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JapanWednesday, July 19

Osaka Bids for World Expo

Osaka has the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, and it's gearing up to try and win the bid to host the 2025 World Expo. The Japanese Cabinet gave its seal of approval in March to make the bid a national effort. The government hopes a successful bid in 2025 will help jumpstart the economy again. The governor of Osaka has been directly involved.

Osaka held the World Expo back in 1970. It became a national event. Around 64 million people visited -- more than half the country's population.

Japan had achieved rapid economic growth and became the world's No.2 economic power. The expo was a symbol of the country's success.

Hoping to host another expo, officials met at the Osaka Prefectural government office this month to discuss the campaign. NHK was specially authorized to access the meeting.

Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui has been a governor for almost 6 years and is the national leader of his party.

"I think it's a bad idea to make the speech in Japanese," he said at the meeting.

The presentation was originally scheduled to be given in Japanese. But the governor suggested trying it in English to attract a wider audience.

Yumeshima is the candidate site. It faces Osaka Bay. Organizers are featuring health and longevity under the theme "Designing Future Society for Our Lives."

They estimate visitor numbers of about 30 million, and expect the overall economic impact on Japan's economy to be about 37 billion dollars.

"Attracting the expo is also aimed at creating new industries related to health, medicine and entertainment in Osaka," explains Matsui.

The host will be decided at the BIE, or Bureau International des Expositions, in November next year. Osaka has 3 rivals in the bid: Russia's manufacturing hub Ekaterinburg, Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, and the French capital, Paris.

Paris is vying to host the event for the 7th time and is believed to be Osaka's biggest rival. Its preparations for a winning bid are well under way. Organizers already have a layout for Expo facilities. They released a promo video online.

Paris' theme is "Sharing our Knowledge, Caring for our Planet." Organizers plan to hold the event in Greater Paris, with satellite venues across France. They want to create an event that expresses the future of humanity.

A week before the BIE's general assembly, the Japanese team was preparing intensely for its presentation.

"I'm Ichiro Matsui."
"Can you do it louder?" said the coach.
"I'm Ichiro Matsui!"

But Osaka doesn't have the reputation of Paris. The governor wants to focus on a particular Japanese word for hospitality.

"Omotenashi. It's the heart of hospitality," he says. He wants to highlight Osaka's welcoming atmosphere.

"Omotenashi" is a buzzword from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic presentation.

"I know that other candidates are serious about their presentations. I'll try my best," says Matsui.

The city knows what it's like to lose a bid. In 2001, Osaka campaigned for the 2008 Olympics. Yumeshima was the proposed venue for the Olympic village.

But Beijing was chosen.

About 3 billion dollars of taxpayers' money had already been set aside to develop Yumeshima.

Former Osaka City official Hiroki Hashimoto, who was involved in the Olympic bid, says the World Expo will be a great chance to utilize the site. "We lost the Olympic campaign, but we're expecting that Osaka can host the World Expo. The area is the last big space in the city. I think it has a lot of potential."

The BIE's general meeting began, and it was time for the 4 candidate countries to make their cases.

France was first.

"The theme 'Sharing our Knowledge, Caring for our Planet,' came from young people. A great number of youths of the 21st Century will take part in the expo," the team explained.

Paris organizers focused their pitch on a new shape for the World Expo which focused on the younger generation.

Japan's turn came. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed the nation's full support to host the event in a video message.

Matsui then made his speech. "We welcome the people of the world with infrastructure which is convenient for international and domestic travelers. World-leading public safety and omotenashi -- the heart of hospitality. Thank you, thank you very much."

He spoke for about 4 minutes. "I was really nervous. I don't think we're lagging behind the other bidders. It was a good start," he said.

Ayuko Okano from NHK's Osaka Station joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Shibuya: Ayuko, you were at the presentations in Paris. How did the audience react to Osaka Prefecture’s presentation?

Okano: Governor Matsui insisted on speaking in English while the other presenting nations, such as France and Russia, spoke in their own languages. Matsui said he was satisfied with his performance.

Some audience members were impressed by Prime Minister Abe's video message, shown at the beginning of the presentation. His appearance was meant to show that the Japanese government is giving Osaka its full support. The presentations made by the other countries didn't include any video messages by their heads of state.

Nakayama: What did the presentation promote in particular?

Okano: The most important part of the presentation was to share information about Osaka. It’s the second largest business center in Japan, and has a 24-hour airport. It is also close to Kyoto, a popular city among foreign tourists.

He also spoke about how the people of Osaka are known for their willingness to try new things. Innovative products such as cup noodles and conveyor-belt sushi were conceived in Osaka.

Shibuya: How enthusiastic are local people about the expo?

Okano: I think the locals are less enthusiastic than the officials. One survey conducted by a committee of experts indicated that less than 20 percent of businesses in Osaka Prefecture were interested in participating in a World Expo there.

The mood on the ground is important if the area is to convince the Expo committee. It will be essential to lure young people to the Expo to create excitement for the bid.

A new movement among young people in Osaka is starting to take shape. It’s led by students hoping to become actively involved in the expo.

"If young people aren't actively involved, I don't think it will be successful," says a student speaker.

Students at universities in the western Kansai region organized a forum to discuss how they could shape the event.

They presented a proposal with 100 ideas to the governor.

Yuki Kiyomoto is one of the event's organizers. He has joined World Expo study meetings supported by the Japanese government.

The forums have made him keen to try and hold a new type of World Expo, one aimed at tackling contemporary issues.

"People see the World Expo as a place for social experiments and trying new ideas. I hope to help create a space where new issues, new discoveries, and new dreams are brought to light," says Kiyomoto.

Nakayama: It’s a good sign that young people are engaging with the project more.

Okano: Yes indeed. The government of Osaka says it will reference the 100 proposals by young people introduced in the video when drafting detailed expo plans. Japan's rival, France, is also focusing on youth in their expo plan. I think it is essential for Osaka to get young people excited to win the bid.

Shibuya: What is the schedule leading up to the final decision?

Okano: In September, the bidding countries must complete proposals unveiling their concept for the expo as well as information about specific sites. The prospective cities must then give 2 more presentations.

In November 2018, the location of the expo will finally be decided at a vote at the BIE.

Both Japan's central and Osaka governments will keep working together to appeal to the international community in their bid to host the expo.