If you’ve been scrolling through LinkedIn posts recently you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been in Tokyo attending a conference of AGN International, the fantastic association of worldwide accountancy firms Dafferns is a member of.
The AGN world conference moves around from region to region every year and this year I had the amazing opportunity of experiencing Japan. Of course, being hosted in Tokyo, the theme of the conference had to be culture and, sure enough, being a white western European, that was the most fascinating aspect of Japan for me.
Japanese culture is based on four overriding principles – Purity, Harmony, Tranquillity and Respect – the most important of which being Harmony. This comes across everywhere you turn in Tokyo where there is a degree of politeness that even an Englishman finds slightly over the top and uncomfortable.
It works though! There is a level of calm and peacefulness pervading Japanese society that makes for a high quality of life. Tokyo, a city of 37m people, is almost universally clean, tidy, free of crime and seemingly happy. The rest of the world could, and should, learn an awful lot from this.
Digging a little deeper, you find a strange mix of the ancient and the modern within Tokyo – historic temples and shrines nestle in amongst high rise after high rise. There is clearly a strong desire to hold on to centuries old traditions, at the same time as being at the cutting edge of modern technology. We can see this to some extent within western Europe too, but the contrasts are not so extreme. What we learn from this is that it is perfectly possible to cherish our roots at the same time as embracing change – some traditions are always worth hanging on to.
I was also struck by an incredible attention to detail and this was perhaps most clearly expressed within the artistic presentation of food. All rough edges are trimmed, portion sizes are uniform and the food is presented beautifully. This also extends to how the food is served, with every plate and dish having its specific place in front of the diner. Through such attention to detail and sustained effort, it reminded me that the potential for greatness is within all of us.
As it is often portrayed on the big screen, Tokyo is a city of neon lights, endless skyscrapers and bustling streets, but hidden amongst all that are many havens of tranquillity which enable its citizens to take time out to reconnect with nature and themselves. This fosters a sense of inner calm that we in the west would do well to be mindful of in the complex and hectic world we now live in.
As you will hopefully have garnered from this article, I came away from Tokyo feeling like I have received an education, not just culturally, but in how to live our lives with a greater respect for everyone and everything we share our planet with.