Board Member Profile - Rick Grehan

What do you do in Japan?

I moved to Japan over 14 years ago for a creative director role at a local agency, since then I have established a sustainable and ethical communications agency called imageMILL, A regenerative and ethical branding agency that focuses on solving problems, helping clients transform their brands and organizations into impactful and improved forms of themselves. We use the power of film & design to champion change. Working on 360 branding from corporate identity to content creation such as social media, film and television programs. 


Tell us about your background?

Originally from Belfast and born into a very activist family, my father was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement and my aunt's sister won a Nobel Peace Prize, I had a very inspiring upbringing. I started working in corporate identity and branding in London after graduating from Dundee University with an honors degree in visual communication. Then moved to South Africa where I worked for a while in large advertising agencies on blue chip accounts, after that, I founded my first company designMILL in Johannesburg. It was there that I became disillusioned with the consumer models and unsustainable practices of modern brands, I sold the business and tried to escape the world of advertising, worked briefly helping an Aids orphans’ charity and organized an fundraising expedition, driving a 4X4 from Cape Town to Cairo. After some soul-searching travel, I returned to Belfast and completed a masters in sensor-based media at the Ulster University. I began to realize that advertising isn’t as bad as it seems, it’s all about the intention and it can be a very effective medium for making good change in society, so I founded imageMILL in Belfast.


How did you come to join the Ireland Japan Chamber of Commerce?

After 14 years of working in Japan and after establishing imageMILL I thought it was about time to engage with fellow Irish, wanting to network and give back a little, help to raise the profile of Irish business in Japan.


What is your role in the IJCC?

During the first year with IJCC we rebranded the chamber, creating logo, banners, website front end design. Now I work on various branding aspects of the chamber and event organization, including producing the annual business awards, this year we experimented with an online streaming version similar to which we are creating for our clients in this challenging time. We are also about to launch a sustainability committee and looking forward to be a positive influence on business and organizations within our network.


What are you looking forward to over the next 12 months for Ireland Japan relations?

I'm very positive coming out of the Covid pandemic that we can use the previous year to reinvent how we work, having a more sustainable or regenerative approach to business and start to reconnect more with our families, society and the environment. It’s exciting times for Ireland Japan relations especially with the newly announced embassy which is looking fantastic, I hope we can cement an already great partnership between our great countries.


What do you like most about Japan?

I love how Japan keeps its traditions alive alongside technological development, the deep appreciation of the value of the shokunin, the zen-like attention to detail and perfection that can be appreciated in more obvious activities such as tea ceremony but even how they craft the nose of the shinkansen by hand.


What is your favorite Irish / Japanese food?

Being vegan is a bit of a challenge in Japan but things have changed drastically over the time spent here with many great vegan options launching all over Japan in recent years, actually, the traditional Japanese diet was very meat free so it’s quite easy to get vegan or vegetarian traditional Japanese foods such as one of my favorite comfort foods, the simple Natto Rice with seaweed topping. My favorite Irish food has to be the simple shepherd’s pie, I do a mean vegan version based on lentils.


What is your favorite place to visit in Japan / Ireland?

My favorite place in Ireland is the Giants causeway, I really can’t get enough of this natural beauty spot of Ireland with its legends of being built by the giant Finn McCool. This has to be one of the world's natural wonders. In Japan I found an incredible community in a small town called Fujino in Kanagawa, I lived there for a while but moved back to Tokyo for convenience, it’s an incredible place, an art community, a transition town and permaculture center of Japan, a place to really feel like you are living with nature and get off the grid for a while. It’s a great model for how-to live-in symbiosis with our neighbors and nature.


What is one thing that a lot of people don't know about you?

When I was 17 I lied to get onto the northern Irish karate team, by pretending I was an 18-year-old adult, and lost only to the English Captain in an international karate tournament in Belfast. After practicing karate for more than 25 years I had to retire with a hip injury and now take out my frustrations on the yoga mat or Zen cushion instead.