Broad smiles in Tokyo

When Her Imperial Highness Crown Princess Akishino formally opened the 22nd IUNS-International Congress of Nutrition in Tokyo in December, the organisers’ smiles showed their relief. It was the largest in-person event in this popular city since the pandemic

Delayed for a year by the Covid pandemic, plans to hold the 22nd IUNS-International Congress of Nutrition online were an option until a very late date. 

“Every time I encounter a participant, they are so delighted - it’s such a long time since we held a conference,” says Professor Hisanori Kato, of the University of Tokyo and chair of the organising committee. “Everybody is smiling and we are so delighted to see that.” Such a mega hybrid conference - with 3,500 registered delegates from 112 countries, 124 symposia, eight plenaries and special lectures and a huge programme of presentations - could only happen with the support of the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB), he said.

Eight countries had bid for the event. “The TCVB was very supportive,” said Professor Kato. “Both with the bid and with the hosting of the event.”

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Kazuko Toda, Senior Director of Business Events at the TCVB, said: “Tokyo is very honoured to welcome such a large international conference with so many participants from all over the world in-person. We are ready to welcome conferences of all sizes to the city because we have various excellent facilities, a wide range of hotels and unique venues.

“The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the TCVB provide international conference organisers with financial and in-kind support to ensure that the meeting is efficiently planned, local resources are optimised and all efforts are made to promote good attendance. Our in-kind support includes half-day city tours, Japanese cultural programmes, information desks with volunteers and welcome banners at the airport and around the conference venue.”

Views from the conference floor

Exhibitors and delegates were full of praise for the organisation, facilities and programme of the congress, held in the stunning and capacious Tokyo International Forum (TIF). Just steps from the main train station, Ginza shopping district and vast numbers of hotels and places to eat, the TMG and the TCVB introduced new simultaneous translation technology as well as an AI assistant to answer questions to further support delegates.

For exhibitors Teena Badshah and Kit Phanvijhitsiri, of PepsiCo Services Asia, it was their first in-person event since 2019 - and their first opportunity to meet new members of their team from other countries in person.

“From the time Japan opened up after Covid we had regular communication every step. People helped with visas and made everything very simple. They used technology in a very good way. Earlier conferences had a very long queue - here, they sent out a QR code to register,” said Badshah. “The language was no problem and everything was very well-organised down to the smallest of details.”

Also impressive was the range of visitors to the stand - within the first hour, they had enquiries from Thai, Swedish, Mongolian and Ecuadorian delegates. “I am really amazed people have come from so far,” she said.

Phanvijhitsiri was happy with the Covid precautionary measures, which included providing lunch coupons that could be used in a wide range of nearby eateries, allowing delegates to try local cuisine and cutting down on food waste. “The Japanese want to go to extreme lengths to ensure everyone comes home Covid free. It’s the new normal.”

“We are part of the conference secretariat,” said Caroline Roberts, science communications manager for The Nutrition Society. “In the 12 months leading up to this event we didn’t know if it was going to be face to face or online. Nobody wanted to commit to buying tickets. Then numbers started creeping up and suddenly it was fast.

“Communicating what we envisaged was a challenge given the language barrier. I wasn’t entirely sure how the stand would end up looking! However, everything was taken care of and the stand provided us with such a vibrant hub. It was great to be back in person and being able to meet people again face to face.”

Caroline Roberts, science communications manager for The Nutrition Society 

In addition to showcasing its journal collection, a major reason for the Society’s presence was to launch a new training platform for nutrition professionals and academics. “It’s the perfect place to launch with a global audience and a global platform, which allows delegates to upskill themselves.”

Roberts was one of many attendees who took the opportunity to arrive early to experience Japan. The event’s organisers provided a varied list of hotels, a map and advice on where to see Christmas illuminations. “Tokyo is amazing - it has got everything. The metro is as easy to navigate as in London. The conference space is close to the main Tokyo station, our hotel is a 10-minute walk and there are loads of restaurants and cafes.”

For Spanish delegate Ricard Celorio, part of the draw of the congress was its location. “Tokyo was an attraction - it’s the first time I’ve been in this country. I’ve extended a couple of days to travel, and enjoyed the culture and the gastronomy.”

He was also keen on the nutrition-focused education programme. The TMG and the TCVB supported a trip to a fermentation workshop centring on miso and rice cakes while the event organiser offered a visit to a healthy eating restaurant at an elementary school at lunchtime. “I’ve found it interesting because we’ve experienced Japanese culture and had an opportunity to meet new people,” he said.

One of those was Mitsuharu Tanaka, Principal of Tachikawa Daiichi elementary school, who took pride in showing how his 513 students serve each other lunch in their classrooms. “I have been doing school lunch for a long time. A third of my body is made up of school lunch and that’s why I am very healthy,” he said.

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Mazarin Kamaral Zamay, from Malaysia, said: “You wouldn’t be able to get such an experience at other conferences - it makes this event special. It is immersive learning.”

American delegate Cecilia Gonzalez was equally enthralled by the fermentation workshop. “It is great to be experiencing Japanese culture and meeting people from around the world.

“The Tokyo International Forum is really amazing and people are very service-oriented, very helpful and welcoming. I think it’s wonderful.”

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Plan your next event in Tokyo

Planners and organisers keen to host an event in Tokyo with a unique itinerary will receive comprehensive support from event professionals at Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau. Assistance is tailored to the needs of each event and can include subsidies for hybrid events and support for delegates. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the TCVB are constantly looking to strengthen the support they can offer as a conference host city

For further information, click here