The city of Osaka has an abundance of waterfront spaces. Image credit: Osaka City Government
Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai is a key national project that will make its grand opening on 13 April 2025. As many as 150 countries and international organisations are expected to participate, and it is projected that over 20 million visitors will attend the event. This occasion will surely grant riveting opportunities for Osaka as the host city. As Mayor of Osaka at the time of writing, I would like here to convey the story of Osaka’s journey over time, its preparations as the host of the next World Expo, and its ongoing development in the future legacy.
From ancient times, Osaka possessed a naturally fine, developed harbour called Naniwazu. Early into the 6th century, Osaka became a vital trade base with China and the Korean peninsula, which allowed it to flourish as an international city. From the Middle Ages and onward, shipping routes connecting Osaka and other major domestic cities were established, and an efficient water transportation network was developed, making optimal use of the countless rivers flowing into the port.
These prompt developments led Osaka to become a centre of commerce that handled the shipment of various goods from all over Japan, which ultimately made it recognised as the aqua metropolis. When referring to some of the world’s most renowned global water cities, we imagine places like Amsterdam, Venice, and Bangkok. Osaka can be included in this remarkable class of global water cities because it has a city centre that is affluently surrounded by rivers and has 10 per cent of its surface covered by water.
Thus, Osaka, which has developed through water transportation since its origins, has an abundance of waterfront spaces and is blessed with historical aspects, traditional performing arts, and a rich culinary culture, making it one of Japan's leading international tourist cities that retains strong tourism potential.
In addition, Osaka, which has long been home to a diverse range of people and goods, has developed a variety of industries, including wholesale and retail trade. Doshomachi, located in the centre of the city, has developed as a “town of medicine” with medicine wholesalers being present for several hundred years, and is known as the birthplace of the oldest pharmaceutical company in Japan. As a burgeoning commercial city, the people of Osaka have devoted great energy in applying their enterprising mindset, bringing about innovative developments such as the world's first futures trading market, instant ramen that altered the world's food culture scene; as well as producing many new social systems, industries, and products.
The year 1970 marked the tenure of Asia’s very first World Expo, which was hosted in Osaka, Japan. This Expo marvelled visitors from home and abroad with its innovative vision of a materially prosperous future driven by the advancement of science and technology. The momentum fostered by the Expo perfectly merged with the realism of that time, where substantial capital investments for manufacturing and other related industries began to take precedence; and subsequently contributed to the acceleration of Osaka’s economic growth.
Presently, Osaka has a large economy with a dedicated cluster of pharmaceutical-related industries, including global pharmaceutical companies, medical device industries, as well as support from other manufacturing industries that specialise in chemicals, machinery and metals.
"Osaka can be considered as a global water city"
With Osaka having grown through water transportation, it can be said that the development of a city is dependent on the flow of people and goods. In particular, people-to-people exchanges that go beyond national borders greatly expand the world economy by boosting trade and investment, while also inducing the encounter of diverse values and knowledge, which, when synergised, leads to the creation of innovation and increased productivity. Likewise, it promotes the birth of and fosters the progression of new industries and cultures, ultimately enhancing the city itself. In order for cities to truly grow in this way, having people-to-people exchanges amongst countries is absolutely essential. In these last few years, we have experienced the noticeable impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in the long run, globalisation will continue to progress.
Japan is known around the world as a country with one of the highest average life expectancy rates as well as with one of the most rapidly ageing populations. It is certain that in the future, various countries all over the globe will encounter challenges relating to such demographic change. In light of the substantial increase of ageing populations and the expansive diversification of people’s values, this can no longer be limited to simply raising the needs of maintaining health, but rather refreshing our intellectual approach on “how to live.”
Moreover, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to realise the vision of humankind to prosper and live safely on this planet, will become even more of a priority moving forward. The ongoing spread of Covid-19, poverty, conflict, and other issues facing the world will additionally likely accelerate these trends. Taking this into account, as well as the abrupt changes of societal needs, Osaka has set forth an urban strategy to transform its industrial structure by focusing on strengthening its ability to attract visitors from near and afar, and creating a global cluster of health and medical-related industries.
