Since 2002, JOI coordinators have reached more than a million Americans in the South and Midwest of the country. Learn who these impressive cultural ambassadors are and how they have impacted—and continue to impact—their U.S. communities.

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Complete List of Participants

From planting elementary school students’ first seeds of interest in Japan to strengthening sister city/state relationships and linking high schools and colleges with partner institutions in Japan, JOI coordinators bring Japan and the U.S. closer, one person at a time. Learn a bit more about past JOI coordinators along with their activities, impressions, and impact by perusing the biographies and reports below.

 

 

Nao Fukumoto posing in front of trees


Noriko Hayashi was from Aichi, Japan. Her grandmother runs a traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) shop in Nagoya, and she has been familiar with Japanese seasonal festivals for a long time. While in university, she belonged to the Department of International Culture, she studied abroad in Fiji, and lived on a ship with youth people with different backgrounds from 10 countries in the Cabinet Office International Exchange Project "Ship for World Youth", then she learned the joy of living in a multicultural society. After graduating, she worked at a shipping company to develop strategy, promotion, and branding skills. She also works with Japanese students and foreign youth at international events in Japan, visited Uzbekistan, India, Indonesia, and other places in Asia, where she has had international exchanges with local people. She would like to give the people of Arizona the opportunity for cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S. and encourage them to choose Japanese culture for their well-being.

 

Nao Fukumoto posing in front of trees


Nao Fukumoto was born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture. She majored in education at university. During a 4-month short-term study abroad program in the U.S. while in school, she visited local elementary schools and various educational institutions to give classes on Japanese culture. This experience sparked her interest in international exchange. After graduation, she entered graduate school in Niigata Prefecture, where she studied English education and international understanding education, and had opportunities to experience various aspects of Japanese culture, such as tea ceremony, koto, and Japanese painting. She also had the opportunity to share Japanese culture with foreign students and children, and found it wonderful, fun, and rewarding. The JOI program is a new opportunity and challenge for her to share wonderful Japanese culture. She looks forward to meeting lots of people, contributing to the Dillon community and hoping to build strong relationships that will last for years to come.

 

Miku Kubota posing in front of trees


Miku was born and raised in Fukuoka Prefecture located in south of Japan, called the Kyushu area. She became interested in foreign countries since learning English from native teacher at high school and talking with foreign tourist in her hometown. She has experienced studying abroad in both the US and Australia while in university. These experiences motivated her to become a Japanese language teacher and to work for making connections between Japan and abroad. After she got the certificate of teaching Japanese, she started teaching Japanese in a language school in Fukuoka. At the same time, she took them on a cultural tour and realized how important teaching language and culture both to make good relationships with each other. As a JOI Coordinator, Miku would like to provide opportunities to touch Japanese culture, share cultures with each other, and build strong connections between Japan and the US through her outreach.

 

Mikio Moriyasu posing in front of trees


Mikio Moriyasu was born and raised in Okayama, which is famous for peaches and grapes as its specialties. His first encounter with the U.S. was an educational program for kids, Sesame Street, which was broadcast in his childhood. This program aroused his curiosity and interest in English and other cultures. In university, he majored in elementary education, with a minor in English. After graduation, he went on to a graduate school in the US, where he obtained a TESOL certificate. Upon his return to Japan, he started working as an English teacher at a public high school in Okayama. In 2017, he was dispatched to an English-Teacher Seminar on a grant offered by the U.S. Embassy. During his stay in Manila, Philippines, he built a community of practice, discussing with educators from other East Asian nations. His experience of having worked at a high school with Global Course in Osaka also helped him realize how essential it is to respect other cultures from diverse perspectives and introduce our own culture as well. As a JOI coordinator, he is eager to share Japanese culture with people in the local community in Texas and build a sustainable relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

 

Mana Nakano posing in front of trees


Mana is originally from Fukui which is in the countryside, and also lived in big cities like Kyoto and Tokyo. Since she loves reading comics and literature, her favorite place is always the library and she became a librarian. Her first experience in joining the international community was quite late. When she was 34 years old, she decided to study abroad in Sydney. She visited the library of Japan Foundation Sydney and interacted with local people as a volunteer to introduce Japanese culture. It sparked her interest in touching cultural exchange experiences and she reconsidered how Japan is fascinating. After returning to Japan, she started teaching the Japanese language as a volunteer to foreign people who lived in Japan. Through this activity, she deeply understood the importance of having another perspective from outside of Japan which is a comfort zone for her in terms of being able to international. Fortunately, Mana got a wonderful chance to interact with people in Omaha, Nebraska. She hopes she can blend into the community and culture while keeping a Japanese perspective.

