Akane Kagawa graduated from Tokyo’s Waseda University with a politics major. Following graduation she worked for the Japanese Rugby Union, starting out as an accounting assistant. She went on to become the team manager for the Japanese women’s rugby 7’s. Akane has an MBA from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. She currently lives in Tokyo.
1. What brought about your desire to study in Ireland and UCD?
I was the team manager for Japan from 2010 to 2021, and during that period I toured to Dublin twice to take part in international rugby tournaments. The first tour was in 2015 for the qualification tournament for the World Rugby Women’s 7’s series and second one was for Rugby World Cup 2017. Both of those tournaments were held in UCD’s rugby ground in Belfield.
From my first visit to UCD, I intuitively knew I would come back to study in the future! I really liked the peaceful and quiet atmosphere of the Belfield campus at that time. Because of Covid, we had to stop training from March until August 2020, so I had some extra time to think about my career. I began to think about studying abroad to gain more business skills and knowledge to promote women’s rugby in Japan.
Coincidentally, Ms Nobuko O’Donnell, who took care of our team when we were at UCD in 2015 and 2017, is a Japanese teacher at the UCD Applied Language Centre and asked me if I would ever consider studying at UCD. Her encouragement helped me decide to apply for the Smurfit MBA programme.
2. What was your UCD experience like – the social scene, classes, and lecturers?
I loved living in the Proby Residence on the Smurfit campus. I lived with the other MBA students, and it was my first time sharing a kitchen and lounge. I am not much of a chef, but my flatmates were all excellent cooks and served me a great variety of dishes. My role was chief dishwasher! The time I spent with my apartment mates at Proby is precious and we still meet each other online regularly to catch up.
As English is not my first language, and I did not have any business background, it was very hard for me to absorb everything by the end of each lecture. But all the professors were very supportive and whenever I went to them to ask questions, they always explained the details for me to understand fully. Without the support of my professors and colleagues, I could not have gained the knowledge and skills offered by the MBA course.
I belonged to S.W.I.M (Smurfit Women Inspire More) and hosted guest speaker events with students from Masters courses. It was my first time planning a social event, but again, other members helped me a lot. It was also another super experience for me to work together with students from countries all over the world.
3. What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD?
For me every single second at UCD was precious, so I cannot choose one… But if I have to, I really liked going for walks to Seapoint near Blackrock and also my study breaks at Parlour, the lovely cafe near Blackrock Station – they do the best scones!
4. How passionate are you about rugby? Does it go back to childhood?
Before my job with the Japanese Rugby Union I had never played rugby before, but I really loved to watch games with my father, who is a massive fan. He used to take me to games when I was small. It is so great – I love its combination of freedom and discipline.
5. Did you enjoy the Irish rugby scene whilst you were a student in Ireland?
Yes, the Japanese women’s national team toured Ireland during my time in Smurfit, and played the Irish women’s national team. I took my classmates to the games as most of them had not watched women’s rugby before – everyone had such a good time which delighted me!
6. How has your MBA benefited your career?
I now work on the Japanese Rugby Union’s strategic team. Our aim is to create women’s rugby mid and long-term goals for the union. This role allows me to make use of the experience from the various consulting projects I worked on as part of the MBA programme. The skill to collaborate with stakeholders, identify initial problems and then find solutions, is the greatest asset from my MBA. Also, I am now one of the board members of Japan RFU, where I also make use of academic knowledge from leadership and organisational behaviour.
7. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
I participated in the 2016 Olympics in Rio as the team manager for Japan women’s 7’s national team. I was incredibly honoured to be part of the team representing Japan.
8. What is a typical day for you?
I am quite the early riser – getting up around 5 am to take the hour-long walk to my office. I usually don’t get home until 8ish and I’m quite tired and ready for bed at 10 pm – we work long days in Japan.
9. What is life outside work like?
Due to the full-on work schedule, when I have time off I love to stay at home and relax – I watch TV, read books and just take it very easy.
10. Who are the most interesting or helpful mentors or advisors that you have had?
I do not have any specific mentors, but I repeatedly read a book called ‘At Your Command’ by Neville Goddard. Whenever I read this book, I become motivated.
11. One day in Tokyo – how would you suggest a visitor spend their time?
I would suggest just walking, it is a great way to experience the city. Start off in the morning with a stroll to the Imperial House and then stop at one of Tokyo’s gorgeous cafes – of which there are many. Spend your afternoon watching “Kabuki” traditional Japanese theatre and then of course – go get some sushi!