|Expo 2005: This event closed in 2005 and is no longer open to the public. The next World's Fairs were Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain and Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.|
Aichi 2005 is Japan's second Universal Exposition, the first being Osaka's Expo '70, but Japan's fifth if the Special Expositions of Okinawa's Expo '75, Tsukuba's Expo '85 and Osaka's Expo '90 are also counted. Built along somewhat more modest lines than its predecessors, the Expo's theme is Nature's Wisdom and its mission is, according to the official site:
- We must come together and share our experience and wisdom, in order to create a new direction for humanity which is both sustainable and harmonious with nature.
In Japanese this is expressed with the snappy but near-untranslatable official pun-slogan Ai-chikyūpaku (愛・地球博), which means something along the lines of "Love the Earth Expo" while keeping Aichi in there.
Great care has been taken to build the pavilions out of recycled or recyclable materials and to provide environmentally friendly transportation in the Expo area, but some have still questioned the ecological sense of razing vast tracts of virgin forest for the site and spending 340 billion yen ($3.3 billion) on a six-month extravaganza that will be dismantled after it is over.
Beating the crowds
The Japanese are masters of crowd control, but an Expo strains even the best infrastructure. Some chokepoints to beware of:
Chubu International Airport is the nearest airport. The fastest route from the airport is to take any Meitetsu Airport Line train to Kanayama (金山) station and transfer to JR Expo Shuttle service. Total travel time on the fastest trains is 68 minutes plus transfer time at Kanayama and total cost is ¥1920 one-way, although you'll probably find it cheaper to buy the special Expo return ticket (see below).
During the Expo, you can board special Expo Shuttle trains directly from Nagoya station to Banpaku-Yakusa (万博八草) station (3 times per hour, 38 min). From here, you can transfer to the Tōbu Kyūryō LINIMO (東部丘陵リニモ線) magnetic levitation linear motor line to Banpaku-Kaijō (万博会場駅) station, located next to the North Gate of the main Nagakute area of the Expo (3 min). Special discount return tickets are available for ¥1300, which includes transfers from Banpaku-Yakusa to the Expo site by LINIMO or bus and back, and they also allow a ¥200 discount on the Kiccoro gondola service.
Alternatively, take the Higashiyama subway line to terminus Fujigaoka (25 min), then transfer to the LINIMO line (12 min) for a total of ¥630 one-way.
Direct buses run from Nagoya station (¥1000/1500 one-way/return) and other major cities in the vicinity to the East Gate of the Expo site.
From Banpaku-Yakusa you can also take a shuttle bus directly to the Seto Gate, a good choice for avoiding the crowds. The bus is free if you have the special Expo Shuttle return ticket, or ¥160 if you don't. If the LINIMO is crowded beyond capacity special shuttles will also run to the Nagakute Area's North Gate.
There is no parking for cars allowed at or near the Expo site, although small motorbikes and bicycles can park for free. Instead, organizers recommend parking at one of four designated park and ride areas (¥2500-3000/day) and taking complimentary shuttle buses to the site.
Transport around the Expo site is provided by a host of unusual systems, but few of them are free.
The Intelligent Multimode Transit System (IMTS) shuttle, basically a networked train of fully automated minibuses, connects the Convention Center (Messe), North Gate, the West Gate, and the Expo Dome together. The system combines the slowness of buses with the inconvenience of trains and the bugs of automation — but it's still cool to see Morizō sitting in the driver's seat! Rides cost ¥200 a pop.
The Global Tram system shuttles around the Global Loop connecting the country pavilions together. There are four stations and single rides cost ¥500.
There are two cable car gondola lifts set up in the Expo. The Morizō Gondola connects the Nagakute and Seto areas together for free, while the Kiccoro Gondola travels from the northeast to the southwest corner of the Nagakute area and charges ¥600 one way for the panoramic views offered -- holders of the EXPO Shuttle ticket receive a ¥200 discount.
