Why Visitors Aren’t Flocking to the Osaka 2025 Expo

Why Visitors Aren’t Flocking to the Osaka 2025 Expo

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Osaka Expo 2025
Picture: EXPO 2025 Official Web site
Costs for Osaka Expo 2025 keep rising - but the ticket sales needed to cover them aren't happening. Will taxpayers be stuck with the bill?

Anticipation was high for the 2025 Osaka Expo, slated to run from April 13 to October 13, 2025 for 184 days. But contrary to the upbeat forecasts, the reality isn’t looking so rosy. Between construction setbacks, countries pulling out, and budget blowouts, a fresh hurdle has emerged – public interest is waning. With all the controversies surrounding the event, ticket sales are suffering.

Sales hitting rock bottom

Osaka and cherry blossoms
Picture: TOMOYA / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Exactly one year before the grand opening of the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo, on April 13th, the Expo Association came clean about its sales struggles. They had launched pre-sales way back in November 2023, precisely 500 days ahead of the big day, with ambitious targets: 23 million tickets in total, half for the business community and half for the public.

However, interest dwindled from both sides. That’s left a mountain of tickets still up for grabs.

Companies throughout Kansai didn’t uphold their commitments, resulting in approximately 4 million unsold tickets. Visitor contributions, comprising less than 6% of the total, aren’t improving the situation.

This spells trouble for everyone involved in the project. Why? Well, the Expo relies heavily on ticket revenue to cover its expenses – a staggering 60% of pre-sales, equivalent to about 28.2 million visitors, are necessary to maintain financial stability. Falling short is a surefire recipe for financial disaster.

While Osaka Prefecture Governor Yoshimura may have put on a positive front on NTV, public sentiment tells a different story.

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According to NHK, as of April 2024, only 7% of respondents expressed high interest in the event. A significant 35% admitted to being uninterested, with 27% showing no interest. Despite nationwide PR efforts, the waning enthusiasm is not without reason. Increasing disillusionment with the Expo stems from a series of controversies, with three major issues resonating strongly with public opinion.

The clock is ticking

With the opening date approaching, construction at Yumesima in Osaka’s Konohana Ward is in high gear. The Grand Roof Ring, representing unity at the venue, is currently 80% complete. But it appears that the most anticipated aspect of the exhibition isn’t quite keeping up.

With 161 countries and regions originally lined up for the EXPO, foreign pavilions are undoubtedly a major draw. Initially, 56 countries planned to craft their own unique designs, labeled as “Type A.” However, the count has dwindled to 48. Out of these, only 36 countries have picked their construction teams, and a mere 14 have started building. The rest are stuck in limbo, grappling with soaring material and labor costs, which have stalled negotiations and slowed progress. These delays aren’t just inconvenient — they’re a real threat to the entire event’s success.

“The overseas pavilions are meant to steal the spotlight at the Expo. If their designs stay up in the air, it’s no wonder ticket sales might lag,” shared a political reporter in an interview with FLASH.

As delays and financial woes persist, countries are dropping out of the event. Mexico and Estonia bowed out in November due to money troubles, and Russia followed suit. The fear of a chain reaction is real, and if it happens, it could be the final blow to the Expo’s success.

At all costs (literally)

Osaka, Japan
Picture: genki / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

No matter how frustrated people get over the constant planning delays, that’s not the main reason they’re giving the Expo a pass. The core concern lies in the escalating costs of construction and development.

Venue construction costs have skyrocketed, doubling from an initial estimate of ¥1.25 trillion during the bidding stage. By the end of 2020, the government had already upped the ante to ¥1.85 trillion, covering design alterations for the main roof (ring) and heat countermeasures.

Despite Governor Yoshimura’s pledge to cap the costs, last autumn saw another spike due to soaring material and labor expenses. Only this time, the bill reached ¥2.35 trillion — a far cry from where it all began.

