Meghan Barstow
Apr 15, 2024

Osaka World Expo 2025: How to win influence with key economic drivers in Japan

With only a year to go, Meghan Barstow of Edelman shares five key takeaways on the payoff for countries and global brands that show up well in Osaka.


Ballooning costs, construction delays, a carpenter shortage—the litany of reported woes besetting the World Expo 2025 in Osaka seems endless. One year out, Japanese media coverage of the Osaka Expo continues to be deeply skeptical. Several commentators have called for the event to be postponed or cancelled, with some critics even calling for government funds set aside for the Osaka Expo to be redirected to relief and reconstruction efforts for the Noto Earthquake that struck Japan on New Year’s Day. Even 'Daichan', an AI chatbox dog operated by the Osaka government, mistakenly confirmed the Expo’s cancellation; an error quickly seized on by local media and netizens.  

And yet, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has publicly staked his administration’s reputation on delivering a successful Expo on time. With the full weight of the Japanese government behind it, make no mistake—Expo 2025 will start on April 13, 2025, as advertised. 

Geopolitics is also at stake. The Japanese government views the Expo as a way to reconnect the international community post-COVID. Japan is eager to carve itself the role of key convenor in Asia of global events that bring the international community close together. The protracted war in Ukraine and eruption of violence in the Middle East have only heightened the need for expressions of international cooperation. 

After a slow start, by mid-March 161 countries and nine international organisations including the EU and United Nations have committed to participating, according to the latest update from organisers. Russia being the only country to announce withdrawal.  

Here are five reasons why countries and global brands should show up well at Osaka 2025. 

1.     Form lucrative commercial connections in a top 20 global economy

First, take into consideration the size of the prize. Osaka and the surrounding Kansai region which includes Kyoto and Kobe, are the beating heart of Japan’s mighty industrial base. If the Kansai region were a country, it would be among the world’s top 20 economies—about the same size as the Netherlands or Switzerland. Nintendo and the Panasonic are among the top Japanese brands that are proud to call Kansai their home, while global multinationals like Nestle, P&G and Eli Lilly operate their Japan HQs in this region. It is worth noting that the Expo site includes an area set aside for corporate pavilions with more than 50 top Japanese brands signed up as sponsors. 

When planning for the Osaka World Expo, factor in the potential for forging valuable new connections in this key economic hub. Showing up strong alongside all of these global and local players sends a clear message that you are a serious contender in this key economic hub, and will help forge valuable new connections. 

2.     Build valuable government relations in Japan

Regional revitalisation continues to be a cornerstone of Japanese government policy. It is one of the few policy areas where there is a clear consensus across political party lines. Japan’s government redirects resources and investment away from the Tokyo metro area to regions like Kansai. Hosting the 2025 Expo in Osaka, rather than Tokyo or neighboring Yokohama, is a demonstration of that policy in action. Consequently, showing up well at the Osaka Expo aligns your organisation or country with this key goal of national policy, offering a rare opportunity to deepen influence with the Japanese government agencies from the Prime Minister’s office to city assemblies across Kansai. 

Edelman also believes Osaka 2025 offers countries and corporate brands a powerful platform for three key calls to action. 

3.     Visit me

While inbound tourism to Japan is booming and has already rebounded beyond pre-COVID levels, outbound tourism is recovering much more slowly. In 2023, outbound travel by Japanese tourists was about half of pre-COVID 2019 levels, according to the national tourism agency, JNTO.

Japanese travelers are among the most risk-averse of all international visitors. A pavilion at Osaka 2025 is a great platform to promote your country as a safe destination to the 28 million visitors the organisers expect to come to the Expo. Hosting a memorable pavilion is a key opportunity to whet the appetite of potential visitors for an in-person visit. 

“It costs money to go abroad, but at the Expo, you can get to know the world without a passport,” says Hiroyuki Ishige, the secretary-general of the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition in an interview with Japan’s Asahi newspaper. Conversely, being absent leaves the door open to your competitors to win-over share of this multi-billion-dollar market and the US$1,500+ average spend Japanese visitors bring with them. 

4.     Study with me

In 2023, the Japanese government unveiled ambitious study abroad targets for both inbound and outbound students. The administration hopes to send 500,000 Japanese students on study abroad programs, more than double the 220,000 Japanese scholars who went pre-COVID. With Japanese universities also doubling down on efforts to attract more international students and student exchange programs, promoting study abroad programs in your country also represent a key role for pavilions at Osaka 2025. As a first step, in boosting study abroad programs Japan’s Ministry of Education has made a request for JPY 11.4 billion ($75 million) in funds be earmarked for student grants in the fiscal year starting April. 

5.     Invest in me

Perhaps the strongest lure for corporate brands are potential investment opportunities. Inbound and outbound investment is gathering momentum, albeit from a relatively low base. Last year, the Japanese government significantly raised its targets for foreign direct investment (FDI) into Japan to  JPY 100 trillion (approximately $674.3 billion) by 2030. Certainly, that ambitious target is small compared to Japan's outbound investment, which totaled 270 trillion-yen last year—more than five times the inbound investment. However, it is more than double the FDI total for 2022, and 25% higher than its previous target. The investment opportunity has never been bigger. Osaka Expo is set to be one of the world’s largest extended gatherings of countries and businesses. Japan is committed to setting a grand stage.

Standing out from the crowd at the Osaka Expo will require careful planning, investment and a communications strategy that is smart and resonates with a wide range of stakeholders. The opportunities for nations and multinational companies are abundant and are ready for the taking if you show up smartly. Don’t miss out. 

Meghan Barstow is president of Edelman Japan.

Profile photo of Meghan Barstow

Campaign Asia

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