Presently, inbound tourism has temporary declined due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we believe that people-to-people exchanges and tourism needs on the global scale will eventually increase in the mid-to-long term; with the expectation of a strong increase in exchanges with Asia, with which Osaka already retains geopolitical and historical ties. We also believe that not only will the health and medical-related industries continue to expand, but that these industries are less prone to economic fluctuations and the subsequent aftereffect they have on other industries.
In accordance with our urban strategies, we are assertively carrying out urban development measures that can contribute to bolstering visitor attractions and supporting the growth of the health and medical industries. In turn, the hosting of World Expo 2025 embodies a further extension of these ongoing strategies.
Having developed through its water transportation, Osaka has been engaged in the reclamation of its waterfront area since ancient times. Particularly, in the modern era, reclamation work was earnestly pursued, and by the time of the Industrial Revolution, approximately 30 per cent of the city's area had been reclaimed. From 1958, the city began developing artificial islands off the coast of Osaka Bay, and has so far created three artificial islands: Sakishima, Maishima, and Yumeshima.
Since these reclaimed lands can be used for large-scale urban development, it is easy to deploy leading urban functions and introduce urban policies. Already, there is an accumulation of R&D functions that contribute to the development of cutting-edge technologies in areas such as the environment, new clean energy, medical care, and nursing care, where growth expectations are high. These parts of Osaka attract numerous visitors, and host large-scale facilities such as a cruise ship terminal and Universal Studios Japan. In terms of transportation, while there is an extensive expressway network from the city centre and access to Kansai International Airport, accessibility by public transportation remains inconvenient and poses a challenge.
Yumeshima, the site for World Expo 2025, is a 390-hectare artificial island located 10km west of downtown Osaka. Reclamation work began in 1991 as a waste disposal site to preserve a favourable urban environment, prevent pollution, and enhance the functions of the Port of Osaka. Except for a portion used as a logistics container terminal, the land has not yet been fully developed.
In the early 2000s, before the site was selected as a candidate site for the Expo, the land reclamation project was promoted with the aim of creating a concentration of business and commercial facilities and a large-scale residential zone suitable as the core of urban development, while also keeping the 2008 Olympics bid in mind. Subsequently, in the preceding development area (approximately 140 hectares), we have been working to revitalise the economy and industry by strengthening the international competitiveness of the port, and to create a logistics and industrial zone that will be a receptacle for large-scale distribution facilities and high-value-added manufacturing industries. This has been done by reorganising the container wharves of the entire Port of Osaka. The construction plan for residential buildings at the future development zone spanning 250 hectares being abandoned, we instead decided to proceed with demand-driven development by accurately grasping changes in the future socioeconomic environment and assessing medium- and long-term demand.
"The city development concept for Osaka calls for Yumeshima to be developed in three phases and to become a global tourism hub"
Even before the decision was made to host the Expo, the Osaka Prefectural and City governments and the local business community had been engaged in discussions, and in 2017 they formulated a “city development concept” based on Osaka's urban strategy and the characteristics of the waterfront area. The concept calls for Yumeshima to be developed in three phases and to become a global tourism hub through the concentration of various world-class entertainment functions, the formation of a highly competent MICE centre, and the promotion of accommodation that enhances the quality of life, as well as the development of an accessible rail connection.
Since then, the establishment of an all-Japan promotion system and growing momentum from the local community to host the Expo in Japan, combined with the advocacy of the Expo project starting in 2014, culminated in the November 2018 election of Japan by BIE Member States to host World Expo 2025. As the Expo will be held during the second and third phases of development, it will serve as the catalyst for ideally realising this Urban Development Concept.
In today's world, people's values and ways of life are becoming increasingly diverse in the face of new social issues such as growing inequality and conflict, advanced scientific and technological developments including AI and biotechnology, as well as their resulting impact on life expectancy trends.
In this context, the theme of the Expo is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” The Expo will promote co-creation by the international community of a sustainable society that supports such a way of life by asking ourselves what a happy life means to us. I believe that by addressing the universal theme of "life" and rethinking how each of us should live our lives, we will be able to take on the challenge of solving the issues facing our maturing world.
