In the Kansai region of south-central Honshu, preparations for Expo 2025 are well under way.
In November 2018, The General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions decided Japan would host the World Expo for 2025, holding the Osaka-Kansai Expo. The theme of the Osaka-Kansai Expo is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives” and the preparation has started to host the Expo as the “People’s Living Lab,” seeking a way in which people around the world can live healthier, richer lives. The venue, the roughly 155 ha Yumeshima, is an artificial island located about 10 kilometers from the center of Osaka. The Expo will last 185 days from the beautiful spring greenery of May 3 to the beautiful fallen leaves of November 3, and is expected to attract 28 million visitors.
Osaka-Kansai Expo is the first in Japan since Expo 2005 in Aichi (about 22,050,000 visitors). The other Expos that Japan has hosted include Expo ‘70 Osaka (about 64,220,000 visitors), Expo ‘75 Okinawa (about 3,490,000 visitors), Expo ‘85 Tsukuba (about 20,330,000 visitors) and Expo ‘90 Osaka (about 23,120,000 visitors).
A major economic hub of the Kansai region (which includes Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Tottori and Tokushima Prefectures), Osaka, with its population of more than 20 million and total production of 793 billion dollars, aspired to attract the Expo. Historically, the region has been a political, economic and cultural center, and it is still full of the diverse values and energies developed by the enterprising spirits of its people and their shrewd foresight into the next era.
Traditional Spirit Nurturing Innovation
Osaka and Kansai have some unique characteristics that set them apart from other areas of Japan. One example is the Omi merchants’ sampo-yoshi spirit. This spirit emphasizes business conducted in ways in which both the buyer and the seller are satisfied and business that enables social contribution. This spirit has spread widely across the country and supports more than 3,300 companies that have endured more than 100 years. Among the oldest companies is Kongogumi, the world’s oldest temple and shrine construction company, founded in Osaka in 578. Also in Osaka, the Dojima Rice Exchange, the world’s first futures market equipped with the basic systems of today, was built in 1730.
Organizations and companies that support the realization of change are concentrated in this area.
Today, companies headquartered in this area include Panasonic and Kyocera, which are electrical manufacturers, Keyence, Nidec, Murata Manufacturing, Rohm and Omron, which are leading manufacturers of sensors and control devices, Horiba, a manufacturer of environmental measurement devices, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Takara Bio, Shimadzu and Suntory, which engage in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, Daihatsu Motor, Iwatani, Asics, Mizuno, Nintendo and Itochu.
The latest global research bases spanning areas from the environment to life science, such as CiRA, Keihanna Science City, Osaka Bio Headquarters, KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster and Harima Science Garden City, have been developed within the region, and many corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises with highly advanced manufacturing technologies support these bases concentrated in the area.
Osaka and Kansai have a traditional spirit and environment that nurtures innovation for the future.
In addition, the region also is home to a rich culture, including the diverse food cultures of its constituent areas, from the popular takoyaki to Kyoto cooking, traditional performing arts such as a popular style of comedy and bunraku puppet theater, a global intangible asset, and many world-famous historical structures and World Heritage sites. About eight million travelers from abroad visit the region each year.
Osaka has hosted two expos (in 1970 and 1990) and attracted 87,300,000 visitors. The city also has the culture, mindset and safe, comfortable environment to entertain visitors from Japan and abroad.
Society 5.0 and SDGs
The keywords of Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025 are Society 5.0 and SDGs. The government and economic organizations are leading both of these initiatives and taking on the challenge of enacting structural innovations and building the foundations for them.
Society 5.0 is a strategy aiming to achieve a fifth new society after the hunter-gatherer, agrarian, industrial, and information societies. It aims to achieve a Super-Smart Society that will increase people’s affluence by making the utmost use of ICT and the integration of cyber spaces with physical spaces. This strategy is intended to provide necessary information when it is needed through the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to lead to specific social innovations, such as robots and driverless vehicles, that bring solutions to the difficulties posed by the aging population and declining birthrate, depopulation in regions and the wealth gaps resulting from technology. These will lead to the elimination of the sense of helplessness and the realization of a society in which people can be hopeful, a society in which people can respect each other beyond generational borders and a society in which everyone can work comfortably.
Nakanishi Hiroaki, Chairman of the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition (Chairman of KEIDANREN, Japan Business Federation) explains Society 5.0 like this at the official website:
At present, the public and private sectors in Japan are jointly engaged in a national project titled Society 5.0. This is a future society that leverages innovative technology such as AI and robots to overcome the diverse problems faced by mankind and enable individuals to fulfil their potential. Initiatives towards achieving this society are reflected in the very theme of this world expo, Designing Future Society for Our Lives, and will also contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations.