In addition, costs for the Japanese Pavilion and other facilities are tabulated separately from venue construction, totaling around ¥837 billion. Operating expenses are also distinct, potentially exceeding the anticipated amount by over 40%, reaching ¥1.16 trillion. And Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu admitted last November that future increases might be on the horizon.

Costs are divided evenly among the government, Osaka Prefecture, Osaka City, and the business community. However, the government shoulders the entire burden for the Japan Pavilion and some other expenses. And where does this money come from? Mostly from people’s taxes. It’s no wonder that people are feeling outraged.

All’s well…until it’s over

Artist's rendition of Expo Ring in Osaka
An artist’s rendition of the finished wooden ring at the Osaka Expo.

The parallels to the Tokyo Olympics two years ago are hard to ignore. But what sets the 2025 Expo apart, making it even more controversial, is one key detail: while Olympic facilities like the new National Stadium were built for future use, all Expo buildings are slated for irreversible demolition post-event.

Consider the grand symbol of the venue, the magnificent wooden Ring. This colossal circular roof, towering between 12 to 20 meters, is on track to become the world’s largest wooden structure. According to the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, it embodies the Expo’s theme of “diversity in unity.” With no expense spared, its construction budget has soared to 35 billion yen. Yet, the structure, with all its profound meaning, will be lost as the event concludes, its empty interior holding no value elsewhere.

Responding to fierce public criticism questioning the need for such an expensive structure, Tokura Masakazu, head of the Expo Association, stood firm on its necessity. During a cabinet meeting on April 8th, Minister of State for the Expo Jimi Hanako echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the Ring’s function as a “sunshade in summer.” However, this argument only fueled more debate.

https://twitter.com/111meenya/status/1761752197120004402
“The towering Tokyo Skytree. Construction cost: 400 billion yen. It’s indispensable as a radio tower, crucial for the capital’s radio infrastructure for the next century. And then there’s the wooden ring for the Osaka Expo. Construction cost: 350 billion yen. Almost on par with the Tokyo Skytree, yet it’ll be torn down in just six months—all for the sake of shade!,” remarked an user on X.

Others voiced even greater discontent, especially considering that areas struck by the Noto Peninsula earthquake are still grappling with its aftermath.

https://twitter.com/kikko_no_blog/status/1778735101159096665 
“Even three months after the disaster, around 8,000 households in the prefecture are still without water, struggling with basic necessities like toilets and laundry. Meanwhile, Governor Hase Hiroshi, a former member of the Abe faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, has allocated 10 million yen of prefectural taxes to the Osaka Expo,” shared another X user.

Success: A question mark?

These concerns strike a chord with the public. In a recent poll by Kyodo News, around 70% of respondents deemed the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo unnecessary—a figure reminiscent of the opposition to the Tokyo Olympics. It appears both events may share a similar fate: public dissent falling on deaf ears as the show goes on.

As discontent mounts, the public is finding avenues to voice their concerns to decision-makers the “Cancel it, it’s fine” campaign is gaining momentum, with over 130,000 online signatures on Change.org. Meanwhile, the organizers of the “What Will We Do for Osaka’s Future Network” plan to deliver both handwritten and online signatures to the Expo Association.

Amidst all this, Governor Yoshimura remains resolute in his determination to push forward with the event, ruling out any possibility of cancellation. Well, the 2025 Expo might eventually become a reality. How will it fare in the face of public dissent and financial woes is a different story altogether.

Sources

大阪・関西万博まで1年 会場建設・運営準備はどこまで? NHK

大阪万博、あと1年なのにチケット販売6%、海外パビリオンは建設者決まらず…吉村知事「やりきります」強弁に高まる不安 Yahoo News Japan

開幕まで500日 大阪・関西万博が抱える「3つの課題」 Sankei Shimbun

「大阪万博、中止でええやん」署名続々 五輪や万博ってやめられないの?歯止めが利かない裏側にあるものとは 東京新聞

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