 

Mana Muramatsu posing in front of trees


Mana Muramatsu studied abroad in the United States when she was a university student. This experience broadened her perspective and inspired her. She took an interest in cultural exchange after meeting many people who had different roots and backgrounds. After she graduated from university, she started working sales in business development department. Even though she was busy working, every vacation, she went travel overseas such as Brazil, Mexico, China, and Mongolia. She couldn't give up her connection with the world. Once she visited or met local people, she was enchanted by cultural attraction. She strongly believes that cultural exposure makes people life more beautiful and enriched. She is so happy to be here in Knoxville and excited to promote the Japan - U.S. relationship.

 

Hono Noda posing in front of trees


Hono was born in Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture. Her fascination with diverse cultures began during childhood road trips with my mother. Throughout her elementary to junior high school years, she traveled all over Japan during vacations. These journeys led her to realize the diverse cultural variations in food, landscapes, languages, and histories, within a country. It sparked curiosity about the world, and in high school, she decided to study abroad in Canada for a year. Living with a host family and meeting people who have different backgrounds deepened her interest in different cultures. Before entering university, she joined an internship at a traditional sake brewery in Hokkaido. This experience not only taught her the delicate and profound Japanese culture, but also deepened her sense of Japanese identity and attachment. At the same time, she came to realize that this beautiful culture is fading away, sparking her keen interest in cultural preservation. Just as she did not know about her own culture, we have few opportunities to learn about our traditions and culture. Hono would like to share Japanese culture and use this opportunity to make people aware of the charms of their own culture too.

 

Akiko Yamamoto posing in front of trees


Akiko is from Yamaguchi in the western part of Japan. She worked for a long time in a national university and a local government there. She started practicing Hawaiian hula while working as a university administrator. This sparked her interest in other cultures abroad. She had applied this interest to her work, working on international exchange programs at the university and inbound projects for a local government. She learned firsthand the joys and importance of international exchange for students and community people, especially in countryside. With these experiences, as a JOI coordinator, she would like many American people to know about Japanese culture, real life, and so on. She also wants to learn about the lives and values of American people. During her stay in the U.S., she hopes to use the coordination skills she has developed over many years of working experience to promote the appeal and importance of international exchange abroad including between Japan and the U.S.

 

Yuriko Yamamoto posing in front of trees


Yuriko Yamamoto is from Tokoname in Aichi Prefecture, a city famous for pottery. While in university she deepened her cultural understanding, did fieldwork, and developed her leadership skills at Nihon Fukushi University. Yuriko enjoys many hobbies including playing the Ukulele, singing, reading books, and walking. During her studies, she visited many countries including Cambodia, India, and Malawi. After meeting people in different countries, she realized that each person’s way of thinking and perspective are unique. After graduating, she started to work with special needs children and became certified in childcare. She applied to be a JOI Coordinator to have the opportunity to connect with people of different cultures. She is looking forward to sharing her experiences of Japanese traditional activities, including calligraphy, kendo, the yosakoi dance and even playing the Japanese flute.

 

Yuki Ayukawa posing in front of trees


Yuki Ayukawa is from Fukuoka, Japan. As a student, she joined a 2-week sister city cultural exchange program between her hometown and the United States. She also did a homestay in Malaysia through a cultural exchange program. Through these international experiences communicating with local people, she became interested in the cultures and people of the world and wanted to deepen her understanding. To expand her horizons, she decided to become an exchange student through a study abroad program in Texas for two semesters. As part of the volunteer activities, she had the opportunity to help students who were interested in her home country of Japan. Through teaching Japanese language and sharing Japanese culture with the students, she gained a passion for introducing Japan to others. She wants to treasure every single meeting she has during these two years. She also hopes she can contribute to the communities and strengthen relationships to Japan in various ways as the first JOI coordinator in Wyoming.

