Board Member Profile - John Blakeney
What do you do in Japan?
I am a chartered accountant working with the Capital Markets group in EY Japan. We are a specialist group helping clients and audit teams address regulatory requirements arising from transactions on global Capital Markets. In practice, this means providing training on US regulatory matters, such as audits following US standards (including internal controls), providing technical accounting guidance on US GAAP, and advising audit teams on project management and practice around IPOs and the issuance of comfort letters. I also find myself joining teams for short-term projects on an ad-hoc basis where there is a shortage in the necessary skills. In short, it is a great niche focused on some of the more challenging and interesting areas of accounting and auditing, and I feel very fortunate to have such varied work surrounded by vastly experienced colleagues.
Tell us about your background?
I am originally from Dublin and had childhood friends from Japan whose parents were expats in Ireland. I kept in touch with them once they moved back to Japan and first visited the country when I was 14. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin with a degree in Geography, I wanted to take on the challenge of living overseas and learning a language, so applied for a place on the JET Programme on which I was placed in Kameoka City in Kyoto for 2 years starting in 2006, and where I began studying Japanese. I had a brilliant experience immersing myself in Japanese culture surrounded by other likeminded people.
I then completed a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and a Certificate in Environmental Leadership in Tokyo University supported by the Japanese Government MEXT scholarship which again was a phenomenal experience which helped me gain a deeper understanding of social and governance issues in Japan. I met students from all over the world from which I learned a huge amount- one of my closest friends from that time is from the Dominican Republic.
I found myself drawn back to Dublin in 2011 where I embarked on an accountancy traineeship in the EY audit practice, and ultimately qualified as a chartered accountant after going through the rite of passage of very busy first quarters performing audits followed by intensive study in the summers. I am of the slightly unusual subset of people who quite enjoy auditing because it is a license to be nosy and understand how companies are run. My main clients were in the IT, retail and renewable energy sectors.
In 2017, I decided to sample life as a salaryman and move back to Japan with EY. I spent 6 months working in the corporate sustainability practice trying to bring some of my prior experience together, before moving into the Capital Markets group where I have been ever since.
How did you come to join the Ireland Japan Chamber of Commerce?
I first joined as a student member in 2009 but began to attend events again once I moved back to Japan. I was given a gentle nudge towards professional membership when there was a need for a new Treasurer and I was discovered at the bottom of the barrel!
What is your role in the IJCC?
I am the Treasurer of the chamber and as such, a director. I have tried to contribute by incrementally improving our monthly processes, but also beyond the narrow brief of a Treasurer by bringing ideas to the table and trying to get my hands dirty on the events side of things.
What are you looking forward to over the next 12 months for Ireland Japan relations?
My belief is that an organization like the IJCC can only thrive through the active participation of its members, so one thing I would like to achieve is to provide channels through which everyone can share their unique skills and experience with our community. There is currently a movement to set up sub-committees to this end, and I would really love to see more and more of our members getting involved. I also believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an imperative, which could also be described as an opportunity to broaden our reach through online events. I would like to explore ways in which this opens opportunities for us to engage members beyond Tokyo and back in Ireland, and potentially collaborate with organisations with compatible objectives.
What do you like most about Ireland / Japan?
In both instances, the people. For me, both cultures are built around humility (not that it is universal in either case) and the importance of community, albeit expressed somewhat differently in each case. In Ireland, the ability to make people feel at ease is held in such high esteem and I hope to live up that ideal and have the humility to learn from everyone around me. In Japan, I never cease to be amazed by how embedded cultural practices and the rituals of the seasons are. If you don’t tune into it, you are missing so much of what Japan has to offer. In a business context, the primacy of group over individual here continues to be a fascinating challenge to western dogma about best practices and how society and capitalism should interact.
What is your favorite Irish / Japanese food?
Difficult one! It’s hard to look past a roast beef dinner in Ireland, although an honourable mention would go to a massive Irish breakfast with homemade brown bread. In Japan, often the joy of eating somewhere nice is that you don’t have to make the difficult decision – I love the long meals with multiple courses and the progression of accompanying beverages. My comfort food when I first moved here was a tonkatsu teishokui from a local restaurant Ikeyoshi in Kameoka which I am still always sure to visit when I go to Kyoto.
What is your favorite place to visit in Japan / Ireland?
Errislannan near Clifden in Connemara was where I spent many happy childhood holidays in Ireland so I love to go back there, but I am very happy getting out walking anywhere around the coast and finding my way back to a warm and welcoming pub for dinner and a pint.
In Japan, when I go back to Kyoto, I am welcomed like family so I am always pulled back there but I don’t think I have ever had a bad holiday in Japan. I have always loved Kyushu when I have gone there, and I had a very memorable family holiday in Nagasaki last year with its natural beauty, great food and rich history.
What is one thing that a lot of people don't know about you?
I played underage cricket and hockey for Ireland and captained my university team in each. I played for the Kyoto Hockey Club team, including in a few National Championships after first arriving in Japan and those were very memorable trips for me while muddling through the communication, and just tremendous fun.