Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 8 / AUGUST 1985 / PAGE 64

Tsukuba Expo'85 Japan; the tools with which to dream. John J. Anderson.

I was eight years old in 1964--this is germaine to the topic at hand. At such a highly malleable stage in my mental development, I happened to live on 208th Steet, in Queens Village, NY. While in itself this may not seem significant, it was as pivotal to my development as the fact that Hawthorne halied from Salem, or tht Attila eventually discovered himself to be a Hun. For we wre a stone's throw from the magnum opus of New York's master builder and only bona fide Pharoah, the venerable Robert Moses. I speak of the New York World's Fair, 1964-1965.

During those two years of may early youth, I must have visited the Fair a hundred times. I was there in weather freezing and sweltering, wet and dry, in darkness and in light. The way other kids would ask to go to the movies, I would say "let's go to the Fair." I would fantasize about moving in permanently, balancing the pros and cons of living in the African Treehouse as opposed to the Coca-Cola Pavilion. I got to know the place as if it were my own neighborhood--the pavilions were my friends. I knew my way around every street and snack bar. The place belonged to me and molded me. I am a product of the Fair.

Ergo I am not what you might rsasonably call a World's Fair Buff. I am what you might reasonably call a Wordl's Fair Maniac.

My parents were understanding, and for good reason: they had spent a couple of their own formative years traipsing over the same turf--only at that time Moses had been compelled to call it the New york World's Fair, 1939-1940. and so without much trouble I convinced them to take me to Expo'667 in Montreal, and again in '68 when it was called "Man and his World."

My hopes were dashed, however, in 1970 when I finally came to grips with the fact that we would not make it to Osaka, Japan for Expo '70. I was never quite the same. So for me, the chance to visit Expo '85 was not an assignment, but a sublime opportunity: not only a chance for a first visit to Japan, but to attend a World's Fair there. In other words, a double scoop in seventh heaven.

Why, one might ask, should World's Fair set me so aquiver with excitement? Why does the mere mention of a Fair throw a strange look into my eyes? Certainly anyone who attended last year's disappointment in New Orleans may fairly ask that question.

Fair Game

But the answer is simple, really. World's Fairs, when they are done correctly, are places to gain a vision of the future. They are places that pay homage to the past and homage to change itself. They offer a moment's respite from the selfish, individual short-term view, replacing it with a broader perspective--and an optimistic, collective one--concerning the fate of humankind.

Since the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, Fairs have inexorably tied man's future to his technology, and quite rightly so. For it is man's technology that has always determined his future. Fairs relfect the thinking, and machinery, of their times. In Philadelphia 100 years after the birth of our country, Alexander Grahman Bell's telephone was on display. Those who used it there spoke and heard the future. At the Paris Exposition of 1889, a 100 horse-power internal combustion engine chugged away. Its noxious exhaust imparted the essence of the future. In New York, 1939, television programs were broadcast for the first time, with a ghostly, flickering image lighting the way to the future on the retinas of its viewers. And at Tsukuba, 1985, 35 miles northeast of Tokyo, robots have come into their glory. They walk, talk, climb stairs, spin tops, draw pictures, lift 500 lb. barbells, march in formation, even build scale models of themselves. And those who meet them at Tsukuba are among the very first to realize that they too are good--if exploited correctly.

People who are afraid of the future, or who simply do not care, will never understand, and Fairs cannot really speak to them. They are, perhaps, too grown-up. For there is another secret about Fairs, and that is they speak most directly to the child in all of us. This is not the same as saying that they are only for children. It is to say that the best appeal of a World's Fair is an appeal both visceral and ostensive. Don't tell us about evolution. Show it to us on a moving belt. Don't explain atomic theory. Give us an atom's eye view through 3-D glasses. World's Fairs at their best give aid and comfort to the Rationalist within us. And give us the tools with which to dream of the best future we can create, if we would only choose to do so.

The Inscrutability Syndrome

Unfortunately, most American press coverage has entirely missed the point of the Tsukuba Fair. That in itself is not so surprising, as it seems the American press has misunderstood Japan entirely since December 7, 1941. Compounding the problem are our current trade differences, which have made Japan-bashing into a national sport here. As a result, the Tsukuba Fair has been largely ignored in this country. When it does get some press, it seems to be bad press.

