NAGAKUTECHO, Japan - Japan's Aichi Prefecture
opened its arms and welcomed the world Thursday afternoon as Emperor Akihito, Empress Kojun, Crown Prince Naruhito, Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi and about 2,400 guests attended the opening ceremony of 2005 World Exposition Aichi.
Speaking at the ceremony at the Expo Dome in the expo's Nagakute Area, the emperor expressed his hope that the exposition,
which has the theme "Nature's Wisdom," would serve to raise people's awareness of the importance of caring for the environment.
"I sincerely hope Aichi Expo will be an opportunity for the people of the world to deepen their understanding of the impact
our actions have on the environment, and encourage them to work together to ensure the Earth's environment is preserved,"
Most pavilions appeared complete and ready to welcome the 15 million guests expected to visit Aichi Expo over the next
185 days. But a few pavilions were busy putting on some finishing touches and a final lick of paint Thursday morning in a
final rush to be ready when the first expo of the 21st century opens to the public Friday.
With 121 countries, including Japan, and several major corporate participants and international organizations taking part
in the exposition, which is nestled among wooded hills about 20 kilometers (about 12.4 miles) from central Nagoya, the global
festival also will provide an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn about and experience a diverse array of cultures.
"Aichi Expo, as a festival of new cultures and civilizations, will be a place for people from around the world to interact
with others," said Shoichiro Toyoda, chairman of the Japan Association for the 2005 World Exposition, at the ceremony. "I'm
sure it will be a place that will give children unlimited dreams and hope for the future."
After a stirring rendition of "Kimigayo" by opera singer Shinobu Sato, the flags of the participating nations were paraded
across the stage while the expo's theme song, "I'll Be Your Love," a ballad written by former X Japan band member Yoshiki,
was played by a symphony orchestra of musicians from around the world. World-famous maestro Yutaka Sado and Yoshiki conducted
the orchestra at the ceremony.
Koizumi said science technology held the key to creating a society capable of sustaining economic development while conserving
and respecting the environment that could be passed on to future generations. "I sincerely hope Aichi Expo will be a starting
point that will make us think about a future in which people and nature can harmoniously coexist," he said.
Pop star Ayumi Hamasaki, singer Ryoko Moriyama, former sumo wrestler and television personality Konishiki were among other
performers at the opening ceremony, which also featured classical music conducted by Sado and a ballet performance.
In addition to environmental conservation, the wonder of technology also was brought to the fore, as bipedal robots developed
by Sony Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. walked up stairs and danced in time to music performed by the orchestra.
One Toyota robot even chimed in and accompanied the orchestra with some trumpet-playing of its own.
The expo site was bathed in sunshine Thursday morning as attendants, guides and other expo staffers, looking prim and proper
in their new uniforms, took a stroll around the walkway dubbed the Global Loop that encircles the expansive exposition site
and were given last-minute instructions on the layout of the site and their roles in ensuring the exposition runs smoothly.
Drivers of the environmentally friendly pedicads, which will transport visitors around the loop, also pedaled their way at
a leisurely pace around the loop in a final warm-up for the main event.
About 135 billion yen (US$1.27 million) has been spent constructing the exposition site and getting it up to speed in time
for opening day.
With the opening formalities completed and the finishing touches having been made, the stage has been set for Aichi Prefecture,
exposition mascots Morizo and Kiccoro - forest spirits that embody the theme of "Nature's wisdom" - and the participants to
spread their message of working together to create sustainable and harmonious coexistence.