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Japanese Expo Highlights Role of Technology

March 11, 1985|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

TSUKUBA, Japan — The third international exposition that Japan has put on in the past 15 years, a $600-million extravaganza designed to promote a "science city" that the government has been building for 22 years, will open here March 17.

The theme of the exposition is "Dwellings and Surroundings--Science and Technology for Man at Home." The aim is to show the role that science will play in daily living in the future.

By the time the exposition closes Sept. 16, its sponsors hope that 20 million visitors will have passed through the pavilions on the 250-acre site. The government is promoting the show as a "science and technology center" for major research institutes.

The government and the Expo Assn. have spent $372.4 million on facilities and operating costs. The sponsors of 46 foreign exhibits, 37 international exhibits and 28 pavilions put up by private firms are estimated to have spent an additional $250 million.

Japan's big conglomerates have plunged enthusiastically into the exposition, spending by themselves an estimated $224 million on 27 pavilions. The most lavish of them, exposition sponsors said, cost $12 million. Although 55 American companies are taking part, only one American firm, IBM, through its wholly owned Japanese subsidiary, IBM Japan, has built an independent pavilion. Its theme is "Fostering Scientific-Mindedness."

The biggest competition among the foreign national pavilions is expected to be between the Americans and the Soviets.

Congress appropriated $8.5 million for the American pavilion, and private firms put up more than $4 million. The pavilion is divided into three halls, in one of which the 55 American firms will display their wares. The theme in the government part of the pavilion is "Extending the Human Mind: The Search for Artificial Intelligence."

The Soviets are planning eight exhibits linked to the theme "Peace on Earth and Throughout the Universe." Space, energy, housing and arts and crafts are among the exhibits.

Like Japan's previous two world expositions--at Osaka in 1970 and Okinawa in 1975--this one is designed to provide a boost for the host city. The government has tried, with mixed results, to transform Tsukuba into Japan's research and development capital.

It started the Tsukuba project in 1963, in an effort to relieve congestion in Tokyo. But the inconvenience of Tsukuba--it is 38 miles northeast of Tokyo--has been a problem.

Today, there are 53 installations here devoted to science, engineering and education, but only seven of them are run by private firms. The city's population has nearly doubled but is still only 142,000, with more than 12,000 scientists and engineers among them.

Few Papers Published

After the exposition closes, the buildings will be dismantled and the site transformed into an industrial park in an attempt to attract more industry. Not much of an industrial base has been created yet; nearly all of the scientists and engineers are engaged in basic research rather than product development.

The researchers, moreover, have published few papers on their work. Of 23,637 Japanese research papers published in scientific journals in 1982, Tsukuba researchers accounted for only 870.

Texas Instruments Inc. was the first major foreign firm to decide to locate a plant here. It advised the prefectural government March 2 of its plans to buy land for a semiconductor plant.

Tsukuba is Japan's most thoroughly planned urban area--and one of the most monotonous in the country. And it has other shortcomings. Its planners gave virtually no consideration to transportation. Only one rail line serves the city, and express trains take 54 minutes to cover the 38 miles to Tokyo. Even so, more than 20% of the researchers who work in Tsukuba are commuters.

Small, prefabricated hotels, which the owners intend to tear down after the exposition, have mushroomed around the site, but they can accommodate only about 20,000 visitors a night, compared to the expected average daily attendance of between 80,000 and 90,000. Peak daily attendance of 300,000 is expected in August.

Most of the visitors will have to come out from Tokyo, and the trip can take as long as two hours by rail or bus and nearly as long by car over a new expressway. Helicopters will be available at the Narita and Haneda airports, which serve Tokyo, and they make the flight in only 20 minutes, but the fare is $80 each way, about the same as taxi fare from Tokyo.

The Expo Assn. hopes to make enough on admission fees and sales of food and merchandise to cover its expenses, plus those of the national government.

The Japanese government has built three pavilions, one that traces Japan's technological history and two "theme pavilions" intended to demonstrate the Japanese people's "close personal contact with science."

High-Definition TV

High-definition television sets, which are expected to set the standard for TV sets around the world by the early 1990s, are displayed at several pavilions.

A new data system designed for office and household use, which started operations late last year in major Japanese cities and is expected to provide the basis for what Japanese call the "information era," also is on display.

With the help of computer graphics, visitors will be able to take "a journey into space" and "a tour of world history" or to "explore the human body." In several pavilions, visitors will be able to ask a robot to play a tune, draw a sketch of themselves or do an ice sculpture. And a group of robots will put on a dance.

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