Sunday we hauled ourselves out of bed early to head out to the 2005 World Expo in Aichi Prefecture. This was particularly difficult for wednesday_10_00, who had stayed up until 4am reading Harry Potter. We left the house at 6:30am and began our voyage, which included two trains, a shinkansen, and a shuttle bus. We arrived at the Expo site at around 10am...where we were confronted with the hell that is North Gate.
Imagine airport security. Now imagine sending hundreds of thousands of tourists through it. Got it? Okay. Now imagine it OUTSIDE in 90° weather with a humidity of about 85%. We stood in a barely creeping line surrounded by masses of people (not all of whom had deodorized) for over an hour before we even got inside the gate.
We did finally make it inside. For anyone who didn't bother clicking on the Expo link, here's a bit of background information. The name of the location of the Expo, Aichi, can also be written with kanji that mean "love earth." Thus, in a pun on the name of the prefecture, the theme of the Expo is "Love the Earth." It's all about reduce/reuse/recycle and earth-friendly and so on and so forth. The first example of this is that there aren't just trash cans everywhere, there are separate trash cans for every conceivable item you might have to throw away, so that as much as possible can be recycled. The picture at the left illustrates the trash can reserved for disposable chopsticks. The trash cans also had uniformed attendants who would literally take the trash out of tourists' hands and put it in the correct can for them.
We began concocting a list of the "Top Ten Worst Jobs at the Expo." Trash can attendant is right up there.
The path goes around in a huge loop, traveling through different "global commons" areas that are each dedicated to pavilions of different countries. When we came, we had two main goals of pavilions we wanted to visit. First was the Wonder Circus pavilion, which was a ride. However, by the time we got there, it had a two hour wait, and we were already pooped from the wait just getting through the gate, so we decided to come back later. Our second goal was the Spain pavilion, because they had a (model) galleon on display, and certain members of our group have a thing for pirates.
We wandered in the direction of the Spain pavilion, stopping at a couple of the Asia pavilions along the way. They were nice, but we were hot, tired, and hungry, so we weren't able to appreciate them to their fullest. Finally, we made it to Spain, which was surrounded by a wall of colorful hexagons. (wednesday_10_00 poses in front of the Pirate Hexagons in the picture.) The line for the tapas bar was about as long as the line for the pavilion itself.
After Spain, I wanted to visit Germany, but the line stretched all the way around the building, so we gave that a pass and went to find some lunch instead. I ordered something called a pide (cheese melted on soft bread) from a Turkish restaurant. We were more energized after having a chance to sit down and eat in the air conditioned food court, so we set off once again.
Our next stop was at the Americas section. First we went in the Mexico pavilion, which was really impressive. The best part was at the end of the exhibit, where they had a bunch of lit squares set in the floor, each square with a word written in both Japanese and English. (Why not Spanish? Beats me.) When someone steps on a square, the light goes out with a small sound. After all the squares have gone dark, it resets itself. Kids were having tons of fun running all over it to turn the lights off. In the picture at the left, melf42 watches wednesday_10_00 attempt to extinguish "harmony."
We felt obligated to visit the USA pavilion, so we stood in line for that. The show was based around Benjamin Franklin. We were rather embarrassed to see that the pavilion's welcome sign was missing a comma. "Welcome to the USA...where we can't even speak our own native language properly..." Added to this was the young man giving people directions as we lined up to enter. His Japanese pronunciation was atrocious, but we can't really hold that against him, because he probably had just been given a quick crash course before coming to work there. His English, though...when he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we will enter you now," we all cracked up.
We made it all the way back around the loop and stood in line for the Wonder Circus ride as our last pavilion. By this time, the sun was beginning to set. We got through that ride at around 6pm and just needed to hit the gift shop before leaving. Little did we realize what a madhouse the gift shop was. First, the shop itself was LITERALLY packed. We're talking shoulder-to-shoulder. You had to fight to squeeze your way through. It was barely an improvement over trains at rush hour. After forcing one's way through the crowd and getting the desired merchandise, one then had to exit the store and head outside to the line for the registers. That line itself was a half hour wait. In the picture at the left, the weary warriorswednesday_10_00 and melf42 make it into the register line at last.
On our way home, we saw this cell phone ad (pictured on the right) in the train station. The idea of Darth Vader talking cell phones with Japanese high school girls... <snicker> We managed to get seats on the train all the way back to Kyoto, for which we were really grateful after standing nearly the entire day. We got to Moriyama around 10pm and were quite ready to crawl into bed (or continue to read Harry Potter, as the case may be).
For another perspective, see deniisu's version.