Heartland JAPAN Team Members

Keijiro Sawano
CEO and Founder

Founder of Heartland JAPAN, grew up in a small fishing village in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in western Japan. Started Heartland JAPAN with the ambition of revitalising Japan’s rural communities and rebranding them into sustainable tourist destinations such has been done with Cinque Terre in Italy. It’s fair to say his hometown is not a common destination. But bringing tourist to places like it means a boost both to the local economy and to small-town pride. And for the visitors, it means immersion in the local community and culture.


Anni Pyykko
Travel Consultant

Anni is originally from Finland, and after coming and going between Finland and Japan for many years, she is now permanently living in her country of dreams. What constantly inspires her about Japan is how traditional and modern culture are entwined together. As a cat enthusiast she adores the way the Japanese have cat characters everywhere (as well as real ones!). Although Finland and Japan are far away from each other in both a geographical and cultural sense, she identifies some surprising similarities between them. In Finland, people enjoy the sauna on a regular basis: the sauna culture and onsen culture here in Japan seem to have common points. For both the Finnish and Japanese, it is natural to be naked among strangers! Also, taking shoes off when entering a house is self-evident for both. Anni is looking forward to creating the best possible experiences for all those who have decided to come and see what Japan has to offer!

Mikiko Hayashi
Domestic Travel Manager

Miki focuses on tour creation, local government communication, domestic product promotion, and travel law related procedures.

She has in-depth knowledge of the travel industry, with a full range of expertise from group tour customer support and tour conducting to tour creation. She also has many years of experience as an administrative consultant, working with a number of local governments. In this capacity, she has travelled across Japan from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south, visiting rural communities. Miki loves traditional Japanese culture and crafts, and even holds a national qualification in kimono-making. She is a highly creative, unique individual.

Sandra Isaka
Intercultural Consultant & Japan Travel Specialist

Sandra Isaka has lived in Japan for over 20 years and is an Intercultural Consultant and Japan Travel Specialist.  She plans to retire in Kyoto, her husband’s hometown, where they are currently renovating a 200-year-old machiya.  Sandra explores constantly – with an ultimate goal of becoming the world’s foremost expert on travel within Japan.  She is also focused on assisting lesser-known towns and sightseeing spots around Japan to attract, and take better care of, non-Japanese tourists.  She loves to share her favorite places through lectures, classes, articles and excursions.  excursionsjapan.com

Mandy Bartok
Travel Consultant/Travel Specialist

Mandy Bartok arrived in Japan with the intent of staying only one year. Ten years later, she’s lived in Tokyo, Okinawa and Kumamoto and – after a brief stint back in the US – has returned to Tokyo once more. Her goal is to explore all of Japan’s 47 prefectures (only two to go!) and share her finds with others. Mandy’s a huge fan of onsen (hot springs), seasonal flowers and quiet mountain trails, and has a weak spot for anything flavored with the citrus fruit yuzu. She’s written articles on Japan for the travel section of the Japan Times, as well as online sites and publications, and posts favorite discoveries on social media under the name Uncover Japan

Adriana Hess
Travel Consultant/German Representative

-- Why did you come to Japan?

I am currently doing my master´s classes in Japanese language and Japanese culture at my university in Germany. In September 2016 I started my abroad year in Japan and studied there at Utsunomiya University until August 2017. In 2018 I did the Summer Program at Nara Women´s University for two weeks, but these where all study- or university-related stays so I wanted to gain real work-experience in a Japanese company and gain an insight in the travel industry. The concept of Heartland JAPAN sounded very interesting to me and I was curious about the focus on rural areas, because the basic tourism industry does not seem to provide something like this. I am also interested in the publicity and marketing aspect of Heartland JAPAN.

Cait Rea
Travel Consultant

Originally from a quiet town in Scotland, Cait first travelled to Japan on an exchange trip to Ibaraki prefecture during her final year of studying Social Anthropology at university. Discovering more about Japanese culture and traditions while surrounded by beautiful scenery and the friendly locals, she quickly fell in love with Japan and knew that she had to return.

Cait now studies Japanese at a language school in Tokyo, with the intention of staying in Japan after her course finishes. While she loves living amongst the bright lights and bustle of Tokyo, in her spare time she also enjoys traveling to Kamakura and Ibaraki prefecture for a change of scenery.