The path of the Kiccoro Gondola takes it near several residential buildings. In the interest of preserving the privacy of the individuals who live nearby, the windows of the gondola are made of "smart glass"; during most of the trip the windows are transparent, but as the gondola passes residential areas (a total of about two minutes during the trip) the glass turns opaque.
A comparatively normal-looking and for once free fuel cell hybrid bus also shuttles between the Nagakute and Seto areas.
By bicycle taxi
Three-wheeled passenger taxis operating the old-fashioned way by somebody pedaling the metal carry people around the Global Loop site for ¥300 per segment. There are four designated stations on the loop and you can only board the taxi at one station for the trip to the next station.
Within the Nagakute area, you can easily reach different sections by walking on the elevated walkway called the Global Loop or by using the various garden and forest experience paths. Walking from one end of the area to the other takes about 20-30 minutes at a leisurely pace, but chances are you will stop somewhere to watch street artists, exhibits or events. The entire area is also wheelchair-accessible.
Walking on foot is the only option in the smaller Seto Area
Top 3 overlooked attractions
Under the radar of most visitors, these are well worth seeing and these can usually be visited without much queueing.
Same-day tickets cost ¥4600/2500/1500 per day for adult/junior/child respectively. Discounted senior, student, group and evening admission tickets are also available. Tickets are available at the gate, from travel agencies and from all major convenience store chains in Japan. While tickets can also be purchased online, there is little point to doing so as the price is the same, you still need to queue up to exchange it for a physical ticket, and online tickets cannot be used to make reservations.
The Expo is open from 9:00 to 22:00 daily, although some sections (notably the Seto Area) and pavilions may close earlier. The Nagakute Area is well lit and even more surreal-looking after dusk.
Due to unexpectedly high attendance the site is often horrendously overcrowded, especially on weekends. It's best to arrive very early in the morning, at least an hour before opening. The maximum capacity of the site is 170,000 people per day, and more tickets have been sold than can be accommodated in the remaining days of the exhibition. The organizers have announced that they may be forced to hold people at the entry gates, and in some cases turn them away entirely (and they have made it clear that they will not offer refunds). Electronic signs near the entry gates and scattered around the site offer a summary of the crowd conditions and estimated wait times at the various pavilions.
The sheer size of the Expo means that it is impossible to cover everything in one day, and access to some of the more popular events and pavilions is capacity controlled with several rather convoluted systems. Allow at least two days if you wish to visit all pavilions of interest. It is wise to choose in advance which of the high-profile sites you want to visit and get them reserved early, then fill in the gaps with the more low-key attractions. Lines tend to shorten as the Expo approaches closing time, although if you cut it too close you run the risk of not getting in at all.
Many of the more popular pavilions have a reservation (予約 yoyaku) system, which let you choose the time of entry. Unfortunately, due to the huge volume of visitors the system has broken down somewhat. The original intent was to allow you to make up to two of these reservations in advance online at least 2 days (and a maximum of one month) before you go; however, all reservations are consumed within minutes of becoming available, a month before they can be used. Since the expo runs until the end of September, as of the end of August you should expect all advance reservations to be taken.
Inexplicably, advance reservations require possession of a physical ticket... you cannot make reservations with an online advance ticket. Some travel agencies in the United State and elsewhere, especially those that specialize in trips to Japan, stock a small number of actual tickets.
For some pavilions, it is possible to make a single same-day reservation from special machines located in front of the pavilion you wanted to visit after entry into the Expo, at least 2 hours before desired time of entry. Usually all reserved spaces are used up by 10 AM or even earlier, although some pavilions have a second round of distribution in the afternoon. However, the extremely popular Hitachi exhibit, for example, now allows the reservation machines to be used only by the elderly and handicapped.
If you can't get a ticket you can still queue at the pavilions to get in — expect long waits, however. Most pavilions display signs at the end of the line that tell you how long you should expect to wait. The estimates are fairly accurate and often discouraging. Waits of 30-60 minutes are common, and the most popular attractions may not allow queued visitors until late in the day; at the Hitachi pavilion, for example, queued visitors are only allowed in beginning at 5 PM... and the line starts to form at about 2 PM.
