The only previous Rotary International Convention Barney and I had attended was the one in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, in 1998. That convention was held entirely in the Indiana Convention Center and adjacent RCA Dome. The downtown hotel where we stayed was within easy walking distance of the convention venue (less than five city blocks), so we were not dependent on the convention buses and enjoyed relative freedom in attending the plenary sessions and workshops, investigating the project and vendor booths, and relaxing in the House of Friendship, as well as in exploring the city. There also seemed to be plenty of time to do the things we wanted to do.
In Osaka, by contrast, the convention was divided between two venues, the Osaka International Convention Center (OICC) and the Osaka Dome. Although the OICC was (barely) within walking distance, some sort of transportation was required for the Dome, which was several miles away.
In all fairness, the convention organizers had done their best to provide effective transportation. The convention package included a separate booklet, the 2004 Official Transportation Guide, outlining all transportation issues, beginning with arrival at one of Osaka’s airports. Pages 16–23 are devoted to “Shuttle Bus Service Routes and Schedules,” with a map of the routes on pages 24–25. It was obvious that coaches must have been brought in from all over Japan to service these routes. Armies of young people in distinctive yellow or red windbreakers were in charge of dispatching the buses and providing bus schedule and route information. In addition, dozens of private security guards (again perhaps recruited from throughout the country) were stationed at major intersections to facilitate foot travel between convention facilities and bus stops.
It wasn’t enough. With the best will in the world, there is just no way to move that many people smoothly between two locations in a short time. One of the chief problems was that the OICC did not have any provision for bus drop-off and pickup. Consequently, the bus stop for the OICC (for the Hotel Shuttle) was in the parking lot of the adjacent Rihga Royal Hotel, and access was mysterious (it seemed like we found the buses a different way every time). The bus stop for the Loop Shuttle between the OICC and the Osaka Dome was several blocks away in the parking lot of the Osaka Municipal Museum of Modern Art. This parking lot was described in the Official Transportation Guide as being “one block east of the RRH” (elsewhere it was described as “half a block”), but in fact it was at least two long blocks, and the sidewalk, some of which passed construction sites, was not in ideal condition. For an elderly man with a cane, it was excruciating.
Reading the Official Transportation Guide later, it is easy to see that much of the information we needed was available if we had taken the time to look for it, but in the rush of the moment we never had time to really take it in. Too late we learned that we could have requested the “Services for Visitors with Mobility Impairments” for Dad, and that “a limited number of wheelchairs will be available upon request” at the OICC. It’s doubtful that any of this would have been very helpful, though. Even when Dad took a taxi to the Dome, the problem was that the drop-off point (for buses or taxis) was still very far from the Dome entrance. Even if one found an elevator to avoid the several flights of stairs, the Dome had been configured with the stage on the side where one alighted, so that it was necessary to walk halfway around the Dome to enter at the “back.” One attempt to secure a wheelchair resulted in an interminable wait.
The Transportation Guide does mention the availability of public transportation (train and subway lines), but it goes into excruciating detail about how to purchase tickets. Apparently the free passes were added to the convention gift package after the Guide was printed. This is unfortunate, as public transportation offered by far the most satisfactory, efficient, and interesting means of transport. Yet signage at the Dome obviously implied that only Japanese convention-goers were expected to be using the train or subway: signs in English and other languages identified the bus stops; signs giving directions to the rail and subway stops were in Japanese only.
In retrospect, I suspect that a major factor in the transportation inefficiency we experienced was the size of our party. If Barney and I had been traveling alone, I suspect we would have seen and done a great deal more and made the trips from one venue to another with considerably less fuss. Because we were so often attempting the impossible feat of staying with Dad (who was unable to move quickly) and the rest of the family, our progress was slowed to the speed of the slowest member. Ironically, we inevitably became separated anyway. The young people in the party (Matthew, Joseph, Jeff, and, to some extent, Chris) who refused to be bound by any compulsion to stick with us, saw and experienced a lot more of “the real Japan” than we did, as was evidenced by Jeff’s pictures of many shopping arcades, side streets, and the like.
Young people in yellow or red windbreakers staffed an information booth inside the Rihga Royal Hotel, but dozens more were outside, holding clipboards and directing traffic, giving directions, dispatching buses, and generally facilitating travel. This impressive force made us think about the immense cost of the convention not only in terms of manpower but even in such simple things as the purchase of so many windbreakers. We also pitied the poor young people who had to wear these windbreakers in the oppressive heat of late May in Osaka!