 

Yoshie Hisatomi posing in front of trees


Yoshie grew up reading and enjoying many English fairy tales with her sisters through the LABO International Exchange Foundation in her youth. Her first experience in the US was when she was 13 years old. Having such an incredible experience traveling internationally showed her how meaningful it is to connect with people from around the world. Her understanding of how powerful and borderless true connections can be deeply shaped her life. Since then, English language, international exchange, and global relationships have been the driving force within her personal and professional journey. Her work in America is now focused on helping people expand their opportunities in life, as well as help them deepen their perspective by spreading the inspiration of Japanese culture, language, and spirit. With her various worldly experiences, she is committed to encouraging and supporting the new generation of the world, making her a perfect fit in the JOI Program. She is looking forward to being a part of her community and the JOI mission for the next two years.

 

Takeshi Hayasaka posing in front of trees


Takeshi was born and raised in Miyagi Prefecture located 200 miles north of Tokyo, the capital of Japan. He studied in New Zealand for 6 weeks when he was a university student. This was the first time he visited a foreign country, and the experience opened his eyes to global relationships. While attending university, he went to Indonesia and Columbia to teach Japanese culture as a volunteer. After graduating university, he worked for a general trading company. However, he continued to dream of becoming a bridge between Japan and other countries. So, he left his job to go to Canada in order to further develop his knowledge and experiences. After he returned to Japan, he worked for a recruitment company in the overseas division as well as supported international students who wanted to work in Japan. As a JOI Coordinator, he wants to share with his new friends in the US the charm and beauty of both modern and traditional Japanese culture while deepening understanding about American culture as well.

 

Shunsuke Aoki posing in front of trees


Shunsuke is originally from Hokkaido, in northern Japan. He majored in Informatics during university and graduate school. Through the International Training Program at university in the country of Bhutan, he obtained a new perspective and found the fun of cross-cultural exchange. After returning to Japan, for his graduate work he traveled across all 47 of Japan’s prefectures and made a promotional video to introduce the various charms each prefecture has to people in the world. While he was completing his master’s degree, he lived in an international dormitory assisting international students in their daily lives. During that same period, he took a Japanese Teacher Training Course and became interested in teaching Japanese language as well as introducing various cultures to people from other countries. When he found the JOI Program recruitment poster, he felt that JOI is the thing he really wanted to do. As a JOI Coordinator, he hopes he can reach out to many people and establish strong connections between Japan and North Dakota.

 

Satoyo Tachio posing in front of trees


While studying abroad in Canada, Satoyo Tachio met a diverse range of people and awakened to the join of understanding each other beyond individual backgrounds and customs. Inspired by books, music, movies, dance, nature, and art, she has continued to engage with people in the community. When people understand each other through direct dialogue, relationships are long-lasting and opportunities for cultural exchange continue. Living in rural Japan, developing countries, and isolated islands, Satoyo could experience different cultures and encounter new perspectives that helped to shape her life. She grew up in a remote part of Japan, developing a deep connection to these areas. Because of this, she is fascinated by being able to work in the American countryside. She would like to reach out to various types of people in Ohio and provide an opportunity for them to become aware of the diversity of the world.

 

mizuki umebara posing in front of trees


Mizuki Umebara was born and raised in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. Kochi is a large producer of okra, and Mizuki feels that Delta State University’s “Fighting Okra” mascot is the reason why she was brought here. Since she was a child, Mizuki was always passionate about language and liked to see different cultures through books and other media. During her time in university, she decided to take a one-week trip to Italy. As her first real experience abroad, this had a great impact on realizing what different cultures and values were truly like. After this trip, she went back to Italy for another six months. After traveling to multiple countries, it became clear to Mizuki that her true passion was sharing different cultures and values with others. She continued studying English while working in Japanese society, as well as becoming certified as a Japanese language teacher to help deepen her language knowledge and seek future opportunities. With this mindset, she is eager to raise awareness about different cultures and the value of learning from them.

