Columns/Interviews

Getting to Know the Expo

#8

Singer-Songwriter KAMON Tatsuo × 1→10's WATANABE Shun and MORI Erika
Aiming for a Better World through the Cycle of Ideas That Begin at the Dubai Expo

Aiming for a Better World through the Cycle of Ideas That Begin at the Dubai Expo Aiming for a Better World through the Cycle of Ideas That Begin at the Dubai Expo

We are pleased to welcome KAMON Tatsuo, the singer-songwriter so enamored of expos since Expo '70 in Osaka that he has become something of an “expo-meister.” Having served as an official supporter for the Japan Pavilion at the Shanghai, Milan, Astana, and other expos, and now as a PR ambassador for the Japan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, KAMON here spoke to WATANABE Shun and MORI Erika from 1→10, INC., which handles digital strategy for the Japan Pavilion.

What does the Dubai Expo mean for these two people involved in creating a new style of expo from the perspective of digital technology, and for KAMON, who is so well versed in both past and recent expos? And what are their thoughts on Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan?

What's an Expo? What's Changed or Hasn't Changed?

WATANABE

I originally had an impression of an expo as a place where a country just promotes itself, but when I actually went to the Dubai Expo, I felt this sense of people not so much promoting their own nation as searching for partners.

KAMON

It's premised on being a place for countries to compete through their technology and show this off to visitors from all across the globe. But since long ago, it's also been an opportunity for people worldwide to interact in very friendly ways.

MORI

When I was walking around with a fan from the Japan Pavilion's restaurant, Sushiro, people called out to me. If I visited other countries' exhibits, people would also ask me if I was Japanese. When I told them that I was, they would start talking passionately about how much they love Japanese anime. [Laughs] I was so glad to meet many people who love Japan.

KAMON

Japanese culture, especially anime and manga, is now global.

WATANABE

I had many chance encounters there. This sparked my interest in things that I then looked up, expanding my knowledge and teaching me about new things. It was my first time to visit an expo and I realized that I know almost nothing about some countries.

MORI

Take Kazakhstan, for instance, it's quite advanced and is developing a vision of the city of the future. I learned this for the first time by visiting the Kazakhstan Pavilion. I became curious to know more and was amazed that the nation is still less than thirty years old.

KAMON

I was only eleven at the time, but the 1970 Osaka expo had a pavilion for the Soviet Union. Then it became Russia and countries like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan became independent. The individual cultures of these countries have actually existed for a very long time. What's interesting is that the pavilions are showing us those peoples had certain cultures originally. That truly is what an expo is all about.

WATANABE

My role this time was as a member of the Japan Pavilion team, but I was able to go see other pavilion as a visitor and this got me thinking about my future career. It was a really inspiring experience that is sure to have a big influence on my work projects in the years to come.

KAMON

We are now able to get information from around the world thanks to advances in media technology, but until about the 1980s, we really didn't know much about other countries. The impact of an expo on people was even greater. But now there's so much video and information out there, that kind of mystery gradually disappears. That's why you had the impression in Dubai that people around the world are searching for how they can interconnect.

WATANABE

Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this is perhaps something truly essential. The overall theme of the Dubai Expo is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” The challenges that face our planet seemed to be starting to influence us on many levels—national, corporate, and individual—such as through initiatives like the SDGs. There seemed to be a lot of exhibitors at Dubai whose mindsets had changed.

A Virtual Japan Pavilion: A Platform for Problem-Solving

WATANABE

Speaking of what changed from previous expos, both the Japan Pavilion and the overall Dubai Expo put a strong emphasis on the virtual and digital. It was possible to view all the pavilions online and the opening ceremony was streamed live on YouTube. Given the circumstances around the world, the pavilions made efforts to ensure that people could enjoy the exhibits and experience the messages they wanted to convey even without attending.

KAMON

That said, it's still hard to beat actually going and experiencing it in person.

