Osaka Expo Fails to Excite with Year Left before Opening; Ticket Sales Limping Along

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Construction on the Grand Roof and Expo pavilions is seen in Konohana Ward, Osaka, on April 8.

OSAKA ― With one year to go before the opening of the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo, there is little excitement around the event and ticket sales have been sluggish. There has also been criticism over delays in construction and ballooning costs, making it difficult to build momentum.

At a press conference on Tuesday held by the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, reporters asked such questions as “How is construction of the Expo venues progressing?” and “Have you won taxpayers’ understanding about the growing costs?”

The press conference was originally intended to promote the roughly 220 events that are to take place during the Expo. However, most questions expressed concern about the Expo’s opening.

A senior official of the association stressed that the press conference was “a good opportunity to get people to understand that things are progressing.” Nonetheless, the difficulties plaguing the Expo had surfaced again.

Cost projections for building were raised to \235 billion in November, up 90% from the original estimate made when Osaka was selected to host the event. The association explained that the increase was due to high inflation.

Now just the Grand Roof, which is a symbol of the Expo site, is to cost \34.4 billion to build, and it has been criticized as “the world’s most expensive parasol.”

The percentage of those who said they would like to go to the Expo fell to 33.8% in December from 41.2% a year earlier, according to a survey conducted by the Osaka prefectural and city governments. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, the figure dropped as low as 19.5%.

The lack of excitement has also cast a shadow over ticket sales. The association expects 28.2 million visitors during the six-month period and plans to sell 14 million tickets from late November last year to the Expo opening.

As of April 10, however, only about 1.3 million tickets had been sold. In about a quarter of the sales period, only 9% of the sales target was hit.

The business community is not pleased. More than 80% of the Expo’s operating expenses, or \96.9 billion, are to be covered by ticket sales. If sales remain sluggish, the Expo may fall into the red, and the business community is likely to have to make up part of the shortfall.

As yet, there are no plans for any eye-catching display at the Expo, such as the moon rock that was displayed at the 1970 Osaka Expo or the mammoth specimen at the 2005 Aichi Expo.

“The Expo already has a poor reputation. Work won’t be completed in time unless something is done soon,” said a senior official of the Kansai Economic Federation.

Partly due to pressure from the business community, the association has begun to act. From this month, it is increasing its number of staff to about 770, up 20% from last year.

Its promotional bureau has also received staff from companies, and the association is even considering use of well-known influencers.

The association will also review how it sells tickets. At present, tickets are generally only sold online. But after criticism that this prevented the elderly from buying tickets, the association is considering selling tickets at convenience stores as well as paper tickets.

“The lack of momentum has much to do with the association’s failure to respond candidly to criticism,” said Hiroshi Nakanishi, a professor of international politics at Kyoto University and an expert on the history of world expos. “The association needs to face harsh opinions as well, and seek understanding of the event’s importance.”