Spending summers with her maternal grandparents in Fukushima Prefecture as a child, UK-born Niki Micklem gained a deep understanding of Japan’s regions. Her British–Japanese heritage also fostered her desire to help bridge Japan and the world. In April 2018, she found the means to do so: a sales and marketing role at Heartland Japan.
A new firm, Heartland Japan creates and provides tours that showcase the hidden treasures of Japan’s rural areas via outdoor pursuits, cultural activities and interactions with local people. For Micklem, it is a hugely worthwhile project, given its potential to expose international tourists to more of what Japan has to offer and to rejuvenate regions across the country through tourism.
Savvy Tokyo met her to find out about her work, the challenges she faces and what motivates her to continue.
What brought you to Japan?
Spending two months in Japan each summer never quite felt enough. I also never had any formal study of Japanese growing up, so I went to Kyoto after university to study Japanese for six months. My plan was then to return to the UK, but six months wasn’t enough time, so I enrolled in a longer course and then realized that I wanted to work here, to connect Japan with the foreign community. I have an interest in food, so at first, entered the restaurant business, introducing Japanese tea to international travelers at a café.
What attracted you to Heartland Japan?
I realized that I wanted to do work with more variety. And, after the earthquake in March 2011, I saw that there was a lot of fear about visiting the areas affected. I wanted to do something that could help the region, as well as other rural areas in Japan. I had been looking for something that would allow me to do this when I found Heartland Japan, and the concept just clicked.
Interest in Japan has been skyrocketing over the past few years, which is great. But most information is focused on The Golden Route: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Mount Fuji. Though visiting these places are important to understand Japan, they are not all that the country offers. I think people would be interested in visiting other areas if only they knew about them—each has different geographies, traditions, cuisines, even ways of speaking.
I wanted to […] connect Japan with the foreign community.
In rural areas, public transport is less frequent and there can be a language barrier. Visitors might find it easier and more enjoyable to have a bilingual guide. Heartland Japan is about providing not only information about