EXPO 2005 (Aichi, Japan) Trip report/Photos
We landed at the new Central Japan Intl Airport just about 50 mins away from downtown Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Lovely new airport that sits in a newly built man-made island just off the coast, somewhat similar (but not as ambitious) to Osaka's sinking Kansai Airport. The new Centrair Airport is lovely and not too big, with very expensive shops in the terminal...Hermes, Channel, Ferragamo..etc etc. and other assortment of gift shops, convenience shops and others. Getting off the plane, you walk straight out thru customs and into the arrival lobby, which then is connected to the ground transport and two hotels, all in one level and friendly for those in wheelchairs. As soon as you come out of customs, you *know* EXPO 2005 is here and willing to host you. Signs of EXPO's two tree-like mascots Kiccoco and Muriko are virtually EVERYWHERE you look.
We get on the bus on our 50 mins ride into Nagoya, by passing rural areas and farming land with your obligatory EXPO billboard every 5 mins or so. Within an hour, we arrive at our hotel in the city. A short walk from my hotel to the JR Nagoya train station and I get on the "EXPO Shuttle" train that will take me to the EXPO site. There is also an EXPO bus from nearby Meitetsu Store (1,500 yen R/T), or you can also take the subway and then connect to get to EXPO. Me? I enjoy the train ride so I chose to go via JR. The round trip tickets from Nagoya station to EXPO (which includes the tranfer to Linimo train for the last leg of your trip) are 1,300. You can buy your R/T ticket from the vending mahcine. The 'EXPO Shuttle' (also known as the Chuo Line)leave from tracks 7 or 8 every 20 minutes or so. The trip from Nagoya (stopping several times) to the final stop at Yakusa Station takes approx 40 mins. Then in Yakusa, you quickly change to the Linimo Train for the final 3 minute journey to the EXPO north gates entrance station called Tobu Kyuryo/EXPO Venue Station. FEAR NOT! Everything is well explained in japanese and english signs everywhere. You can NOT get lost, or else you need to take an IQ test and withdraw from society. The Linimo ride is cool as it is elevated and affords great views of the surrounding Aichi area around the EXPO site, as well as a birds-eye view of EXPO as you arrive.
Once you arrive at the North EXPO gates, you can buy your tickets to the left of the plaza (or exchange your online voucher), and you are ready to go. Before entering, ALL guests undergo a security check point where belongings are checked and you walk thru the scanner. The lady in front of me had a pair of scissors confiscated, so you know they are doing a better job than Disney's security will ever do at their BinLadden check points at the DL parks.
Finally going into EXPO and being encountered with the expansive site and the crowds, it became apparent that I will need more than my puny 6 hrs to enjoy everything. The EXPO site is HUGE!! Lots of walking all over the place, sometimes in inclined positions since the site was built around a hilly area. Never the less... it's a lovely area. Once inside, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and the fact that the guidemaps are so cramped with info, so I was overwhelmed and took me a little time to pick up my pace and form a plan of action. TIP: If you go, plan ahead and study a map of EXPO so you can have a better plan/idea of how to enjoy the place.
I found myself in between the Corporate pavillion zones A and B. Many people had told me that the Toyota Pavillion was the "must-see" show to do, so I headed out there immediately. Low and behold... I find out there is a "Reservation System" in place similar to Disney's Fastpass. The Toyota Pavillion *requires* a ticket to see and all tickets were gone for the day already (at 3pm) Dismayed I was then looking around to see where I could go next, when out of the blue... a nice young japanese couple with a child came up to me and asked if I was "one person".. I said "yes". He pushes a single ticket into my hands.. He says.. "Toyota extra ticketoh, go see now!!" I am like "OMG!!! DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASU!!!" They laught at my so-so japanese skills and he says "GO NOW!!" I look at the ticket which has a "Be in line before 3:20pm". I look at my watch. It's 3:16pm. I RUN to the pavillion thanking the japanese couple and was able to see the show. God Bless the Japanese. They are so wonderful and I will be eternally greatful for these people's gift.
I get in line in blistful glee and proceed up the ramp. An attendant takes my reservation ticket and let me through. The show starts at 3:40. There are lots of people to be accomodated into this theater, and there is a batallion of employees organizing the theater loading. It's sheer JOY for me to watch them do their job. In less than 20 mins they packed a full theater in the most orderly fashion. While we waited for our turn to go in, we watched a bilingual video on the high resolution TV monitors up above which explains restrictions and such for the show.