Some of the most popular sights including the Toyota Pavilion and the Global House Mammoth show operate with a numbered ticket (整理券 seiriken) system, distributed only on site at set times, instead of using ticketing machines. Those first in the queue get the numbered tickets and access to the site at a set show time. Note that, in addition to those listed below, other sites may also switch to a numbered ticket system at short notice if crowded.
The grounds are divided into two areas, which in turn are subdivided into eight zones.
The Nagakute Area (長久手会場) is the heart of the Expo, containing the vast majority of the pavilions.
The traditional country pavilions featuring the contributions of 120 countries, subdivided into 6 zones. A 2.6-kilometer walkway named the Global Loop connects them all together. None of the pavilions accept reservations, but most are uncrowded and you can usually spot the interesting ones by looking for queues! While many pavilions offer fascinating glimpses of their home cultures, some are decidedly low-budget affairs, and often are little more than stores selling food and a selection of native merchandise.
Zone 1 is the Asian zone, with all Asian countries except Japan and those in South-East Asia (Zone 6) and a few Middle-Eastern oddballs (Zone 3).
- China Pavilion. A large and polished pavilion with a few polished art installations, a polished presentation of Shanghai's plans for the next Expo, and lots upon lots of wasted space.
- India Pavilion. A rich visual spectacle of Indian arts and culture. Art performances on the second floor daily.
- Korea Pavilion. Has a number of interactive art exhibits. Definitely one of the better pavilions in this zone and perhaps the Expo itself!
- Qatar Pavilion. Women can get henna applied to their hands for free here.
- Saudi Arabia Pavilion. Slick if largely content-free promo pavilion, hosted by young Japanese female guides oddly garbed in Arabic clothing, but do check out the panel on the rights and responsibilies of women in Saudi Arabia. Distributes free CDs of Saudi music and DVDs promoting Saudi culture. If you're a fan of Japanese-to-English mistranslations (sometimes called "") look for an amusing warning sign on the outside wall of the pavilion.
- Yemen Pavilion. A re-creation of a souk, with all the jewelry, textiles, and postcards one expects. An upstairs cafe serves coffee and sweets.
Zone 2 is devoted to the Americas.
- US Pavilion. In order to get in here, you have to go through a second metal detector (after the one at the entry gates) and have your belongings X-rayed. Quick warning on this, as a result of the X-raying, the queue can be quite extensive! Once you're through, you are taken on a well made, multi-media journey through the life and discoveries of Benjamin Franklin. The last section showcases recent American achievements. No shop or restaurant.
- Canada Pavilion. A very well made pavilion that portrays the life of six ordinary Canadians in a two-layered video show. Also has interactive kiosks allowing you to discover various Canadian cities. Make sure to spot the Canadian hosts in front of the pavilion with the flatscreen-topped rucksacks. They will hand you a remote control and let you watch movies "on their back" while you wait. You can also have your picture taken next to a Canadian mountie in full uniform.
- Cuban Pavilion. Rather small and bland pavilion, but don't miss the refreshing mojitos and daiquiris served!
Perhaps best described as the Mediterranean zone, Zone 3 has the southern European countries (Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey), some Arab countries (Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia) and Germany as the exception that enforces the rule. It seems that this is the Zone with the longest queues.
- Croatian Pavilion. The theme of the Croatia Pavilion is "A Drop of Water: a Grain of Salt. On first floor visitors travel thru interactive sea bottom, after they are lifted on second floor where they are presented vertical film about Croatian people and landscape.
- German Pavilion. Features a ride in drop-shaped vehicles through a storm. Expect extremeley long queues to get in. Is in the same building and shares its shop and restaurants with the French Pavilion.
- French Pavilion. Has an excellently made 360 degree movie theatre showing how humans treat their planet today. Impressive, but also depressing. Also lets you walk on a sensor-enabled area where a light spot will follow your movements and lets you trigger various short clips and quotes by moving towards them. One of the few pavilions that actually took the Expo's theme seriously and as such, highly recommended!