Behind these efforts are many issues such as depopulation, the aging population and declining birthrate, the concentration of things and people in cities, and energy and environmental limitations. It is necessary to change social and economic systems. Japan calls itself, so to speak, an “issue-advanced country,” and needless to say, this shows a sense of crisis.
Another important keyword of the international event is the SDGs. Japan has taken active steps to address the SDGs in both the public and private sectors, and its initiatives have been largely driven by the aggressive efforts of businesses to tackle problems in environment and society such as environmental pollution, a downside of Japan’s rapid economic growth.
With the introduction of the Environmental Management System (EMS) in 1996, as represented by the ISO 14000 series, many companies, large or small, have scrambled to acquire the relevant certifications, partly prompted by the government’s promotional support measures. An EMS is a set of processes or practices that enable an organization to develop its environmental management initiatives at factories or offices with the voluntary adoption of policies or targets to protect the environment. As is well known, the EMS is an international standard adopted by the International Organization for Standardization following the 1992 Earth Summit.
For many Japanese companies that have made serious efforts to comply with a range of environmental standards and regulations to address environmental pollution problems, initiatives relating to EMS and SDGs could be interpreted as logical extensions of their usual business activities based on experiences with the environmental issues in the past. In this sense, it does not seem to have been extremely difficult for them to address the agenda put forward by the EMS and SDGs. It is obvious that businesses must address the environment to ensure their survival today and in the future.
TEAM EXPO 2025
Meanwhile, the issues suggested by the SDGs involve a diverse docket that must be addressed globally, and it seems that we are no longer able to find solutions to the SDGs easily within the simple framework of the government imposing regulations and businesses responding to them. It has become increasingly important for citizens to get involved in the activities to achieve the SDGs. Accordingly, social innovators are expected to play an increasingly important role. Given this situation, the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition was established in January 2019 to be an organization to manage preparations for the Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025.
In January 2020, the Association concluded a comprehensive partnership agreement individually with seven project partner companies participating in the TEAM EXPO 2025, an SDGs collaborative project contributing to achieve the SDGs through co-creation activities with individuals as well as organizations that are striving to tackle social problems. The Association launched the TEAM EXPO 2025 as a major step toward the expo scheduled for 2025, aiming to host an international exposition where everyone can propose new ideas for the future.
The TEAM EXPO 2025 is positioned as a project offering support to players in society striving to find solutions to social problems. The Association aims to contribute greatly to the achievement of the SDGs through co-creation activities with people and the individuals supporting them who strive to make a better society for the Osaka-Kansai Expo.
This project is supported by three groups of individual and institutional members. The first group, players, includes social entrepreneurs, start-ups, local governments, research labs and NPOs who put specific ideas or technologies into practice, aiming to provide solutions to social problems. The second group, institutional project partners, includes venture capital organizations, platform creators, foundations, local governments and research labs that work on social problems in collaboration with the players in the field of human resource development, fund raising support and public relations, while launching projects that offer solutions to social problems in cooperation with the Osaka-Kansai Expo. The third group, support members, includes businesses, local governments, research labs and other organizations or individuals who support team members by providing a range of proprietary resources in appreciation of the great significance of the TEAM EXPO 2025.
In the TEAM EXPO 2025, the Association aims to create a TEAM spanning diverse fields and communities and promoting social innovation through co-creation initiatives that integrate the resources and specialties developed by individual corporate and individual support members and project partners with whom the Association has concluded comprehensive partnership agreements recently, and the players in particular.
The Expo is an international platform that benefits from the participation of a number of organizations in various sectors from around the world, including sovereign governments, international institutions, research labs and private-sector corporations with the potential to strongly influence the development of social innovation around the world. The Association expects that the Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025 will serve as something like a Koshien for the SDGs, where social innovators from around the world will gather together, and the excellent co-creation projects put into practice around the world will be given a Best Practice award, which will be announced to and shared globally with the aim of accelerating initiatives to achieve the SDGs both locally and globally.
Koshien is a legendary baseball stadium in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture that has hosted the National High School Baseball Championship for more than 100 years. The nationwide championship enjoys widespread popularity across Japan.
The Association will launch specific projects in cooperation with individual project partners and recruit players and support members to join the TEAM accordingly.
Platform for Sustainable Education and Community
All of the seven project partners mentioned earlier are unique and they are expected to serve as front runners to generate initial momentum for the new projects. Among others, the Platform for Sustainable Education and Community (PSEC) is actively engaged in initiatives to create sustainable communities and society through the development of young people with strong determination.
PSEC will work on the Future High School Project, a collaborative initiative to co-create a Future School in Society 5.0. involving high school students across the country, businesses and colleges with cutting-edge technologies, with the goal of creating a platform of opportunities to learn how to create a future society that will make people feel that they can pave the way for the future themselves.
PSEC’s president Iwamoto Yu says, “I would like to make the Expo like a school festival involving the participation of teenage students that inspires social innovators around the world.”
