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Abe gov't backing Osaka Expo plan in exchange for constitutional revision support

The Osaka Prefectural Government is considering Yumenoshima, a man-made island in Osaka Bay seen here from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Oct. 15, 2016, as the site for the 2025 World Expo for which it is hoping to bid. (Mainichi)

A basic plan for the Osaka Prefectural Government's bid for the 2025 World Expo was approved by an expert panel on Oct. 28, and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui is set to submit the plan to Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko as early as the beginning of November.

The central government will then set up a committee comprising experts and business leaders to finalize the plan, and following approval from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an official bid will be put in to the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions by next spring.

If Osaka Prefecture -- which hosted the 1970 World Expo -- wins the bid, it will be the sixth Expo held in Japan, after the Aichi Expo in 2005.

According to Osaka's 2025 Expo plan, the bid theme is "Humankind's challenge to health and longevity," and the projected site comprises about 100 hectares of land on a man-made island in Osaka Bay called Yumeshima in Konohana Ward. It is estimated that at least 30 million people will visit the Expo during its May-October 2025 run, and that holding the event will cost around 200 billion yen. Of this amount, which will be split among the central government, local governments, and businesses, about 120 billion to 130 billion yen would be spent on venue construction, and some 69 billion to 74 billion yen would be allocated to running the event. The plan also predicts that the Expo will give the economy a 6.4 trillion yen boost.

The Abe administration is set to put its weight behind Osaka's bid, and it appears that the move is meant to ensure that the Nippon Ishin no Kai party (formerly Initiatives from Osaka) headed by Gov. Matsui will cooperate with the administration in achieving Abe's long-sought dream of constitutional revision. However, Matsui has spearheaded the Expo bid with a top-down attitude, and multiple hurdles, such as how the funds to pull the event off will be secured, remain.

"People called it a pipe dream, but the central government has finally begun to take action," Matsui said on Oct. 28. He had told a press conference on Oct. 26, "The World Expo is an investment. If we can expect this much of an economic effect, the money that we spend will not go to waste."

However, because construction cost estimates are based on figures from the 2005 Expo held in Aichi Prefecture, a senior Osaka prefectural official says that the cost of an Osaka Expo in 2025 could in fact be far higher. Gov. Matsui is hoping for the Osaka Prefectural Government and the city of Osaka to split the costs to be covered by local governments 50-50, but Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura has shown a more cautious attitude, saying, "We still have to work out the details."

The idea for a bid by Osaka to host the 2025 World Expo came about shortly after Tokyo won its bid in September 2013 to host the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Matsui approached then Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, telling him that Osaka should host the World Expo to attract investment, and Hashimoto agreed.

The Nippon Ishin no Kai had increased its strength under the banner of deconstructing and reorganizing the city of Osaka into a metropolis like Tokyo. However, the Osaka Metropolis Plan was voted down in a referendum in May 2015, resulting in the highly popular Hashimoto leaving politics. When Gov. Matsui ascended to the top of the party, he shifted its main policy from the realization of an Osaka Metropolis Plan to improving the local economy. In the post-Hashimoto era, hosting a World Expo came to occupy a greater share of Matsui's strategy, pushing him to seek cooperation from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

The Abe administration believes that hosting a World Expo in Osaka after the Tokyo Olympics would boost the economy. Suga has hinted at the administration's intentions to officially start the bidding process. "The Expo would increase the number of tourists to the country, and can be expected to revitalize local economies," he said at a press conference Oct. 28.

The central government's cooperative stance does not appear to come without a price tag, however; the administration is intent on securing Nippon Ishin no Kai's cooperation in national politics. As constitutional revision becomes a "realistic" issue in the Diet, the position that members of the Nippon Ishin no Kai party take is expected to carry increasing weight.

Suga, however, dismisses such speculation as "unfounded." At the same time, however, a senior official with Nippon Ishin no Kai said, "The prime minister's office intends to make the Osaka World Expo a reality. It's a message to us that they want our cooperation regarding constitutional revision."

In addition to Osaka, Paris, Toronto, and Manchester, Britain, are among the cities preparing bids for the 2025 World Expo.

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