WATANABE

That's true. Though we could convey the Japan Pavilion digitally, we didn't think we could completely replicate the experience online. Since the exhibits in the pavilion are designed for people to experience them in person, if we recreated the content of the exhibits of the exhibition space just as they were but virtually, it would ultimately just be a kind of imitation. It's like public viewing for watching sport. It doesn't capture the same atmosphere as watching at the actual venue. So public viewing needs to have its own special appeal. When it came to the digital strategy for the Japan Pavilion, we adopted the same mindset and really thought hard about the role a website should have.

KAMON

That's because what an expo does is propose the next way to do the things we take for granted in everyday life. It's really important that it shows the appeal of trying to take the next step forward and then thinking how we can actually make that happen.

WATANABE

After brainstorming and going back to the goal—that is, what is the message we want the Japan Pavilion to tell the world?—we created two websites. The pavilion theme is “Where ideas meet,” but I think some people don't immediately understand what that means. So we first created a special website for the Japan Pavilion to introduce how Japan has developed across its history while incorporating other countries’ cultures, ideas, and technologies, and to tell people and elicit their understanding about how such “meetings” are necessary for solving the planet’s problems and moving forward in the future. A visit to the website starts with a video digest of the Japan Pavilion message. It packs the whole message into about a minute, so it's easy for people to watch and share on social media. We thought that this was what we could do with a virtual approach.

Expo 2020 Dubai Japan Pavilion Special Website

MORI

The other website was called “JUNKAN: Where ideas meet”. The concept was “Share Your Voice, Make Our Future.” It tells people how just by sharing our voices, we can move one step closer toward building the future.

JUNKAN: Where ideas meet

WATANABE

The Japan Pavilion website tells people the message, while the JUNKAN (“cycle”) website actually brings ideas together. In the sixth “scene” in the Japan Pavilion in Dubai, visitors are able to take part by writing challenges and ideas for solving them as a message. The text uploaded to the JUNKAN website displays randomly on the monitors in scene six.

MORI

JUNKAN aspires to be a place that prompts website and pavilion visitors to take action themselves. It may be hard to stay motivated for thinking passionately on a daily basis about the problems facing our planet, but I think you can realize things when you glimpse the ideas of lots of different people like you would look at a bulletin board. I hope that the website functions somewhat like a bulletin board that paves the way for the future. It's designed so that people don't just look at it and that's it, but they get inspirations and insights that they then intuitively convert into action.

WATANABE

The languages are currently limited to English, Japanese, and Arabic, but I hope it can eventually become a platform for anyone anywhere to freely brainstorm ideas, to point out challenges, and to share. The key thing is that the people who see those then act. The role of digital strategies is to create the connections to make that happen.

KAMON

It's about raising questions, right? In my case, I've packaged messages as songs, because I think we can definitely reach more people that way. Perhaps you could utilize that approach? If you made them into songs, it's bound to be interesting.

WATANABE

That's what they call co-creation. It's a great idea.

MORI

If it's a song, it stays in our mind.

Aiming for a “Fun Japan” after 2025

KAMON

At Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan, digital strategies will surely be even more advanced. When I first heard about the venue, I was a bit disappointed that it's only around half the size of the 1970 Osaka expo. But if we utilize digital technology, it's no longer an issue of just making the venue bigger physically and we have enough space to make something good.

WATANABE

Not only the advances in digital technology, I think transmission speeds and data capacity will also change. When artificial intelligence is added to the mix, our abilities are expanded, and massive amounts of data become really simple and within reach. There are potentially lots of useful and fun things. I hope we can increase the functions of the JUNKAN website. It's a joint project with Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan, so in order to connect with 2025, I hope lots of people use it how they want and that it keeps expanding. If it can develop into a social media platform for people to improve the future planet together, then it'll be really meaningful.

KAMON

There are some things you can't understand when you are in Japan, which is an affluent country. The planet's environment, for instance, is such an important issue, but there are also countries and regions where people face urgent problems in their lives like not having enough to eat. There is child poverty even in Japan. I express a message through a song, but it's amazing that you have made a database that will prompt people to think about these things!

