To create an event fit for royalty is no mean feat. But what happens when unforeseen circumstances force a no-show from the VIPs?
The Japan-Spain Symposium is an annual event that has been held since 1997 and is one of the most important bilateral events on the diplomatic calendars of the two nations, which take turns to host the event.
Spurring tourism was a big topic in this year’s discussions, alongside social issues, such as on ageing populations.
Shortly after Shizuoka City The Nippondaira Hotel were selected to host the 18th symposium, the embassy of Spain in Tokyo sent word that King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia would attend. Japan’s Imperial Household Agency responded immediately that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko would also be present.
Given that the heads of the Spanish and Japanese royal families were due to attend, security was a major concern initially.
Shinichiro Suzuki, head of the MICE & International Affairs Division of the City of Shizuoka, said the organisers moved immediately to secure additional funds to ensure that security was of a suitable standard and that facilities were up to scratch.
The number and scale of associated events to mark the royals’ attendance were also increased.
The additional work meant that the event was pushed back to April, giving the organisers approximately six months to complete preparations – an extremely narrow window. One seasoned organiser said preparing an event of such scale normally requires three years.
There was no substitute for hard work, extensive cooperation between the divisions within City Hall with a stake in the symposium, as well as local event planning companies, media outlets, volunteer organisations, and other organisations.
At the last minute, however, the Spanish king and queen were obliged to cancel their visit to Japan due to political problems at home. On the evening before the event was scheduled to open, the Imperial Household Agency announced that the Emperor and Empress would also have to withdraw due to the series of major earthquakes that had struck Kyushu, causing widespread damage and loss of life.
“It is impossible to predict political or geological upheavals, so we simply had to roll with the punches and try to deliver the best possible event, despite everything,” said Suzuki.
Still, the symposium and associated events went ahead smoothly. On the day of the discussions, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted an official luncheon and a dinner party in the evening was hosted by Shizuoka Mayor Nobuhiro Tanabe.
Former Miss Universe Riyo Mori, a goodwill ambassador for Shizuoka City, made a special appearance at the party. Ms Mori speaks perfect English and was able to mix and mingle naturally with the Spanish guests.
In addition, over the three-day duration, there were photo exhibitions, cultural performances and displays of the products of several companies from Spain and Japan.
Said Suzuki: “While, unfortunately, neither royal couple was able to attend the symposium, we were able to gain priceless experience in preparing to host VIP guests.”
When prince and princess Akishino visited in October 2016, this knowledge was put to good use, he explained.
Another learning point was that having a good venue and convenient access are major pluses, but it is important to also highlight local attributes, said Suzuki.
“Shizuoka gives a stellar view of Mount Fuji from Nippondaira Hotel, and we were blessed with beautiful weather during the symposium, so our guests came away with a ‘uniquely Shizuoka’ experience.
“We also served a number of local specialties such as oden stew and bluefin tuna that landed at our Shimizu Port, not to mention locally brewed junmai daiginjo sake made with our renowned, ultrapure water.
“I believe we were able to give this big group of Spanish VIPs a very strong sense of what makes Shizuoka so special among cities in Japan.”
Event:The 18th Japan-Spain Symposium
Organiser/Client The City of Shizuoka and The Nippondaira Hotel
Venue: The Nippondaira Hotel, Shizuoka Prefecture
Date: April 15-17, 2016
Number of participants: 200 for the symposium; about 20,000 for related events