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Volume 21, Number 4July/August 1970

In This Issue

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Expo East

Fun, Fantasy and Futurism

OSAKA.—In a word. Expo '70 is a frolic. They've mixed Disney with Darwin, Wright with Hiroshige, MIT with Coney Island. They've flung together vast quantities of plaster and rubber, stone and plastic, silk and steel, aluminum and canvas and twisted them all into absurd cubes, spheres, saucers, loops, cones, doughnuts, domes and mushrooms. Then, with an exuberant disregard of both taste and logic they have applied liberal coats of garish color, twinkling lights, laughing hostesses, raucous music and bubbling fountains. The result, you won't be surprised to hear, is a gaudy, occasionally brilliant and consistently fascinating excursion into fun, fantasy and futurism.

As anyone who can read must know by now. Expo '70 is Japan's—and Asia's—first world's fair. For that reason, perhaps, the nation's team of planners concentrated on the exposition with the same energy, imagination and intelligent ingenuity that in two decades lifted Japan out of the wreckage of World War II and into second place in the world's industrial sweepstakes.

For any nation the problems inherent in putting on a world's fair are large. For small, crowded, highly-urbanized Japan they seemed staggering. Where, for example, would they find space to accommodate not merely pavilions from 76 countries, 9 states, provinces and cities, and 34 corporations, but the auxiliary construction as well ? How could they transport, house and feed an expected 50 million visitors from every corner of Japan and most corners of the world? Who would put up the $2.9 billion it would cost?

In fact, Japan had solved its basic problem as early as 1965, by setting aside 815 acres of land in a bamboo grove nine miles northeast of Osaka. Two years later, when the International Exhibitions Bureau announced its approval, a team of 13 leading architects turned its attention to the others: erection of the pavilions and the gaudy recreation area, development of 64 acres of traditional garden, excavation of lakes and rivers. Almost simultaneously the Expo association let contracts for five new expressways, began to construct a new railroad and to manufacture the burnished aluminum trains that would ply the new line. They built a town big enough to sleep 150,000 people, laid cables to feed a million kilowatts of power a day into the fair and water mains able to manage a throughput of 67,000 tons daily.

Construction of auxiliary facilities was just as challenging: parking lots for 20,000 cars and 1,500 buses, the lanes in each lot painted a different color; 181 restaurants which, along with pavilion restaurants, can feed 200,000 people a day; an automated electric monorail nearly three miles in circumference and tied into what is one of the central attractions: the moving sidewalk. This, a $5 million system of tough, elevated conveyor belts, nearly two miles long, moves 8,000 people an hour across Expo, part of the time through clear plastic pipelines from which visitors get a protected but unobstructed view of the fair. As a final touch they built a lavish communications center with worldwide cable and Telex connections, a post office, national television tie-ins and desk space for 100 reporters.

It was a monumental undertaking, but Japan completed it right on time. When, on March 15, Emperor Hirohito stepped to the microphone to intone Expo '70's ambitious theme—"Progress and Harmony for Mankind"—he was just 60 seconds behind schedule.

What is at least as interesting as the pavilions and exhibits at Expo '70 are minor yet crucial touches. Touches like the two-part numbered tags for children. Mother pins half on the tot, puts the other half in her purse. If the child strays, she simply telephones the lost child center and asks for Child No. 987.

Similar foresight is visible everywhere. Exhibition and highway signs—as far away as Tokyo—are in two languages. The symbols—for restaurants, stairways, toilets—are models of clarity. Train conductors announce everything in English. There are free strollers, umbrellas and wheelchairs. There are guides trained in sign language. For the weary, the old or the just plain lazy there are silent, six-passenger, lavender-tinted electric cars with melodious chimes instead of horns. And for everybody there are the specially recruited guides, a corps of pretty, usually bilingual girls whose uniforms are colored according to their assignment and who can mix formal bows with impish grins and get you most anywhere with a minimum of delay. Lastly there are the guards, a disciplined group equipped with battery-powered bullhorns to help control formidable weekend crowds that mass at the gates two hours ahead of time and come into the fair at a dead run.

The crowds—up to 400,000 a day-are a particular problem to tour guides. To keep track of their groups, guides outfit their charges in a variety of gay insignia: yellow terry cloth knotted around the neck, bibs the size and shape of life jackets, derbies, plastic baseball caps in psychedelic shades. Nearly every guide waves some kind of flag and one, solemnly bearing a huge, two-handed banner, looked like Cortez taking Mexico.

As for the pavilions there are simply too many to describe, but some, like the American and Russian pavilions, need mention since many thousands wait for hours every day, rain, fog or cold winds, to see them.

The American pavilion, scooped out of the ground and covered with a quilted plastic skin held up by air pressure shot from pumps as big as howitzers, has but one trump to play: its imposing collection of used space hardware. The rest of the exhibit is a low-keyed assemblage of such nostalgic memorabilia as a magnificent yellow Stutz Bearcat, some Louisville sluggers, rubbings from quaint New England gravestones, a few tavern signs and paintings by Frederic Remington, Gilbert Stuart et al. The Russians offer towering statues of noble workers, three dimensional panoramas of Russia, films, books and photographs of, by and about Lenin and, in case anyone has forgotten, the space capsule in which Yuri Gagarin became the first spaceman.

Japan, with 32 pavilions, has the most as well as the most memorable. The five-section government pavilion, housed in huge steel tanks, is dazzling and so is the "Tree of Life" in which an incomparable combination of art, science, design and engineering captures man's agonizing ascent from slime to moon rock. That, plus the damndest roller coaster ride in history, makes it all worthwhile.

This article appeared on pages 30-31 of the July/August 1970 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for July/August 1970 images.