Success, Inspiration, Great Returns: Why Japan Should be Your Next International Meeting Venue
Plus local tips on what to do to ensure that your conference is a success from start to finish
Blending cutting-edge technology and tradition with impeccable hospitality, stunning landscapes, a sustainable approach to co-existence with nature, Japan is a country that has continued to inspire visitors for generations.
But what is it like to organize an international conference in Japan? What are the critical factors in making it succeed? And -- above all -- why should organizers choose Japan as their next venue? Mr. Ori Lahav, President of IAPCO, and Mr. Mathias Posch, Chair of IAPCO Training Academy, two professionals who have significant experience and knowledge of organizing conferences in Japan, help us answer those questions -- along with several practical tips for future event organizers.
Why should organizers choose Japan as their next venue?
1. A hub of innovative academic societies
Japan has excellent information and human resources in the academia and industry sector. Japanese academic societies have a good membership round-up and solid foundations that attract many companies with high technological credentials.
One of the most significant advantages of this is that organizers can expect substantial support from these societies and their member companies. If you are able to organize your conference with Japan's national society, it would be even better. This can assure you more participants, income, and local sponsorship.
Japanese academic societies also have an extensive network and influence with neighboring Asian countries, which can be helpful for a further increase of participants and members from the Asia-Pacific region and obtaining sponsorships.
2. Multiple dynamic and diverse host cities
In addition to Tokyo and Osaka, Japan has a number of city options for hosting international events. The Japan Tourism Agency has designated 12 cities as Global MICE Cities, suitable for hosting international conferences due to their unique academic and industrial clusters. Those cities are: Aichi-Nagoya, Chiba, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kitakyushu, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, and Yokohama. These distinctive cities have excellent conference facilities, efficient public transportation, various accommodation options, and fantastic tourist attractions.
As Japan stretches a considerable distance from north to south, cities are also highly diverse. Each offers unique culture and traditions wrapped up in splendid natural surroundings, thus offering participants an enriching and memorable experience upon each visit.
3. Reliable and effective event management at all times
Prone to typhoons and earthquakes, Japan is experienced and well-prepared to efficiently tackle natural disasters and sudden challenges. Even in highly critical situations, business in Japan never stops. One example from recent years is the IGCS 2018 KYOTO, which successfully took place only about a week after Typhoon Jebi, the worst in 25 years, struck Japan. While the typhoon left significant damages in the wide Kansai area of Japan, including temporal closure of the Kansai International Airport, all transportation services in and to Kyoto where the conference was held were restored within several days of the storm and the conference was held successfully with no disruption.
The same could be said about Japan’s handling of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which took place amid an unprecedented Covid-19 global pandemic. Despite many challenges, Japan successfully held the Games by creating safety bubble zones for athletes and staff, actively conducting daily PCR tests, and enforcing stringent safety measures across all venues.
Thanks to its reliable management skills, event organizers can rest assured that any challenges will be met accordingly and that their conferences will be held successfully and smoothly at any time.
4. Unique culture and splendid nature
Japan combines fantastic natural resources with rich traditions, unique culture, and exquisite local cuisine. It is also a country that boasts world-renowned artists, architects, designers, and creative minds who altogether contribute to the continuous development of new ideas and innovations. On the nature front, over 70 percent of Japan’s land is covered in forests, and the country boasts dozens of national parks. This provides plenty of opportunities to incorporate nature-inspired activities into international meetings’ programs in any given city.
Thanks to all these combined factors, Japan is a destination that offers a wide variety of exclusive local tours and cultural experiences that would undoubtedly help make event participants’ stay memorable.
5. Involvement in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
Japan has always placed a great emphasis on the importance of coexisting in harmony with nature. This is a country where the “mottainai” culture was born and thriving, prompting people to naturally practice conscious consumption and active recycling. There are very few public garbage bins and yet the cities are clean, and various practices are in place to make full use of given resources without producing waste -- as in the case of wooden chopsticks, for example, which are products of wood that would otherwise be discarded.
