Board Member Profile - Sarah Hickey

What do you do in Japan?

I am head of the marketing department at Japan’s leading importing company for premium spirits, craft beer and mixers, Whisk-e. My main role is to lead a team to develop brands to grow in the Japanese market by creating solid business plans which ensure that all activation’s across the line are aligned with the brands strategy, budget and business goals. In addition, I am working alongside the top management in developing the organisation’s vision, mission, strategic planning goals, brand portfolio and human resources. Next month I will launch a webpage in English and Japanese which aims to introduce places to drink in Japan, with a big focus on Tokyo. This is the first of its kind and a personal project I have wanted to execute for so long, so I am very much looking forward getting this active online! Stay tuned… @gotoDRINK

Tell us about your background?

Following my graduation from University College Cork in 2008, I arrived in Fukushima on the JET Programme aiming primarily to promote ‘grassroots internationalization’ and to help build the bridge between Ireland and Japan. In 2011, ‘The Great East Japan Earthquake’ shook the town I was living in and I decided to stay on an extra year and help with volunteer activities. They were very challenging times, however after immersing myself in the community during that time I saw a huge increase in my Japanese speaking skills and I felt sense of belonging to the culture thus I decided to stay on to live in Japan long-term. I was eager to do something that was connected to Ireland and Japan and so I reached out to the Jameson team in Tokyo where they put me in touch with the brand team in Dublin. Thus in 2012, I went back to Ireland and trained with the brand team in Irish Distillers in Dublin for 6 months in and was then transferred to Tokyo to work with the local team in developing the Jameson brand. Following this, in 2013 I joined the marketing team in Bacardi Japan in where I worked on developing the marketing strategy for key portfolio brands such as Bacardi, Martini, Dewars and Bombay Sapphire. In 2018 I joined Japan's leading premium spirits import company, Whisk-e as their Marketing Manager, managing brands such as BrewDog, Fever Tree, Tia Maria, Disaronno and many more.

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

Early this year, I met the Irish secretary David Murphy and expressed my interest in getting involved with the Irish Chamber of Commerce as I am eager to support the growth and development of Irish companies in Japan and vice versa. Then in May of 2020, I was privileged to become a Director on the board of the IJCC.

What is your role in the IJCC?

At the IJCC, my current role is to use my networking skills to promote both ongoing and future activities of the chamber and to produce and execute engaging culture and business-related events.

I am also working on creating a food and beverage directory.

In addition to this, I am part of the Market Entry Committee the function of which is to review and advise companies on market entry presentations.

Also, I am working with the sustainability committee to co-ordinate and promote sustainability-related initiatives.

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

I would like to see more Irish companies expand into the Japanese market, as there is such a massive market opportunity here. It would be great to see more consumer branded products available here also as Ireland produces some of the best products / produce in the world. At the same time, there is a huge opportunity for Japanese business to further develop their business in Ireland. The IJCC has many Japanese and Irish members who are passionate about Ireland Japan relations and can contribute to making this happen.

What do you like most about Ireland?

I love Ireland having spent 21 very happy years there, I love its scenery, the lush greenery, rolling hills and coastal views but it really is the people that make the Emerald Isle so special. Céad míle fáilte. The people are very hospitable, warm and charming, I love walking into a house, pub or restaurant, where there is always a friendly welcome and the Craic.

What is your favourite Irish / Japanese food?

In Ireland, I love to indulge in a bowl of seafood chowder served with Guinness brown soda bread but of course nothing beats Mum’s bacon and cabbage with flowery potatoes covered in Kerrygold Irish butter.

In Japan, it is difficult to choose just one as the dining experience is so vast and varied, but I really enjoy Kaiseki. For me it is the epitome of Japanese haute cuisine. It is a traditional dining experience involving multiple courses, it is known for its meticulous preparation, fresh seasonal ingredients and beautiful artistic presentation. I recommend to pair with local Japanese sake (Nihonshu).

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

Of course, I have many places which I like for different reasons but one that sticks out the most is Mount Koya. It is a spiritual place where beautiful nature sites, Japanese tradition, Shintoism, and Buddhism come together as one. There is a captivating magic that can be felt while walking through Mt. Koya’s forest, one feels a sense of relaxation and a deep respect for nature. You can enjoy staying in a temple, local vegetarian cuisine, participation in early morning fire ceremonies, local hot springs and long walks in nature.

In Ireland it has to be the charming colourful town Daingean Uí Chúis (Dingle) as it is a coastal town, the local restaurants are of world class quality offering exquisite seafood and organic vegetables options, it also has many friendly pubs with locals speaking Gaelic, lots of traditional live Irish music and the craic is mighty.

On top of this the scenery is truly beautiful, with sheep touring the rolling green hills, golden beaches and the wild Atlantic way at sight, one might even be lucky enough to spot the local dolphin, Fungi!

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

A sushi chef pointed out to me that I eat sushi with my left-hand although I am basically right-handed, he was convinced that this meant that I am left-handed, it left me rather confused!