It is a shame. Because the Tsukuba Expo, which has been berated from Advertising Age to the New York Times, is an exciting and impressive place to visit. It is architecturally striking, while avoiding that most insidious pitfall of World's Fairs, kitsch. It is superbly designed and runs as a clean machine in and of itself. Philosophically its message is clear and forthright: science and technology must be used to create an affluent global community. By embodying the hopes of the 21st Century and presenting a positive view of that future to the very children to whom that future will belong, the makers of the Tsukuba fair are attempting to mold that future to humanistic aims.

Dreams or Pipedreams?

One way or another, technology is bound to end human suffering--that is underiable. The question is whether this will be effected by obliterating the causes of the suffering or by obliterating the human species entirely. Expo '85 acts as an emphatic endorsement of the former contingency, while warning that failure will mean the latter.

Some Americans miss the point of the Fair because they are embarrassed about optimism; they think it is naive. But the fact is that optimistic futurism is the only futurism that is worthwhile to pursue. It is only through calm and confident appraisal of our options that we can plan our future at all. Otherwise we might as well hide our heads and let it all happen to us. Arguably this was the philosophy of the New Orleans Fair, which in its party mood made no attempt to show us the right future path. In failing that responsibility, the Fair itself failed. There is a difference between a Fair and a mere festival.

Still at War?

Seen in an historical context, however, Fairs do reflect more than the mere aspirations and machinations of their times. They also relfect the unintended and sometimes ironic realities by which they are surrounded. The 1939 Fair, for example, poised the ideals of global peace and brotherhood on the knife's edge of approaching holocaust and world war. Some countries represented by pavilions at that Fair ceased to be countries while the Fair itself was in progress. While the 1965 Fair showed another peaceful and unified future, President Lyndon Johnson was redoubling our military commitment in VietNam. The unrest of the late '60s was in foment. And the shame of losing that awful war, the disgrace of Watergate, the panic of oil embargo, were unseeable, yet looming in a fearful future the Fair failed to predict.

There are unintended associations also to be found at Expo '85. Today we Japan as "serious." Exactly 40 years ago, it was Iwo Jima we termed serious. Nearly 30,000 men died to assert a claim upon that tiny island, where the fighting wa as fierce as it has ever been among human beings. Now we are friends with the Japanese and have returned Iwo Jima to them in peace and harmony. And its is hard to think of any good reason why we ever should have fought each other.

Yet, there is a remnant of xenophobia and of enmity from the last world war that, deny it as vehemently as we like, secretly pervades our relationship with Japan today. The battlefield now is business, and on some fronts we are on the retreat. It makes those of us who have done the retreating angry and suspicious; make no mistake about it. The subtext of Expo '85 is not to be lost upon Western eyes--one might phrase it "The Future Will Be Made in Japan." And the Japanese are right. We can choose to respond to that challenge or watch ourselves be surpassed.

The fact is that we have continually underestimated the Japanese. They have unwittingly encouraged us in their wholesale adoption of our ways--even in the adoption of World's Fairs.

If only we would realize how much we could stand to adopt from the Japanese concerning patience, pride, team-work, commitment to goals, and devotion to quality.

Choose Life

One may well wonder what inglorious precipice we stand before as we predict our glorious future from the fair-grounds at Tsukuba. It is without doubt in the worst case a nuclear threshold to be crossed. Remarkably, it is upon that very account that Japan is our best ally in the world today, as we count down the remainder of the 20Th Century and prepare to embark on the 21st. We pray to watch a candle burning down, but fear it is a fuse.

It is Japan, better than any other country, that realizes the obsolescence of war as an apologible human endeavor. For gaining the distinction of being the first country against which nuclear weapons were used, that realization is their honor. A reasoning United States should be a close second in this life-and-death race toward enlightment, as it has the distinction of being the first country to have used the weapon in anger. Tsukuba asks the world that the instances of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also be the last.

Here in pictures we try to show you a bit of Tsukuba Expo '85. If we had another 20 pages to devote to it, we might be able to impart a real feeling of what the place is like. As they have done countless times before with other western concepts, the Japanese have embodied the idea of the World's Fair and outdone us at it. Tsukuba works, wrapping idealism in a wrapper of fun and serving it up with style.