The majority of cities in Japan are active in local production for local consumption, have preserved traditional culture, and are engaged in promoting sustainable lifestyles for their communities. There is also a significant rise of sustainable accommodation facilities, such as the luxury brands Hoshino Resorts and NIPPONIA, which are actively investing in the reuse of old buildings and sustainable solutions to preserving the local environment, culture, and employment.
Japan further has highly efficient public transportation, including trains, ferries, and bicycles, and the availability of direct flights from many countries altogether helps reduce CO2 emissions.
Last but not least, conference venues are also extensively involved in meeting the SDGs. The Kyoto International Conference Hall, for example, has incorporated solar panels in its mission to use renewable energy, as well as actively reducing plastic use and promoting environmentally-safe products and food. The Tokyo International Forum and the Nagoya International Conference Center are also two examples of venues heavily investing in renewable energy, improvement of green space and accessible design. Many facilities promote an active reduction, reuse, and recycling of plastics at the very base.
Event organizers can also commit to supporting local initiatives that contribute to the preservation, conservation, and use of sustainable resources, such as the Kyoto MICE Fund, for example, or Yokohama Convention Bureau’s carbon offset system.
These sustainable elements can be incorporated into international conferences at various levels. Conference organizers should find venues that meet the conference’s objectives and the scope of the SDGs they are focusing on.
Local Tips for Holding Successful Meetings in Japan
Having a prior understanding of the Japanese business culture and environment can help make the meeting fruitful for all the stakeholders and produce a favorable outcome with long-lasting successful results.
The following is a handful of practical tips for holding successful meetings in Japan.
1. Understand the business practice in Japan
The first step of it is understanding the local decision-making process. Japanese businesses tend to think and make critical decisions as a team and all involved parties must be united in their agreements before making a final decision on any key topics. While it may take extra time to achieve this, the execution will be generally smooth once a decision is reached.
It is also essential to know who is in charge of making the final decisions and understand the hierarchical relationship in how organizations work in Japan.
Understanding business etiquette in advance is also crucial throughout the entire process. Be ready and eager to meet face-to-face -- this is the first step in establishing mutual trust.
2. Have open communication with all parties involved
Coordinate with key persons and/or people in charge well at all event planning stages and ensure that there is a clear outline for every step from the beginning. Organizers will find that smooth arrangements can easily be made by clearly communicating the conference’s intentions and goals to Japan’s local suppliers and staff. This way, organizers can also expect various creative ideas and practical suggestions from their Japanese counterparts.
It also makes a big difference if roles are defined at the early planning stages. Communicate closely, have regular meetings, and carry out each task individually, one step at a time while keeping everyone involved in the implementation progress. Use local PCOs and CVBs as liaisons to help you with the necessary information and know-how on various topics, such as program content creation, that consider local transportation schedule arrangements and comply with Japanese laws and regulations.
3. Incorporate elements of the Japanese culture and nature
Participants have traveled long distances to attend the event and are keen to experience Japan as much as they can during their stay. There are many ways to make them feel Japan as soon as they join the event: organize conference set-up design and entertainment that incorporates elements of the Japanese culture and nature or prepare goods unique to the conference with a Japanese flavor. Making use of the local culture will keep guests entertained and help keep the local staff highly motivated throughout the entire event. Most Japanese people are highly keen on presenting their culture in its best light to overseas guests. As an organizer, you may rest assured that they develop many creative ideas to achieve this.
At IASLC 18th in Yokohama, for example, the conference used different means to fully display the spirit of Japanese culture through design, performances, and other creative activities. The conference opened with a powerful taiko drum performance and a traditional sake barrel-breaking toast. All signage carried a Japanese element in the design, while conference rooms and rest areas were decorated in beautiful cherry blossoms, among other Japanese natural elements. Each table at the gala dinner was uniquely decorated with various Japanese souvenirs, which guests could take home with them. The event became IASLC’s highest-rated conference in terms of delegate satisfaction.
Be confident that your meetings in Japan will be successful!
As we have demonstrated so far, Japan is a country that blends unique culture with modernity and tradition and is safe, clean, and has a well-functioning infrastructure and technology to meet professional travelers' needs. Hosting a conference in Japan can open numerous opportunities for your business. The first step to this is earning a high level of satisfaction from the conference attendees, which can be achieved easier than you think.