Sasaki Norihiko, the CEO of NewsPicks Studios says, “I would like to develop social innovators, help companies with the SDGs in terms of financing and human resources, and make the Expo a successful event with attractive SDGs, news, video and events appealing to audiences around the world.”
NewsPicks Studios is developing a digital platform to be used as part of the innovation project for human resource development, calling for the changing of the world through economic intelligence. It aims to find and recruit human resources with a keen awareness of the SDGs across the country and undertake a training project for them.
Next Commons Lab
Hayashi Atsushi, founder of Next Commons Lab, has launched the Social Innovation Lab Project. He says, “Given our corporate vision embracing a transformation to a post-capitalist society, we believe that it is important for businesses, local governments and the citizens of local communities to participate in the project with a sense of commitment and responsibility as there are a number of issues waiting to be addressed in our society. I would like to achieve this goal during the course of the Expo. I see the Expo as an experimental platform, and I would like to establish more than 100 experimental platforms across the country aiming to solve social problems. I expect it will take five years for us to achieve this goal, allowing for certain extra work to adjust the SDGs to varying local requirements. I would like to announce the results of the initiative in 2025 and roll out marketing activities around the world.”
BORDERLESS JAPAN, a platform of social entrepreneurs providing solutions to social problems, has launched the Social Entrepreneur Project ahead of the Expo. BORDERLESS JAPAN’s head Suzuki Masayoshi says, “We will deliver solutions to problems such as poverty, environmental destruction and discrimination from business perspectives, and share results with interested parties in society seeking to maximize social impact (investment).”
“I would like to develop social entrepreneurs executing businesses capable of solving the challenges presented by the SDGs as we move towards 2025. I will also seek to create an ecosystem that can be used after the Expo.”
Bogaki Kana, co-founder of Makuake, one of the leading crowd-funding platforms in Japan, says, “We want to revolutionize consumer behavior. Consumer behavior and production are often inefficient. We propose fundamentally efficient production and consumption without waste. The 2025 Expo will be a crucial opportunity for us to demonstrate our capabilities. We will support traditional craftsmanship and promote traditional crafts by promoting their purchase. We value intricate craftsmanship and want to revolutionize stereotypical social norms.” Makuake is proceeding with a project designed to revolutionize society with the support of purchases at the Expo.
Music Securities is an impact investment platform, addressing social problems while seeking economic returns with a mix of empathy-driven funds well balanced in terms of the risk/reward relationship. It mixes proceeds from the sale of goods to individual consumers with funds provided as capital, bank borrowings and subsidies, and has invested 1.1 billion yen in the affected areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake using a mix of funding proceeds and subsidies.
Music Securities is a registered financial institution for the SDGs. Music Securities CEO Komatsu Masami stresses the significance of the Colorful Money Project and says, “Money has colors. It comes and goes around in different temperatures and sizes with differing risks. We provide new financing schemes with a mix of funds from balanced sources that traditional financial institutions could not approach before.”
Link and Motivation Group
“We will develop a young workforce in five years by changing their mindset. Our target is college students. We will grow young leaders specializing in co-creation activities. We seek to provide solutions to the challenges of the SDGs, while aiming to become a leader in co-creation,” says Kashihara Yohei of the Link and Motivation Group. Kashihara aims to develop human resources capable of changing society with computer programs designed to educate college students to become capable of using co-creation to solve social problems leveraging skills specializing in the development of young resources under the co-creation leadership development project.
Best Practice Showcase
The seven project partners introduced in this article are not necessarily pavilion exhibitors at the Expo. Ishige Hiroyuki, Secretary General of the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition (former Chairman of Japan External Trade Organization, JETRO) says, “The target year for SDGs to be achieved is 2030, and the Osaka-Kansai Expo will be held on the way to that. The TEAM EXPO 2025 is a competition, so to speak. I think there will be some groups or organizations beyond these seven project partners that will declare their participation in the international event. I would like to assure everyone that the opportunity to present at the TEAM EXPO 2025 will be open to as many people as possible. Our goal is to make it the Best Practice Showcase.”
The Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition will stay committed to attracting many more participants to the event.
Secretary-General Ishige emphasizes the significance of the TEAM EXPO 2025 saying, “It will be important for the Association to be a matching hub for participants seeing the Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025 as a target or a certain milestone on the way to 2030.” “I would like to make this clear to the rest of the world and continue to attract participants from all over the world.”
The New York Expo in 1853 introduced the elevator, the Philadelphia Expo in 1876 showcased the telephone, and Expo ’70 introduced cordless telephone models, the electric vehicle and the moving sidewalk. Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025 is also expected to exhibit new models of innovative products. It is my hope that new ideas for social innovation and innovative best practices will attract a lot of attention.
MIZUNO Tetsu is a freelance writer.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of the Japan Journal.