The Mitsubishi Interview
The Mitsubishi Pavilion
Interview with Director-General of the Mitsubishi Pavilion, Naoyoshi Yamakawa
The Mitsubishi Pavilion (not to be confused with the Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion) is touchy-feely from beginning to end (apart from a few scary moments depicting a parallel-universe earth), but that doesn't mean it's a soft touch on the issues. The exterior of the rounded building is festooned with green plants that soften, and are even allowed to obscure, the familiar diamond logo and catchphrase of the pavilion. Inside, the building itself leads you from queuing area to pre-show area to presentation theatre to post-show area in a gentle spiral. Cheerful yellow robots greet you at the entrance, while a cartoon moon-boy beguiles you with 1unar banter. All this belies the pavilion's profound theme, 'What if the moon didn't exist?' gently but firmly challenging us to examine how much of the natural world we take for granted.
Similarly, the Director-General of the pavilion, Mr. Naoyoshi Yamakawa, is affable and his excellent English soft-spoken as he greets me for an interview in the bowels of the pavilion, but it soon becomes clear that he has put a lot of work into making the Mitsubishi site more than simply a superficial tip of the hat to the overall Expo theme of Nature's Wisdom'.
JapanVisitor: How long have you been involved in this project?
Naoyoshi Yamakawa: I think we started about three years ago, when we began planning the participation, and I was involved from the very beginning.
What are your main jobs here?
This pavilion is funded by 33 Mitsubishi companies. As you may know, Mitsubishi is not one company: there's no financial control, there's no central body within Mitsubishi, therefore basically I have to organise those willing partners. We have a committee comprised of the 33 companies, and I was in a way Secretary-General and organised the pavilion, and got the approval of the plan for the pavilion from those people and the money!
That must have been very difficult with so many people involved. Were there many proposals for a theme, or did you decide quite quickly?
Actually, we invited ideas from many creative companies. We had more than ten companies who were willing to make a proposal, and we selected this particular theme from those proposals.
How would you describe the theme? One source of the inspiration seems to be that book What If the Earth Didn't Exist [by astrophysicist Neil F. Comins], but the theme is The wonder of our lives on earth: a glimpse of the miracle'. How would you describe the meaning behind that?
As you know, the theme of the Expo is Nature's Wisdom', and the Expo is basically focused on environmental issues. We wanted to convey the message that the environment on earth is made up of a very fine balance of various things, so you have to be careful if you remove something which you thought is just a given, the consequences could be very big. Therefore we thought this book, or the phrase, What if the moon didn't exist?', really catches people's attention, and I thought it's a very good vehicle to convey our message.
It suggests that we take things for granted, take the environment for granted.
The design of the pavilion obviously reflects nature and so on, but what's the thinking behind this spiral?
This pavilion was designed by the Mitsubishi real-estate design division, and the designer's original idea was that the pavilion was made of a spiralling wall. Usually a wall is something to divide people: you have this side and the other side; but if you make it a spiral, then at a certain point you are outside, but gradually you will be inside. So he thought that this shape would symbolize a kind of harmony. Usually a wall is a dividing thing, but now it's a combining thing.
Then we've used many methods to reduce the environmental impact. For example, the structure of our pavilion is partly made of scaffolding pipes. Using these as structural material is rather new, and I think after the Expo, it is very easy to dismantle, and we can use those pipes in other construction sites, so it is a recycling endeavour. But the scaffolding pipes make just a skeleton structure, so we need a wall to create a building. We have put in many kinds of things to create a wall. For example, we have used about 40,000 PET bottles, which is very good for recycling. We have some chinaware from the nearby Seto region, and rocks and some green plants on the roof and the wall.
Yes, I saw that. How long did it take to grow?
We wanted it to be completely green by now, but as you can see, actually some parts are still grey and brown. The Expo started in late March. We put in those plants in early March, and then we had some snow, so some of the grasses were damaged maybe; but I thought maybe those patchy greens could be naturalist's nature's wisdom!
