka banpaku, Osaka: Ôsaka Shiritsu Hakubutsukan, 2000, 15.
21. Haryū, “Expo ’70 as the Ruins of Culture”, 1970, 48–49.
22. Ibid., 46.
23. Ibid., 51.
24. Ibid., 51.
25. Winter-Tamaki, B., “To Put on a Big Face: The Globalist Stance of Okamoto Tarō’s Tower of the Sun for the World Japan Exhibition.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society (23) December 2011, 96.
26. See Winter-Tamaki, 91–98; Sawaragi, N., Kuroi taiyō to akai kani: Okamoto Tarō no Nihon [Black sun and red crab: Okamoto Tarō’s Japan], Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 2003, 237–248.
27. Komatsu, S., “Banpaku kara kōgai e: Miraigaku no atarashii dankai” [From Expo to pollution: a new stage for future studies], Jiyū (December 1970), 50.

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