Anyways... the show features robots in a very colorful Cirque du Soleil style performance. A 9-robot band opens the show playing music. The robots walk and wheel themselves over the stage with amazing sync. Then after the musical prelude, the main show begins...with dancers in futuristic costumes and you obligatory Cirque aerial ballet performer. There are also cool projections on a 360 movie screen around and above the audience as the show plays down below on the arena floor. The show is pretty bu a bit too long at 20 mins. I think it becomes a bit repetitive after a while but anyways...it does feature the impressive looking "I-Unit" mobile single rider carts, and the even more stunning (if kind of silly looking) "I-Walk" chair, which is a one-seat robot with two legs and walks the rider around, sort of like riding one of those snow creatures in the Empire Strikes Back Star Wars movie. Anyways... a decent looking show at very colorful so I recommend you see it.
After the Toyota Exibit, I step into the Hitachi exhibit, which is called 'Nature Contact' and after waiting in a 45min line, you enter the pavillion, they take your picture and name (think ET at Universal) and you are on your way. You get informational portable computers that allow you to access info on animals found in the endangered species list. Then you are invited on to the ride. On the ride, you must don a computer sensor in your right hand and use computerized binoculars for a virtual safari that will take you to the african plains, underwater and other settings.. As the ride moves from one set to another, you look thru the binoculars to see animals in front of you. The sensor in your hand allows you to interact with the animal...for example, at one point you have bananas in your hand which you can throw to the monkeys in front of you. A snake overhead can be quite scary, and the charging rhino gave us a jolt. The we were able to pet a sea turtle as she swam by... Very cool exhibit and I recommend it!!
After tha, I wanted to venture in the other areas of EXPO. Got on the Kiccoro Gondola (named after one of the EXPO mascots) and ended up in the European area called Global Common 3 & 4. I brifly walk past some of the Russian nations' pavillion, the UK and treated myself to a plate of spaghetti in a nearby restaurant in the area. Most of these pavillions have exhibits and short videos playing (think InnoVentions type exhibits) so you can choose to be here a long time or just casually look and move on. The Russian Federation pavillion had an exhibit that allows guests to see what's happening in Russia at the moment in regards to technology and such. The UK offers a more in-depht look at nature and their resources..etc etc. Most all pavillions have little restaurants and bars and gift shop offering souvenirs and crafts from their respective nations.
For a moment of peace and quiet away from the hustle-bustle, take a detour into the Nature Forrest and Japanese gardens nearby... It a lovely area and will sooth your spirits as you breat fresh air and enjoy the lush natural setting and stunning japanese garden creations.
Moving on towards the western Euro section... I bridfly visited Spain, Italy and enjoyed their Nature related and cultural exhibits briefly, then moved on to the African nations. Again, due to my restriction on time and getting close to 6:30pm, I picked up the pace just casually peeking into pavillions at ramdom. The Morroco pavillion caught my eye as it features a stunningly beautiful restaurant/bar. The Egypt pavillion has lovely artwork to look at. A hige African Pavillion offers a taste of everything Africa. There is a So. African pavillion as well but I skipped this time.
Going from Africa to the Americas (South. central and North) I walked thru the Japan Zone, skipping it for my next visit, and going thru a huge building with several shops and huge food court. Finally arriving in Global Common 2 (The Americas) Here I went into the USA pavillion, which is located in the very back of this area. The pavillion's front is designed to look like the american flag. Inside, and exhibit commemorating Ben Franklin's birth some centuries ago, and it features a 3D movie which is presented WITHOUT 3D glasses, on a very cool 3D multilayered screen in which Ben Franklin talks about our accomplishments and how he regrets he was born to soon to enjoy the progress we have experienced in the last century and into the immediate future. However..I have two issues.. I could have done without George W Bush's portrait at the exbibit's entrance.. talk about a sour political feeling to it. Also, the USA Pavillion is the only pavillion that requires guests to undergo a security check to enter, forcing guests to put their belongings into a scanner and being wanded for metals. Very sad indeed, that the USA has made so many enemies in the past 4 yrs that it's necesary to do this in a World's Fair where friendship and understanding of each other is being enforced. I also noticed that there are police guards stationed behind the pavillion since it's location at the end of the EXPO perimeter makes it an easy target to hit from behind the site. Very sad!
I also visited Mexico, Argentina, Central America exhibits, and even the Red Cross. In the Red Cross exhibit, we got to see a short filmed presentation about their efforts..and you seenatural disasters and video from events like the Tsunami in so. Asia. However, I was not prepared to see the violence of some scenes such as a black man being shot in cold blood and such... so BE CAUTIONS!! There is no warning about this, so I would not take young children in there. Leave them outside where they can draw pictures which are exhibited on a wall for all to see.
