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:
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.
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
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).
Zone 2 is devoted to the Americas.
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.
The largest of all Commons zones, all the European countries not in Zone 3 can be found in Zone 4.
Zone 5 is the site of the giant Africa Pavilion, plus Egypt and South Africa with their own pavilions.
Zone 6 is the South-East Asian zone.
The centre for events and performances.
Promotional propaganda courtesy of the governments of Aichi, Nagoya City, the Chubu region and the national government of Japan.
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.
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.
Forest Experience Zone
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.