- Italian Pavilion. The first section focusses on the Mediterranean sea and how it has shaped Italian culture. The second section highlights cultural specialties from all Italian regions. Upstairs, an authentic Italian bar / café serves good espresso, ice cream and pannini.
- Jordan Pavilion. Essentially a day spa, the exhibits are mostly a selection of cosmetics and related merchandise. For a fee you can take a dip in a pool filled with water shipped all the way from the Dead Sea; the water is almost completely saturated with salt and other minerals, which has some interesting effects on swimmers. The visit is limited to 20 minutes, which is about right... at roughly that point the water starts to cause a burning sensations in some parts of your body. You must make a reservation earlier in the day, and bathing suits are provided.
The largest of all Commons zones, all the European countries not in Zone 3 can be found in Zone 4.
- Austrian Pavilion. Dance with an Austrian to some Waltzer music. Go sledding down an articifial hill. Cool down by touching a wall made of real ice. And enjoy the mini Coffee House on the upper floor.
- Irish Pavilion, Zone 4. Focuses on myths and religious insignias. No shop and — gasp — no beer either.
- Nordic Pavilion. Shared by Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Shows the life of a person from each of these countries. Beautiful Nordic architecture. Free postcards. Scandinavian food!
- Russian Pavilion. See your mammoth bones here without the pain of queuing. The pavilion has a decidedly old-fashioned Soviet flavor, with exhibits extolling the virtues of Russian technology and achievements.
- Swiss Pavilion. Equipped with an audio guide camouflaged as a flashlight, you explore Swiss achievements in an artificial mountain before reaching its top and enjoying the view. Large shop with chocolate and other goodies, as well as a restaurant with an extensive menu.
- UK Pavilion. Discover alternative energy sources in a series of interactive exhibits that let you "touch" virtual reality. Take home a leaf with a quote on Nature's wisdom.
Zone 5 is the site of the giant Africa Pavilion, plus Egypt and South Africa with their own pavilions.
- Africa Pavilion. Huge joint pavilion with several dozen African countries joining forces, essentially a number of adjoining booths selling native merchandise. More tribal artifacts than you can shake a stick at, and the place to get wired on free coffee samples.
- Egypt Pavilion. A room packed with a rather chaotic assemblage of what seems to be cheaply made reproductions of ancient artifacts, the centerpiece of which is a mummy. A restaurant and bazaar at the back offer an authentically Egyptian tourist rip-off experience.
Zone 6 is the South-East Asian zone.
- Brunei Pavilion. Has a delightfully pathetic jungle walk with plastic snakes and lizards scattered about..
- Singapore Pavilion. Features a suitably moist tropical rainforest experience (umbrellas are provided). Good food too, in the small restaurant tucked away in a corner upstairs.
- Australia Pavilion. Takes visitors on a journey through time. There are three "stages" representing Australia's past, present and future. The first stage comprises a short audio visual presentation about the native Aboriginal "Fire Dreaming" dreamtime legend (stand in the back right corner of the room for English). In the next stage is a "data forest" complete with eighty plasma screens on 12 "totems". The show in this spherical room is lively and impressive, with four themed videos representing the elements fire, water, wind and earth. Kids and adults alike will love the giant platypus waiting in the third stage - great for taking photos and chatting to the staff, most of whom are Australian. Despite all this, it still felt like a let down compared to many other pavilions.
- New Zealand Pavilion. A tiny pavilion with no queues, but there's a good reason for that as while visually attractive, the pavilion doesn't have much of anything except for a few Kiwis dressed up in All Blacks merchandise.
The centre for events and performances.
- Global House. Home to the 18,000-year-old Yukagir Mammoth. Entry by numbered tickets only, the second most popular exhibit after Toyota so prepare to queue. An idea if you don't want to wait in such a long queue but really want to see a mammoth, head instead over to the Russian Pavilion in Zone 4, since they have one there too.
Promotional propaganda courtesy of the governments of Aichi, Nagoya City, the Chubu region and the national government of Japan.