 

Manami Kawazoe posing in front of trees


Manami Kawazoe was born and raised in Kyoto Prefecture, which is famous for its tea and historic sites. She became interested in foreign countries and the English language since watching American movies with her parents as a child. She also has experience studying abroad in both the US and Australia while in university. These experiences motivated her to work for the inbound tourism industry to support visitors to Japan using English. She was working at a tour agency, but the pandemic started and forced people to stay at home instead. Taking advantage of the situation, she took the classes to become a Japanese language teacher, which she was always interested in. After she got the certificate of teaching, she started to teach Japanese online and then realized that she did not want to teach only language but also share Japanese culture. As a JOI Coordinator, she would like to provide many opportunities and leave an impact so that people can enjoy cultural exchange even after she returns to Japan.

 

Kaoru Mori posing in front of trees


Kaoru Mori was born in Wakayama, Japan. In university, she majored in British and American Studies and Hospitality. Her first experience in the U.S. was when she was a university student. She had stayed in New Mexico State University for a year as an exchange student. From this experience, she became strongly interested in cultural diversity and her identity as Japanese. After graduation, she worked as an international airline group staff of Japan Airlines (JAL) for two years. She always supported and welcomes customers from all over the world with Japanese hospitality. In 2020, she started to work at Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort as guest service in the Japan Pavilion. However, she had to return back to Japan because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The JOI program is a new opportunity for her to work in bridging the gap between the U.S. and Japan. She would like to connect with local communities and people, share cultures with each other, and build strong relationships between Billings and Japan through her outreach.

 

Hitomi Sakakibara posing in front of trees


Hitomi Sakakibara was born in Kyoto, Japan. Encountering an English teacher and American ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher) in junior high school was her first experience to broaden her perspective and make her interested in other countries and people. She studied language and culture in university, and also worked various part time jobs to gain HR skills. She was always interested in learning about other countries, cultures, foods, and ways of living. Ever since she became a local tour guide, she enjoyed not only introducing her own country and culture but also getting to know other cultures. It was a joy to meet many people from different backgrounds. She is looking forward to meeting many people at the Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures and Education Center in Corpus Christi. She hopes to build a bridge between the United States and Japan, which was also the dream of the museum’s founder. She is excited to be a JOI Coordinator and provide many cross-cultural events and opportunities to deepen mutual understanding.

 

Yoko Watanabe posing in front of trees


Yoko Watanabe was born in Niigata prefecture, which is famous for rice and ski resorts. She graduated with an education degree from Teikyo University and got her teaching license for children with disabilities, kindergarten, and nursery school because of her interest in supporting self-reliance. Upon graduating, she did a short-term study abroad in New York City. That experience helped her realize that she is a citizen of the world, not only of Japan. Her dream is to support people, especially children, when they are faced with difficulties. The JOI Program allows her to connect with global communities and support others as they follow their dreams. Yoko has many hobbies and interests such as dance, wearing kimono, creating kid’s clothes, and environmental issues. She also has worked with Japanese musicians and hopes to bring their music to Colorado. Most of all, Yoko hopes to work with and learn from the local community to make both the US and Japan a better place to live for generations to come!

 

Nanaka Okamura posing in front of trees


At university, Nanaka Okamura majored in Computer Science and also took a Teacher-Training course and a Teacher Education Program for Teaching Japanese to Speakers of Other Languages course. She mainly studied Computer Science and pedagogy. Nanaka took the Japanese language teacher training course because it allowed her to obtain qualifications, but as she learned more she became interested in teaching Japanese language and culture and international exchange. She also had a strong interest in the field of education, as she had been working as a tutor at a cram school throughout university. When she was looking for a place where she could utilize her experience and knowledge, she discovered the JOI program and decided that she wanted to work as a JOI Coordinator. Nanaka is eager to share Japanese culture with everyone, whether they are already familiar with it or just learning about it for the first time. She can’t wait to do many kinds of outreach activities in North Carolina!

 
 
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