After visiting the Americas.. I decided to take in the nightime show on Koi Pond in the center of EXPO. This was the only sour note of the day for me. I found the show (a Fantasmic wannabe without lasers, or fireworks) to be quite horrible and boring. Many agreed since I have never seen so many japanese gewtting up and walking out in the middle of the show. By the time the show ended, half of the audience was gone! At 33 mins long, the show is 25 mins TOO LONG!!!! The show centers on a family of monkeys exploring the history of the Earth..(I think) We see the beginning of the universe and creation of fauna and flora. The problem is...the show relays heavily on the water mist screens and unanimated floating props, which after a while become boring to watch. If the show have had better sound, fireworks, dancing water fountains, and a more expansive stage, rather than a scary looking huge inflatable monkey in the middle of the lagoon..it would have been more bearable to watch. But I can NOT recommend it. It's a horrible bad bad bad show. SKIP! SKIP! Avoid like the plague!!! Run from it as fast as you can!!! Or else, watch it only if you must find out how bad the show is...which makes me wonder.. what the heck was Robert Wilson ("World-renowned" american stage director) smoking when he came up with this messy and uninspired show?? Was the budget so bad that this is the best he could do??? AWFUL!!!
By this time it was 8:40pm already and the EXPO closes at 9:30pm. I made my way to the Global Common 6 (Oceania/Soeast Asia) and bridfly looked into some of those pavillion... Singapore for example, they give you an umbrella so you don't get wet when walking thru the rainforrest exhibit, and I made it to late for the Australia Pavillion which was closed already. By 9pm most pavillions are closed and very little is opened at EXPO, like shops and some eateries. So after doing my shopping and listening to the announcement that the fair would be closing soon, I headed out the north gates and did the line for the Linimo Train for my return trip back to Nagoya.
Now... some comments... The EXPO appears to be a most enjoyable 2-day experience but I went in expecting the same razzle-dazzle as EPCOT for example. That was not the case. Obviously, because of the temporary nature of the EXPO Fair, everything I saw seemed rather cheaply built and very generic, almost comparable to the same look of the Walt Disney Studios Paris. Very expansive walkways with little shade, and boxy buildings with ornaments and signs attached to them. The Corporate Pavillions faired better in design and scope and it's obvious some sponsors like Toyota, Toshiba, JR, do have the dough to create great exhibits. Even the USA could have done better, but at least, that was one of the better Nation pavillions I saw, as opposed to some of the other countries' pavillions that rely heavily on museum style presentations and cheaply done video shows in cosmetically pleasing settings. The restaurants and shops are as basic as can be. Most do not take credit cards so come prepared with loads of cash and be ready to pay higher than normal prices for the little things like soda and coffee. There is a lot of vending machines offering beverages all over but even these are a bit overpriced and offer cups instead of cans or bottles (though there are some of those vending machines as well). Also, another petpeeve...all modes of transportation inside EXPO do charge separate admission. Gondola rides are 600 yen per single ride so a round trip would be 1,200. The Global Tram on the Global Loop is 500 yen, and the ultra modern IMTS bus is the cheapest at 200 yen. TIP: Come prepared with good walking shoes and save the money or else just do the Kiccoro Gondola for a great view of the EXPO site... otherwise don't bother using the internal transport in EXPO. You are better off walking and enjoying the site at leisure. Language restrictions can be a bit trying but not unmanageable....as most employeess seemed to be able to communicate some in english, but some didn't at all. Be prepared with a pocket japanese phraze book just in case. Gay and Female alert: Check out the Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Euro pavillions for some great looking representative hosts!! Hubba Hubba!!! The gals were great but the guys were gorgeous!!! :D Reason to go back to EXPO!!! As for other concerns...smoking is not allowed except in very secluded areas of the EXPO site. You will be frowned upon for contaminating the atmosphere with cigarrete stink in a place that calls for "saving the Earth" themes and "healthy living" initiatives. Last but not least...if you must collect everything they hand out for free, then bring a bag where you can stow all of the free literature that is handed out at most pavillions.
All in all, I spend a most enjoyable time at EXPO, but must go back to see the many other exhibits I didn't have time for. Also keep in mind some exhibits do have their own hours of operation...meaning, just because the EXPO closes at 9:30pm doesn't mean everything will be opened till them. Likewise, some exhibits open later in the morning...sometimes 2 hours after gates have opened. If you are going to spend 4 days or more at the EXPO, then save money by purchasing the Season Pass, which allows unlimited visits till the end of the EXPO in Sept 25th, 2005. That sells for 17,500 yen. The 1-day pass for adults is 4,600 yen. There are other pricing options for students, seniors over 65, and children.
For more information go to www.expo2005.or.jp
..and now.. my photos from my visit and do read the captions so you can get a better understanding of what you are seeing on the photos...
Hope you enjoyed this trip report and sorry it was so so so long. Feel free to ask questions or comments. Thanks.