- Nagakute Japan Pavilion. This half-educational, half-alarmist pavilion starts off with a time travel travellator trip before the showcase "Earth Vision" show, an absolutely amazing 360° spherical projection all around the audience. Alas, the show lasts for all of two minutes and the subsequent "Breath of Nature" hall is just plain weird. Reservations accepted.
- Earth Tower Nagoya City is a visually stunning tall building with water coursing down its exterior walls and wind-powered chime machines surrounding it (the chimes can be manually operated by spinning a large wheel if there is no wind). Inside is the worlds largest kaleidoscope (certified by the Guinness Book of Records, as a wall plaque attests). Since there's nothing else inside, you may want to visit this pavilion only if the queues are very short.
Corporate Pavilion Zones
Where Japan's companies come out to play, this is the most popular of all zones and there are usually long lines in front of most pavilions. The pavilions are divided into the adjacent zones A (west) and B (east), both next to the North Gate.
- Gas Pavilion. Zone B. Featuring the live Magic Fire Theater and the wonders of natural gas. Reservations accepted.
- Hitachi Pavilion. Zone B. Features a virtual reality safari of endangered species, using 3D headsets and hand sensors for interaction. Reservations accepted.
- JR Central Linear Pavilion. Zone A. Split in three separately entered sections, the main draw here is a 3D movie showing the world's fastest maglev train zipping about at 581 km/h (half real footage, half CG), set to Star Wars-type orchestral music. Seeing the 12-minute movie requires 40 minutes of preparation and standing about though, in addition to waiting time to get in. You can also visit a superconductivity laboratory and walk through the actual MLX-01 train that set the world record. No reservations.
- Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion. Zone B. In the "Futurecast" system, visitors' faces are scanned on entry and instantly used in the "Grand Odyssey" animated movie shown inside. A masterpiece of rendering, but the movie dialogue is all Japanese — not that you'll miss much if you don't understand it. Reservations accepted.
- Mountain of Dreams (夢みる山), Zone B. Split into a main theater with art performances and four subattractions. The "theme zone" features a visually stunning and completely incomprehensible multimedia show by Mamoru Oshii, a world-renowned director of animated and live-action films. Entry by numbered ticket only.
- Toyota Pavilion. Zone B. The most popular pavilion of all, packed with futuristic cars and wacky robots, including the famous all-robot brass band. Entry by numbered ticket only, get there very early or face hours of waiting.
- Wonder Circus Electric Pavilion, Zone A. A Disney-esque train takes you through the sights in this circus in a building.
- JAMA Wonder Wheel. Zone A, A ferris wheel half inside a building, for views of both the Expo site and the sights within.
- Mitsubishi Pavilion @Earth. Zone A. Features robots guiding you to the world's first "IFX" theater, showing a movie pondering the question of what would happen if the moon did not exist. If you don't speak Japanese ask for a wireless translation headset as you enter.
Interactive Fun Zone
Features NGOs and assorted tree-huggers plus a seriously lacklustre mini theme park (all rides charged separately, which would explain why they are mostly empty). Mostly geared to children.
- Robot Station. Pretty much only reason to visit this zone, this exhibit showcases all sorts of robots and robot prototypes, with visitors allowed to interact with them. One room is set aside for the ever-popular PaPeRo robot, which can not only watch over children but fart on command as well.
Forest Experience Zone
- Satsuki and Mei's House. . A faithful life-size recreation of the house featured in the hit animation movie My Neighbor Totoro. This is the hardest of all Expo sites to visit, as a maximum of 800 visitors per day are allowed on 30-minute tours. There is a special quota for up to 40 foreign visitors per day, but mailed applications must be sent a minimum of one month in advance. Alternatively, you can attempt to apply like the Japanese do via the Lawson convenience store's Loppi system, but the odds of success this way are even lower.
The Seto Area (瀬戸会場) is the smaller and quieter of the two sides, promising a meeting place for man and nature instead of grand spectacles. Arriving via the Seto Gate is a good way to beat the crowds at the main North entrance. Note that the Seto Area closes at 17:30 every day (later in summer), earlier than the rest of the Expo.