In addition, the venue of Expo 2025 will be showcased as the “People’s Living Lab,” where challenges that contribute to the achievement of the SDGs will be taken on, demonstrating new technologies and systems from various fields, including health, medicine, and carbon neutrality. Visitors will have the opportunity to directly experience world-class intellect at the beautiful waterside spaces of this artificial island where the Expo will be held, and also learn how to change their behaviour in order to achieve a physically and mentally fulfilling life.
"A 2km-long ring-shaped main line of flow will provide access to all pavilions"
The Expo’s 155-hectare site includes a lively area with pavilions and other facilities; an open space with an outdoor event plaza that can accommodate a large number of people; and an area for relaxation that utilises the water landscape and will be used as a stage for water-based events. The area with pavilions and other facilities, the centrepiece of the project, will have a 2km-long ring-shaped main line of flow that provides access to all pavilions, as well as large and small plazas and a “Forest of Tranquillity” with a high density of trees. A large wooden roof will be built above the main traffic line, which will be one of the largest wooden structures in the world, with a building area of approximately 60,000m² and a height of 12 metres. We believe that this will become a symbol of the Expo site. The area under the roof will serve as the main traffic route for moving around the venue, and simultaneously, it will provide a comfortable space for visitors to stay sheltered from the wind, rain, and sun. From the rooftop, the entire venue can be viewed from various locations, those looking outwards will be able to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the sea and the sky.
There are three main ways to reach the venue: by train, by shuttle bus from major stations, and by car. The subway line directly connecting the centre of Osaka to the venue is currently under construction, which will make it possible to access the site in approximately 20 minutes from the centre of Osaka and in 70 minutes from Kansai International Airport. As for access by shuttle buses and automobiles, a parking lot and bus terminal for people with disabilities will be provided adjacent to the venue, while for general visitors using private cars, sufficient off-site parking will be provided within approximately 15km of the venue, and shuttle buses will be provided from the parking lots to the venue. This park-and-ride system is aimed at reducing traffic congestion around the site. We are also planning to build a multilingual MaaS application that will allow visitors to make reservations and pre-pay for access, as well as to use automated shuttle buses, and "flying cars" that are set to connect the venue with locations such as Kansai International Airport. Furthermore, we are planning to provide services that incorporates the use of advanced technologies for visitor access.
In preparation for the World Expo, Osaka is currently concentrating on the construction of lifeline infrastructure such as water and sewage systems on Yumeshima; the extension of subway lines and new stations to provide access to the site; the widening of roads and bridges around the site; and the construction of multi-level intersections at major intersections. In the city centre, which is far from the venue, efforts are also being made to redevelop plazas and underground shopping centres where an increase in the number of visitors is expected. In addition, for the private sector, many redevelopment projects are also underway, including with large-scale hotels and commercial facilities, and the city as a whole is proactively building up and bracing for the excitement of holding the Expo. These urban developments will continue to support and complement urban activities post-Expo; which will greatly enhance the potential of the waterfront area in particular, and will serve as a legacy to promote Osaka's goal of transforming Yumeshima into a global tourism hub.
The legacy of the Expo will not, however, be based on these urban infrastructures alone. The questions surrounding the meaning of “living” is a universal theme that confronts all people at some point in their lives. It is deeply meaningful for Osaka, a city that has proceeded other global cities in terms of ageing society, to convey the theme of “life” at the Expo. Concurrently, it will bestow a special occasion for Osaka to broadly promote its urban strategies and make further progressions as a city. For instance, the theme of the Osaka pavilion is “Reborn,” which emphasises the aim to improve the quality of life so that people can lead healthy and active lifestyles, both physically and mentally. This contributes to extending healthier life expectancies in which individuals can feel “10 years younger.”
"The city as a whole is proactively building up and bracing for the excitement of holding the Expo"
This desire for physical and mental wellness will stimulate future social needs and promote Osaka's urban strategy of creating a global cluster of health and medical-related industries, dating back to World Expo 1970.
In that regard, the very ideals and principles of Expo 2025 and the tenure of the event fulfils an important intangible soft legacy for Osaka. The vision of the Expo will be carried forward in Osaka's future urban management, as exemplified by the development of Yumeshima, including the former Expo site, which I will discuss next.
