Connect with us

Economy & Tech

Expo 2025 in Osaka has a Mammoth-shaped Hole but Doesn't Need Russia to Fill It

Vladimir Putin sent an extinct giant to Aichi in Japan for Expo 2005. But for the upcoming Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, there will be nothing Russian on display.



A restored Yukagill mammoth was on display at the Aichi Expo 2005 Nagakute venue/Global House in March 2005. (©Sankei)

Once I saw a wooly mammoth in Aichi prefecture. I was deeply impressed by its long white tusks and shaggy fur, which were still intact. They had been frozen deep in the Siberian tundra for centuries. The Yukagir mammoth was the star of the Aichi Expo, which was held near Nagoya in 2005. It was displayed in a refrigerated exhibition room next to the Global House. I remember queuing for a long time to peer at it through a steamy window for a few seconds. So recently I wondered what will be the star of Expo 2025.

In 2005, there was talk that scientists from Japan, South Korea, and Russia would collaborate to bring the species back to life. Sadly, the mammoth’s corpse remains frozen in a cabinet in Moscow. I doubt the poor creature will ever return to Japan - dead or alive.

Imagine 'Flying Cars' over Osaka Bay (provided by Osaka Prefecture)

Monster Draw

A reanimated prehistoric monster is the kind of gimmick that Japan might need to stimulate enthusiasm for its next exposition. That one is due to take place in Osaka in 2025.

Another option would be to wow the world with a fantastic machine. 

Inventions such as the telephone, the typewriter, and the elevator were all unveiled at Expos.

Construction teams are working hard to build the site for the event on Yumeshima, a man-made island in Osaka Bay.

Local media continues to highlight problems. It is running over schedule and is costing a great deal of money. JAPAN Forward and Kyodo news report that the cost of building the venue’s facilities has swelled to ¥235 billion JPY ($1.6 billion USD), nearly double an earlier estimate. NHK says that work hasn’t yet started on the pavilions of foreign countries. 


Meanwhile, Mexico and Estonia have decided to withdraw. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2018.

Rift with Russia

Russia has also quit, blaming a "lack of efficient communication with the hosts." In fact, the Russians are not welcome.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference on November 29 that the Russian invasion of Ukraine contradicts the philosophy of the Expo. That philosophy “cherishes sympathy for others and respect for diverse cultures and values,” he added.

The exit of Russia from the Osaka event shows how far the relationship with Japan has deteriorated since 2005. At the Aichi Expo, Russian exhibits - including the famous mammoth - were given pride of place.

In retrospect, I can see that this was probably part of a concerted effort by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his foreign minister Taro Aso to charm Vladimir Putin.

The Russian leader was feted in Tokyo. There, according to the Russians, the two sides agreed on an investment partnership, the conclusion of a peace treaty, and “to work together to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands." Mr Putin said that “the desire to find a mutually acceptable solution” was clear on both sides.

Like the negotiations between Japan and Russia, a wooly mammoth head from Russia is frozen in time at the Mammoth Lab at the Aichi Expo Nagakute venue on March 28, 2005. (©Kyodo)

Return of the Northern Territories

Japan’s current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, does not use the term “the Kurils” to describe the islands located off the northeast coast of the Nemuro Peninsula of Hokkaido. He calls them the Northern Territories

Throughout his premiership, Mr Kishida has been actively campaigning to ensure they are returned to Japan. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the islands were seized illegally by Russia's predecessor, the Soviet Union. That was on the orders of Joseph Stalin after the end of World War II. In Mr Kishida’s view, the illegal occupation of the Northern Territories is a violation of international law.  

Simmering anger over the issue remains, as well as outrage over the invasion of Ukraine. That means the Japanese government is shunning meetings with Russia. This also explains why the country will not be represented at the Osaka Expo. 


Osaka Optimism 

Nevertheless, despite the high costs and apparent delays, there are plenty of other willing participants.

The total number of countries and regions due to take part currently stands at 159. That includes the recent addition of nine countries such as Denmark and Finland. It also includes nine international organizations, according to the Foreign Ministry.

With less than 500 days until the opening of the Expo, mascot "Myak Myak" posters promote advance ticket sales in Osaka. November 30th (©Kyodo)

NHK reports that the Expo area will be about three times bigger than Tokyo Disneyland. It will also feature flying cars. This suggests that the event will be a cross between a trade fair and a theme park. 

The focus will be on sustainable solutions and technological innovation. Visitors will be able to see pavilions showcasing recent advances in the fields of AI and healthcare. And, in a typically Japanese manner, people will dress up as mascots to greet the international crowds.

A weird mascot called Myaku Myaku is supposed to embody the spirit of the event. 

The creature has a blue body with dripping hands, representing water and the ability to shift shapes, according to its designers. The five-eyed ring on its head comprises red cells, embodying the “brilliance of life,” they said. Some have described it differently, even as “nightmarish.”

Osaka First, then Riyadh 

It will be interesting to compare the Osaka Expo in 2025 with the one that will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2030. Riyad's event has the theme The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to show that he is pushing the country in a more socially progressive direction. He also intends to show his country is embracing cutting-edge tech and supporting efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Saudi Arabia celebrates with fireworks and a light show after winning its bid to host the World Expo 2030. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on November 28, 2023. (©REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri)

Saudi Arabia’s candidacy was endorsed by delegates from 119 countries during a vote organized by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). That is the Paris-based organization that oversees World Expos.

Riyadh was competing against South Korea’s Busan and Italy’s Rome, which received 29 and 17 votes respectively.


I tried to find out which country’s proposal was backed by the Japanese delegation. However, it was a secret ballot, so this information was not available.

Blow to Busan

Not surprisingly, when Riyadh won, there was bitter disappointment in Italy and South Korea.

Politico’s European website reported that the Italians implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of making economic offers to countries in exchange for their vote.

Similar complaints were made in South Korea. "To win the World Expo bid, Saudi Arabia promised an astronomical amount of development loans and aid to developing countries. So we can conclude that vote buying has occurred,” Kim Yi-tae told the Korea Herald. Kim is a professor of tourism and convention marketing at Pusan National University. 

President Yoon Suk-yeol avoided criticizing the Saudis when he apologized for not securing the Expo for Busan. “I was not in good command, and could not win the bid," Mr Yoon said. "The blame is all on me."


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent
Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays on JAPAN Forward.


Our Partners