Wow Place #136: Osaka Expo Grounds

I collected a lot of things when I was a kid. Coins. Baseball cards. Firecracker Labels. Bottle caps. My crowning glory, however, was my stamp collection. I particularly liked big, bright, picture stamps commemorating exotic places and events. Some of my all-time favorites were the stamps celebrating the 1970 Expo, taking place in far-off Osaka, Japan. Little did I know that 1) the expo grounds still exist, and 2) I would someday actually go there!
In its day, the expo (Nihon Bankoku Hakuran-kai) was quite an affair. With a theme of “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” the event was the first world’s fair held in Japan and in Asia. Seventy-seven countries participated in the event, and within six months the number of visitors reached over 64 million people. A few notable highlights: 1) a large moon rock on display in the United States’ pavilion, returned from the moon by Apollo 12 astronauts in 1969. 2) the premiere of the first-ever IMAX 3) demonstrations of conveyor belt sushi, mobile phones, local area networking and maglev train technology. In a perfect world, I would’ve gone to the Osaka Expo in 1970 – even at age 7, I’m sure it would’ve been a real kick. Alas, I wasn’t a world traveler back then, although I do have do have dim memories of visiting the 1967 Expo in Montreal.

Over fifty years later, Adam and I arrive at the expo grounds in northern Osaka on a warm, sunny May afternoon. Just outside the park is a gigantic ferris wheel, similar in dimensions to the London Eye. What it’s doing out here, attached to a shopping mall, is just another of those weird, unexplainable quirks that make Japan so fun. The expo grounds today are well worth a visit. Although all of the international pavilions have been removed, you still find here the National Museum of Ethnology, the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, and part of the Expoland. The park, itself, is fully of leafy trees, a quite a nice oasis from Osaka’s urban sprawl. What excites me most, however, is the continuing existence of the Tower of the Sun, the symbolic landmark of Expo ’70. An imposing monument, the Tower bears three faces: the “Golden Mask” located at its top, which shines golden and suggests the future, the “Face of the Sun” on its front, which represents the present, and the “Black Sun” on its back, which symbolizes the past. Although not as clean and shiny as it must’ve been back in the day, I find the Tower to still be rather evocative. It certainly brings me back to my childhood, when I would carefully paste my Expo ’70 stamps in my stamp book and dream of an exotic future of travel.

News Flash: Expo is coming back to Osaka in 2025! I hope to attend – as long as the keep the Tower!

(What did you collect when you were a kid? Do you still have those collections? Who can you pass them along to? Collections are an interesting link to our childhood and often a tip for an adult hobby yet to be explored.)