I saw the Bio-Lung [another Expo attractionwall exhibits near Expo Plaza] earlier. There are some similarities, with the combination of the artificial and the natural.
[There is a loud rumbling noise.]
What is that?!
This is sounds from the show!
Oh, I see! I was hoping it wasn't an earthquake! Well, maybe we should talk about the show. The IFX' theatre you have a patent pending on the technology. Could you describe what is special about the technology?
This is basically visual film theatre, and we thought that at the Expo we have to present something new. Almost everything has been tried with visual presentation, for example large-format film, 3-D, and so forth, so we thought the remaining area for new technology would be floor and ceiling, and we use a lot of mirrors in our show. So the imagery that you see in our show will not just be screen imagery. It will be a combination of screen and mirror imagery. Our theatre's seating capacity is 324, not very big, but the image you will see is much larger. We calculated it would be something like 23 or 24 times larger than a typical movie theatre.
And also you're using robots. Can you talk a little bit about them?
If you go to any Expo, typically you will have many attendants to guide you through the pavilion, and I thought perhaps we can replace some of those attendants with robots. That was our original thought, then we realised that human behaviour is not good' enough to do that! That is, we realised that when people see robots, the first thing they do is touch them, push them and so forth. This type of new robot cannot withstand 300 people doing that, so here we put those robots on the stage, away from people. So I think we lost some of our original approach, but still those robots will guide you, or tell the story. Most of the announcements are done by robots.
Why are the robots called Wakamaru'?
Actually, I really don't know. But there was a famous Japanese samurai named Ushi Wakamaru. It comes from this.
Also, you are trying to reduce your impact on the environment with greenhouse-gas credits. Can you describe how you got involved with that?
This Expo is promoting environmental issues, and our pavilion is trying in a way to educate people about the balance of nature and so forth. But to do that, we inevitably increase CO2. Whatever you do, it will increase CO2. And we have calculated that by participating in the Expo, or by presenting the Mitsubishi pavilion, we will produce about 3000 tonnes of CO2, so we thought that we have to reduce that. We joined a project to preserve rainforests in Madagascar, run by NATSOURCE [www.natsource.com], and by participating in that project, we will actually reduce 11,500 tonnes of CO2 there, so we can reduce more than we use here.
Almost four times as much.
If you have any events, you will increase CO2 emissions. So I thought that in the future, people may try to think about purchasing CO2 credits. If you have a rock concert, with 50,000 people gathering for the concert, then it's not huge money, you can just buy credits. And if many people do that, we can partially solve this CO2-global warming problem.
Last week I did that myself on the internet. I actually offset my carbon emissions for one yeara similar project [Climate Care (www.climatecare.org)].
Oh really? That's great!
NATSOURCE is an American-based company, and then NATSOURCE JAPAN [www.natsourcejapan.com] is their branch?
Then generally, outside of this project, is Mitsubishi instituting environmental-control policies through its various companies to reduce the impact on the environment?
Yes, but as I said, Mitsubishi has no holding company. It's a very unique group. There's no central control, therefore I cannot speak on behalf of the group. But I know that each Mitsubishi company is doing many kinds of things to alleviate those environmental impacts. We have many companies who construct power plants or industrial plants. We have many heavy-industry companies, and we are very conscious about the environmental consequences. So I think most Mitsubishi companies are very aware of the situation, and are doing their utmost to prevent any bad impacts.
It's up to the reader to judge how environmentally friendly a company involved in heavy industry can be, but for anyone interested, take a look at the Corporate Citizenship information on the Mitsubishi global site (http://www.mitsubishicorp.com/). And check out the pavilion for yourself, near the north entrance of the Aichi Expo.
Souvenir tip: grab a practical and eco-friendly tote bag in black with the yellow pavilion logo for a mere 300 yen at the shop in the post-show area.