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|June 26th, 2010, 05:29 AM||#1|
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Japan at Shanghai Expo 2010
Japan pavilion deals deftly with potential for friction
25 May 2010
The designers of the Japan pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai, aware of lingering anti-Japanese sentiment stemming from the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese war, found inspiration in a co-operative tale about a bird.
Japan's Hinomaru national flag, often seen in China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, does not fly over the pavilion. Instead, visitors get to see two performances based on a joint effort by Chinese and Japanese scientists to save the crested ibis, Japan's national bird, from extinction.
Noriyoshi Ehara, director of the Japan pavilion, said the story best suited the expo's theme, "Better City, Better Life", and was a good example of bilateral co-operation.
The crested ibis disappeared from Japan decades ago but several were found in a remote part of Shaanxi province in the 1980s. Chinese scientists helped breed up the population and in 1999 China gave two crested ibis to Japan. Further breeding has since lifted the number living in Japan to 111.
The crested ibis story takes up more than half of the pavilion tour, with visitors watching a hi-tech show followed by a drama performed by Chinese traditional Kun opera artists to a background of Japanese classical Noh music.
"These two performances convey the message that we want to keep a good natural environment, and that we hope the momentum of two countries working together can be maintained," Ehara said.
The Japan pavilion, which cost 900 million yuan (HK$1.03 billion), covers 6,000 square metres, making it one of the largest foreign pavilions. Covered by a purple membrane material, it has become known as the "purple silkworm island". One of the expo's must-see venues, it receives an average of more than 20,000 people a day, with visitors having to queue for about three hours to get in.
Visitors also see other exhibits about the long history of contact between the two countries, including pictures of Japanese diplomats sent to China about 1,400 years ago, when China was the top power in the world, and items still in daily use in Japan that they brought back from China. The pavilion also features a robot playing the Chinese folk song Jasmine on a violin.
Guo Dingping, a professor at Shanghai's Fudan University who specialises in Sino-Japanese relations, said Japan was using the expo to improve its image among the Chinese masses. "Many Chinese, especially the younger generation, don't have a positive impression of Japan, because of the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese war and Japanese prime ministers' repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Japan knows that Chinese people don't like it," Guo said.
"Ever since [former Japanese prime minister Junichiro] Koizumi stepped down [in 2006], Japan has been doing its best to improve its image in China and to achieve a win-win situation, especially now that China's economy is growing so fast."
Ehara said the national flag was a sensitive issue and its absence was irrelevant to Japan's participation at the expo. "Every country has its own way ... we don't raise the flag," he said. "Our pavilion's major themes are environmental protection and Sino-Japanese co-operation. The flag has nothing to do with our themes."
Unlike some Western counterparts, Japan's expo pavilion does not place much emphasis on furthering business in China. "The World Expo is not a trade fair. It is a stage for leisure and amusement, as well as a platform for people around the world to understand each other," Ehara said. "Once there is mutual understanding, there will be more opportunities for co-operation."
Zou Rong, a visitor from Guizhou, said she was impressed by the easily approachable female hosts at the Japan pavilion, whose skirts and bird-shaped hats echoed the ibis story. "I said hello in Japanese and they said the same in Chinese. They are so polite," Zou said, adding she liked the bird story.
But her view was not shared by other visitors. A woman from Jiangsu, who queued for 3-1/2 hours, said: "The Japanese are just cheating us by making us wait so long. I will not recommend that friends visit it."
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