- Seto Japan Pavilion. (瀬戸日本館). The standout of the area, unlike the fairly cerebral Nagakute Japan Pavilion this doesn't even pretend to educate. The show starts off with a 7-minute trippy computerized medley of Japanese culture, but the main course is a spectacular 15-minute performance of synchronized physical theater/dance, again blending Japanese elements together. Entry by numbered tickets only (distributed in front of the Civil Pavilion and usually easy to get), total time required around 40 minutes.
- Civic Pavilion. Big wooden spiral of a building with a lacklustre art exhibit inside. The gondola station is located up top.
- National Government/Aichi Prefecture Exhibition.
- Satoyama Trail Zone. A trail in a forest. Guided tours (in Japanese) depart regularly.
In addition to the regular pavilions, many special events are scheduled for the Expo, including concerts, plays, sports events, lectures and more. A limited selection:
- April 2-3: Laurie Anderson, EXPO Dome
- April 4: Grand Sumo Tournament, Dream Mountain (Corporate Zone)
- April 12: Sarah Brightman, EXPO Dome
- July 22-August 3: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, EXPO Dome & other sites
The Expo's lovable official mascots Kiccoro (small, light green, chirpy) and Morizō (big, dark green, grumpy) have become a huge hit. Available in countless forms in souvenir shops located throughout the site, the biggest (and most crowded) ones are next to the North Gate.
Note that the official souvenir shops only sell two kinds of postcards with the mascots on, but none with photos of the site and the exhibits. If you're looking for T-shirts you'll probably be disappointed; there are very few on sale, and most of those are available only in children's sizes. Instead, consider taking home a souvenir gift box containing cakes or cookies, a Japanese tradition. Gifts of this sort constitute the majority of the merchandise in the souvenir shops.
Practically all the country pavilions have small gift shops retailing local products, and you can also pick up corporate propaganda at most of the company pavilions.
Bringing food into the Expo was previously prohibited, the excuse being the risk of food poisoning, but after a complaint from Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi you are now allowed to bring in homemade packed lunches.
Magically immune from food poisoning are the 38 restaurants. It's wise to avoid the outside stalls selling overpriced Japanese food and instead head for the Global Commons, where you can pick up authentic global flavors at more palatable prices. Particularly good places for food hunting are Zone 1 (featuring Indian, Sri Lankan and Chinese restaurants) and Zone 6 (with the full panoply of South-East Asian food), but every zone has places to eat. If you're in a hurry or on a tight budget, packaged snacks and meal items such as soba noodles and sandwiches are available at very reasonable prices in the on-site convenience stores.
- Koko Restaurant, Africa Pavilion, Global Commons zone 5. African set meals including curries and even the dreaded ugali (maize mash) for under ¥1000.
- Singapore Kopitiam. Singapore Pavilion 2F, Global Commons zone 6. Chinese, Indian and Malay favorites tucked away in the back.
In a bald excuse for profit grubbing, you are strictly prohibited from bringing drinks in bottles onto the grounds, as according to the organizers this could lead to terrorism. Even empty plastic bottles are verboten. Drink cartons, on the other hand, are A-OK.
Free drinking water machines are scattered about the site. Omnipresent vending machines dispense cups of liquids for ¥100, while convenience stores retail bottles for ¥150.
- DPR Lao Pavilion, Global Commons zone 6. Deserves a special mention for what is probably the cheapest booze in Japan: a bottle of 40% Lao rice whisky (lao lao) goes for a scarcely believable ¥300.
There is no lodging available on site, but Nagoya is not far away. Reserve as early as possible.
A special program offering homestays for Expo visitors in the homes of ordinary Nagoya families has been set up. Costs are only ¥1000-3000 per night with two meals, but the application process is fairly bureaucratic — you must be sponsored by an organization such as a university and you must mail your application at least one month in advance — and after all that trouble you may end up in a remote suburb.
Another good option is to head up to Gifu. Only 20 minutes away by express train from Nagoya, prices are considerably cheaper, and rooms considerably more vacant.