Osaka’s World Expo Memorial Park (万博記念公園) is where the World Expo took place back in 1970. The theme was Progress and Harmony for Mankind, reflecting the optimism of the time. Countries from all over the world built fanciful and futuristic pavilions to showcase their most advanced technologies and as an expression of their national prestige.
The pavilions are long since gone, as is the landmark tower that formed the centrepiece. In the intervening 49 years, the area has been transformed into a wonderfully diverse park and recreational area, with forests, lawns, flower displays and natural habitats, as well as a very extensive and beautifully landscaped Japanese garden. I reckon the park is about 3 km long, and would take at least half a day to see everything.
Here’s my list of 10 things that make it a great day out:
- You arrive there by monorail.
2. It’s really good value
Entry fees in Japan tend to be quite expensive. But it only costs about €2 to get into the park, and you can stay there all day.
3. The Tower of the Sun
The Landmark Tower is gone, as are all the national pavilions. But one monument still stands: 太陽の塔 The Tower of the Sun. This strange artwork, which greets you as you come in through the main gate, has three faces representing the past, present and future.
4. Expo 1970 featured some genuinely historic technological developments
The very first IMAX film was shown at Expo 1970. The Expo also featured maglev trains, mobile phones, local area networks and a rock that had been brought back from the moon by American astronauts the previous year. People must have really felt like they were living in the future.
5. Forest footbath
There’s a place in the middle of the forest where you can sit and relax with your feet in hot water for 10 minutes. For free (except you’ll need to buy a towel for 200 yen if for some reason you came to the park without one). It’s really quite agreeable, if you disregard the sign saying “Watch out for the snake!”
6. The ソラーデ “sky promenade”
There’s a wooden walkway extending for several hundred metres at treetop level. This is a lovely immersive way to experience the forest environment, surrounded by green leaves and birdsong.
7. So much nature
There are dozens of different zones and habitats from marshes and forests to lawns and formal gardens. At various times of year you can experience cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, azaleas, poppies, tulips and irises in full bloom. It’s amazing to think that this forest wasn’t here 50 years ago – it feels like it’s been here forever.
8. Lots of information
If you can read a little Japanese, you can really learn a lot about the birds and trees in the park.
9. Carts for hauling your children around
Loads of people had these little carts containing their infant children as well as picnic and barbecue equipment. I hadn’t seen this before (but I guess I’ll be seeing it a lot in future, because it’s such a practical idea). The children seemed really content.
10. The Japanese garden
We only saw a fraction of the Japanese garden because it extends over a couple of kilometres and we were getting tired from all the walking. But it is a really beautiful place, expertly laid out to create a sense of tranquility and serenity.