Swiss mountain in Japan nears completion

The view from the top of the Swiss pavilion (dynamic-switzerland.jp) Lookat

One week before the 2005 World Expo opens, organisers of the Swiss pavilion say they will be ready on schedule to welcome visitors.

This content was published on March 18, 2005 - 07:12

Switzerland has built a replica mountain as its contribution to the global exhibition, which gets underway next Friday just outside the Japanese city of Nagoya.

During a press conference at the expo site on Friday, the head of the Swiss team in Japan said he expected up to 1.5 million of the estimated 15 million visitors to pass through the doors of the country’s pavilion over the six-month exhibition run.

"We want every one of these visitors to discover that there is more to Switzerland than beautiful mountains and lakes," said Manuel Salchli, director of the pavilion and the Swiss foreign ministry's project manager for global exhibitions.

The Swiss government has spent SFr15 million ($12.9 million) on its presence at the expo in Japan – far less than it has committed to previous global exhibitions.

Part of the money was spent on constructing an artificial mountain range, inside which visitors are invited to tour an exhibition and discover the "hidden sides" to Switzerland.

Swiss exhibits

Artefacts on display include Albert Einstein’s Swiss passport and a scale model of the hot-air balloon used by adventurer Bertrand Piccard to circumnavigate the globe.

A Swiss-invented robot designed to help semi-paralysed patients walk again is also included in the exhibition.

"Our aim is to surprise the Japanese. If we had just filled the place with cheese, cows and pictures of Heidi, they would have loved it but nobody would have been surprised," Salchli told swissinfo.

The design team in charge of constructing the Swiss pavilion set out to exclude as many of the clichés associated with Switzerland as possible.

"The lack of traditional imagery is really no bad thing, and I don’t think it’s such a big deal if people leave confused... because that means they’ll ask us questions and go home thinking about what they have seen," said Salchli.

Positive response

Early reaction from the Japanese media to Switzerland’s appearance has been favourable.

An unofficial guide for visitors to the exhibition has awarded the Swiss pavilion four out of a possible five stars. Only the United States and South Korea scored maximum points.

But Salchli admits the move to banish virtually all images of traditional Switzerland could still backfire when the first visitors walk through the expo gates one week from now.

"We have taken a deliberate risk, and we’ll have to see how it works.

"If it turns out that everywhere else is packed with people, and nobody comes to the Swiss pavilion, then we’ll have to hold our hands up and admit that the risk was too high."

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh in Aichi, Japan

Key facts

The 2005 World Expo opens on Friday March 25 and runs until September 25.
It is the first global exhibition since the 2000 World Expo in Hanover, Germany.
Switzerland is one of more than 120 countries with pavilions at the exhibition site.
Around 15 million visitors are expected to attend the exhibition.

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