Swords Orthodontics
17 Main St, Swords, Co Dublin, Ireland

Hello Yokohama! Getting ready for the 9th International Orthodontic Congress

The Orthodontic Society of Ireland (OSI) was invited to send a representative to an evening event hosted by the Japanese Orthodontic Society to promote the forthcoming 9th International Orthodontic Congress (IOC), which will be held from 4th to 7th of October 2020 in Yokohama, Japan. As I was president up until last November and neither our current or future president was able to attend, I was representing Irish Orthodontists at the event.

The IOC only takes place every 5 years, a bit like the Olympics of Orthodontics (without the competition, medals and boycotts), and indeed this one will be happening just after Japan has hosted the Olympics in nearby Tokyo. This is the first time that the IOC will be held in Asia, and it’s also going to be the annual meeting of the Japanese Orthodontic Society (their 79th annual meeting) and the 12th Asian Pacific Orthodontic Conference. The theme that they have chosen is “Broadening the Vision in Orthodontics - orthodontics as the starting point in health science”.

For this event, there was an address by Amanda Maplethorpe, the vice president of the World Federation of Orthodontists. She explained that the president, Allan Thom (who was unable to attend this event) had declared that if you’re unable to buy a ticket to the moon, then you should buy a ticket to Yokohama for the IOC. She reckoned that at this stage, if Allan Thom had a ticket to the moon, he’d swap it for a ticket to Yokohama.

After that, there was a welcoming address and invitation to the IOC by Dr Takashi Ono, who is chairing the organising committee for the IOC.

Japanese culture was emphasised by the venue – a Japanese restaurant near the convention center where the American Association of Orthodontists were having their annual conference.

In chatting to Dr Ono, it would appear that they are aiming for 5000 or more delegates, which will make it a big event by any reckoning. Ireland will be hosting an upcoming European Orthodontic Congress, and although it will be the biggest orthodontic event ever held in Ireland, it will probably only be half the size of the crowd expected in Yokohama next year. For comparison, the biggest ever orthodontic events in Ireland to date have been some recent OSI meetings around the 75-100 delegate mark, the British Orthodontic Society’s annual meeting has around 1000+ attending and this year’s AAO meeting was estimated to have been attended by 16,000.

Speaking from my own perspective, as distinct from the OSI’s, and from my own experiences of Japan (limited to a stop over on the way to a previous IOC in Australia) and orthodontics in general (to which I have – it’s fair to say – reasonable exposure), I think this will be well-organised conference but will be challenging to many foreign visitors if they’re not used to Japan or Japanese culture.

While it was strongly emphasised that Japan is a very friendly and welcoming nation full of hospitality, it tends to be that the hospitality is on the local terms and based on what it expects visitors to want to do, or simply what it expects visitors to do.

Elements of this were evident in the evening’s promotional event itself – there were many beverages available, but apart from water, they were all alcoholic. So this is good if you’ve ever wanted to try Japanese drinks like Sake, but might be a surprise to people who don’t drink. This may be more common than they’d expect - given the Federation’s diverse membership, including countries where alcohol may be religiously or culturally inappropriate. It’s not even as geo-spiritually complex as that, or limited to a certain number of countries. I work with several women, many of whom have had, or are expecting to have, children and they don’t drink while pregnant. Many orthodontists are female – particularly in the younger demographics, but I don’t think this manifests itself at AAO in the same way as it would at an Irish/British/European gathering of orthodontists. I mentioned this to the catering staff and they offered to bring “alcohol-free beer” - Which is a bit like a vegetarian being offered a sausage made of soya beans that have been flavoured and textured to resemble meat.

Speaking of meat, the catering for the event was interesting - quintessentially Japanese food, sushi and sashimi in a wide spread on the tables. Vegetarians weren’t excluded completely, as there were pieces of vegetable tempura offered later on, but this appeared to be an accompaniment to the main food, rather than a meal in itself.

When I was in Japan, I found myself eating Indian food quite often. That might sound like an odd thing to do, but there were many Indian restaurants because so many of the people working in jobs that interface with English speaking customers (practically every department store I was in, for a start) are from India, or occasionally Pakistan. I very rarely engaged with actual Japanese people in any medium or large organisation. I bought some camera equipment from a small shop run by a man from Pakistan. His assistant was from India and the guy at the front of the shop was from Nepal. “We all get on fine, there’s no ill feelings towards each other,” he said, despite the tensions between India and Pakistan themselves. I’ve seen this before in ex-patriates of countries that might have trouble between them if they were in their respective homes, but when they’re in a third party country, it’s a bigger challenge than they would be to each other if they were at home. Which makes me wonder about the bigger picture of hostility in general. “After war, there is peace, and then after peace, there is war,” a guy in Israel told me once.

As I hadn’t got an agenda or schedule for the event, I didn’t know when it was set to end or what else would be happening, so I asked one of the organisers, who politely excused themselves to consult with someone else. The second person came over, and asked me to repeat my question, and they politely excused themselves to consult with a third person. He was the person that would actually answer my question.

“Are there more things due to happen or is the organised part of the program complete?”

“What were you expecting?”

This was an unexpected question, and unlike the last two interactions, surprisingly direct and constructive. At the time I answered “something more connected to Japanese culture, perhaps. Music, theatre…” (I resisted the urge to say “sumo wrestlers and robots”).

“Ah, you were expecting something more Japanese?”

“Yes.”

In hindsight, the best explanation for what I was expecting was something that would inspire me to want to visit Japan for this event, and encourage me to encourage the members of the organisation that I represented on the night to visit Japan for this event. I think if OSI were hosting an event with a view to bringing people to Ireland we’d have parachuted in a battalion of Riverdancers and reinforced them with a platoon of melancholic poets and bearded traditional music troubadours, completed by a pincer movement with Moving Hearts. And possibly Aslan.

It’s not that the Japanese want to upset any particular group of people when they organise something, it’s just that they seem to gauge the outside world on their impressions of the United States, and they don’t seem to think these other people are out there and need something slightly different to the obvious majority of people. And I think that will be the biggest challenge to running a truly international International Congress.

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