In addition to the prior intangible legacy of behavioural change based on the keyword of "life," we believe that carbon neutrality will be another intangible legacy of Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai. Currently, Japan is aiming to become a carbon neutral, decarbonised society by 2050, as well as to transition towards a circular economy. Based on the results of the 2019 G20 Summit, held here in Osaka, we are working collectively to spread and expand cutting-edge environmental innovations through public-private partnerships towards the realisation of a decarbonised society, “Zero Carbon Osaka,” by 2050. In April 2022, the Expo Organiser - the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition - formulated the revised Expo 2025 Green Vision, which sets out the direction to be taken with regard to decarbonisation and resource recycling. The vision aims to achieve carbon neutrality through the implementation of various measures from the perspectives of energy, venue development, operations, and visitors.
Allow me to elaborate on an example involving the use of timber for Expo venue-related construction. The World Expo is a temporary event, and as a general rule, facilities including pavilions are expected to be dismantled. However, all equipment and machinery that can be reused will be allocated to businesses and organisations that are capable of reusing this, and for those that cannot be reused, the materials will be recycled. As mentioned above, the Expo site will have the “Grand Roof (Ring),” designed by the venue design producer and architect, Sosuke Fujimoto. This will be the symbol of Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai, representing the principle of "Unity in Diversity.” The structure will be made of timber, a renewable resource, and will be constructed using the traditional Japanese nuki method of construction, in which a stake is passed between each pillar without the use of metal fixtures.
This is similar to the structure that supports the Kiyomizu-no-butai (stage) of Kiyomizu Temple, one of the most famous temples and shrines in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years and a World Heritage Site. Kiyomizu-no-butai is a mesmerising architectural feat that was achieved approximately 1,000 years ago by combining zelkova pillars to make a section of the temple’s main hall to partially protrude into the cliff at a height of approximately 18 metres, and to this day it is still widely visited by many tourists. By adopting this approach, the possibility of reusing components will increase, and the building will become a symbol of recycling. Based on these prior efforts, there is anticipation that whatever needs to be dismantled and discarded can be adequately reused in various locations, which can help define a new tangible legacy.
"Founded on the basis of transmitting the Expo’s principles, the development of Yumeshima is intended to promote global human interaction"
After Expo 2025, the development of Yumeshima, including the site of the Expo, will be carried out in three phases using private capital. The first phase of development, concerning areas other than the Expo facilities, will focus on the accumulation of international entertainment-centered facilities. The former Expo site will be the focal point of the second and third phases of development, and while ensuring continuity with the first phase of development, we plan to introduce information transmission functions that will allow visitors to easily experience cutting-edge technologies and future medicine related to the health and medical industries, as well as high-quality, long-term stay resort functions.
Specifically, the project will provide an array of entertainment functions that can only be experienced on Yumeshima, a resort space that is detached from daily lifestyles, with the establishment of internationally competitive MICE facilities accommodating the convenience sought by visitors, and an environment fostering industrial growth. In addition, through cutting-edge smart technology and area management, the entire town will be linked to create a space that achieves “safety and security,” “convenient services,” and “environmental coexistence.”
Founded on the basis of transmitting the Expo’s principles, the development of Yumeshima is intended to promote global human interaction and the resulting integration of knowledge and culture, as well as to improve the quality of life of visitors by providing extraordinary recreational opportunities. As the world shifts from a growing society, in which the entire country strives for quantitative expansion, to a mature society, in which individuals aim to improve the quality of their lives according to their own values, we believe that the development of Yumeshima will fully meet the needs of society in the near future. The theme of “life” that continues to promote the Expo will be carried over to the development of Yumeshima, the leading project in Osaka's urban strategy.
After Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai, its intangible legacy will thrive, and will be inherited by the ongoing urban strategies. With this mindset, the Expo will represent the touchstone that determines Osaka’s imminent growth, and as the host city, we will exert our utmost efforts to organise a wondrous event that will connect to the future. We sincerely look forward to everyone’s participation. Once again, this will be a glorious occurrence for us to discover anew the factors that can significantly influence our way of living. In 2025, let’s all meet up in Osaka.
This article features in the 2023 edition of the BIE Bulletin entitled "Expos and territories: anticipating the post-Expo transition".