WATANABE

It is still just the first step. Various challenges remain in terms of functionality and limitations that we have to overcome.

MORI

By next adding AI analysis of the text, we hope we can automatically match up the uploaded problems and ideas, and allow users to connect with each other on the site. As automated translation improves, the language barrier will disappear. We will be able to develop the website into a format that is even more easily accessible to anyone.

KAMON

Building on that, by the time that Expo 2025 takes place, we can make Japan even more fun. SAKAIYA Taichi has said that in the prewar period, we wanted to make Japan strong, and in the postwar period, we wanted to make Japan affluent, but the next Japan has to be fun. I think he's absolutely right. The theme for the future is a “fun Japan.”

WATANABE

Even though we have so much information today, it feels like we are more bored. Somehow, we're not satisfied. That's another challenge for society. How can we approach passing time meaningfully and living enjoyably?

KAMON

It's tricky. When I see news about how little entertainment there is for elderly people or how difficult children's lives are, it gets me thinking about making things more fun at a wider, general level.

WATANABE

Once the world expands through the virtual metaverse, our actions may change a bit as well as the way in which we pass time. As we head toward 2025 and beyond, I think we should continue searching for that: the values for each community, the things that are interesting for us, and so on.

KAMON

Our way of thinking in terms of a community didn't start just now. Since decades ago, people would watch professional wrestling on the streets and have lots of fun. People are connected by their passion for sport or music. When Pokémon GO got popular, the fun of playing the game brought everyone together. In the future, along with digital changes, the community will surely diversify further.

WATANABE

This takes us back to what we were saying at the start, but that's truly what an expo is all about: encountering communities or things you know nothing about. It's just such fun.

KAMON

You're bound to have fun if you go! Because it was held this time in Dubai, it was a bit difficult to visit from Japan. But all of us involved will carry the legacy of Dubai, including your team's digital strategy, on to 2025, so I hope everyone visits the expo in Osaka.

WATANABE

I want everyone to know that there are many people who are working so hard for Japan in Dubai to carry on the achievements of the expo, and I hope the people who can't go in person also support us.

Profile

KAMON Tatsuo

KAMON Tatsuo

Singer and Songwriter

Born on March 25, 1959 in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. Kamon was deeply influenced by his experiences visiting the Expo 1970 Osaka when he was a schoolboy, and he has continued collecting badges from expos held since. His affection toward expos is a common thread running through all his diverse activities as an artist, which span everything from CDs to radio, television, live performances, and writing. He has served as an official supporter of expos in Shanghai, Milan, and Astana. He plans to fulfil his duties as Japan Pavilion PR Ambassador in Dubai with an eye to the upcoming Expo 2025 OSAKA KANSAI, JAPAN. His performances of songs in different languages usually go down a treat!

WATANABE Shun

WATANABE Shun

Scene5, 6 System Design / Virtual Experience
1→10,Inc. Producer / Planner

Born in 1985, WATANABE Shun works in both real and virtual environments, dealing with marketing and promotion as well as service and product development. He undertakes project production, planning, and direction synthesizing different approaches based on his experiences at events using an array of mediums. His mottos are “It'll work out somehow, so let's make it work somehow” and “You can't do anything by yourself.” His major awards include accolades at the Cannes Lions, One Show, ADFEST, Spikes Asia, ACC TOKYO CREATIVITY AWARDS, Tokyo International Custom Car Contest, and the Asia Pacific Interior Design Award.

MORI Erika

MORI Erika

Scene6 System Design / Virtual Experience
1→10,Inc. Producer / Director

Born in 1989, MORI Erika develops user-focused content production in both real and virtual environments. Drawing on her experience with web production, she is involved with production and direction for a wide range of project, from promotion to service development, installations, gadgets, live events, and problem-solving systems.

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