Photo/IllutrationAn artist's rendition of the venue for the World Expo in Osaka in 2025 (Provided by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)

Japan has won the bid to host the World Expo in Osaka in 2025.

People in relevant circles are basking in a festive mood. That said, many challenges and deep-rooted concerns are there to be addressed.

The coming event will be the third large-scale world fair to be held in Japan, following the Osaka Expo of 1970 and the one in Aichi Prefecture in 2005. The state of things in Japan, in the meantime, has undergone a major shift from a phase of rapid economic growth to that of depopulation and aging.

The expo will be held on the man-made island of Yumeshima, which is under development in the Osaka Bay area.

Reclamation work started there in the second half of the 1970s. A plan for development, however, was mothballed following the collapse of the asset-inflated economic growth of the late 1980s. There was subsequently a plan for using the island as part of Osaka’s bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, which, however, ended up unsuccessful.

Officials plan to invest more than 120 billion yen ($1.06 billion) in developing the expo venue on Yumeshima, which represents a “negative legacy” of bygone decades. They also expect to be spending more than 70 billion yen on related projects, including the extension of a metro line and the widening of bridges.

The Osaka prefectural and city governments are expected to bear no small part of those expenditures, even though support is also coming from the central government and business circles. On top of all that will be operating expenses, which are expected to be covered by admission fees.

The public administrative bodies should ensure none of those burdens will end up taking a toll on residents.

Worryingly enough, officials are emphasizing the economic ripple effects of the World Expo, although its philosophy and the specifics of its plan remain anything but clear.

“Designing Future Society for Our Lives” is the stated theme of the second Osaka Expo. The slogan, officials explain, is about drawing on the wisdom of life sciences that the business and academic circles of the Kansai region have accumulated and about sending out messages on solutions to social issues from Japan, a country facing low birthrates and a rapidly aging population.

That said, what the theme is really about remains as blurry as ever.

The campaign for hosting the World Expo took off in 2014, when Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka at the time, and Ichiro Matsui, governor of Osaka Prefecture, released the idea as a prospective catalyst for revitalizing the local economy. Both were leaders of the Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a local political party.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which values ties with Osaka Ishin, decided to go along with the plan, partly also hoping that the expo will help continue shoring up Japan’s economy in the wake of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Abe Cabinet approved the plan in April last year.

That hastiness comes in stark contrast to what was the case with the campaign for hosting the Aichi Expo, which it took seven years to proceed from the stage of consensus by local communities to Cabinet approval.

The World Expo plan, in which economic concerns are coming to the fore, is bundled as one with a separate plan for building an “integrated resort,” which would include a casino.

The Osaka prefectural and city governments are hoping to host an integrated resort on a plot of land on Yumeshima next to the World Expo venue. The metro line and other transportation links to Yumeshima, which will be built in preparation for the World Expo, are not expected to be used by many passengers unless there will be an integrated resort.

A plan even calls for having a casino operator bear part of the costs for building the metro line.

Building a casino could increase the number of gambling addicts. Some have pointed out that may go against the ideals of the World Expo, which touts “lives” and “health” in its theme statement.

The prefectural and city governments of Osaka, along with the central government, have the responsibility to squarely face up to various questions and concerns, provide ample explanations and come up with persuasive answers.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 25