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.



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!


Masahiro Yamamoto posing in front of trees

Masahiro Yamamoto was born in Kawaguchi, Saitama. He is passionate about Urawa Reds, a professional soccer team in Saitama. He also has been playing soccer since he was child, and this inspired him to be interested in the world. He received a degree majoring in Spanish and went to Toluca, Mexico for study abroad for a year. This was his first time to experience a new culture, different lifestyle, and language. These were confusing at first, but he learned a lot about Mexico. At the same time, he could appreciate the beauty of his home country. After graduation, he worked for a company in manufacturing, and although he felt satisfied he could not forget his experience overseas. He decided to leave and went to Michigan to study English for a year. After that, he worked at a French-owned company in Tokyo for couple of years. He hopes he can reach out as many people as possible and teach them "Cool Japan" in "Hot Arizona".


Friends from Japan and the U.S. wearing kimonos during a cultural exchange activity

Mariko Nagai is originally from Fukuoka. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies from Seinan Gakuin University. Her first experience in the U.S. was when she was a high school student. She joined a 2-week sister city cultural exchange program between Fukuoka city and Oakland in California. From this experience, she decided to join a 1-month summer language school program in Minnesota, as well as a study abroad program at Middle Tennessee State University for 2 semesters. She worked for 6 years as an English instructor and program coordinator, and 1.5 years as a conference organizer. She has always wanted to be a bridge between Japan and other countries, especially America because of the experiences she had as student. She is looking forward to engaging in her host site at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, connecting with many people, and strengthening their understanding about Japan as a JOI Coordinator. She hopes she can increase both Japanese and American fans of Nebraska!


Maika Yamaoka posing in front of trees

Maika Yamaoka was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She was exposed to traditional cultures such as koto (traditional musical instrument) and kimono at an early age and has been interested in introducing Japanese culture. At university, she majored in Social Anthropology, and she traveled though Asia, Europe, and South America as a backpacker. She learned that each culture has a different worldview and that it is enjoyable and valuable to learn about them. When she was an exchange student in Wales, UK, she was involved in a Japanese culture club. Through presenting Japanese culture, she was delighted to be called an ‘Ambassador’ by people. After graduation, she worked for International Exchange programs for students and young professionals to progress her ambition in life: creating the bridge between Japan and the rest of the world through Japanese culture. As a JOI Coordinator, she would like to provide many opportunities so that people can enjoy cultural exchange and foster future leaders in cross-cultural exchange.


Aya Iwamoto posing in front of trees

Aya Iwamoto is from Kyoto located in western Japan.  She had her first experience with international culture when she was 7 years old during a family trip to Saipan. From that time, she became interested in culture and people around the world and dreamt about contributing to world peace and international exchange in the future. At her high school, she met a lot of friends who used to live in other counties and came from many backgrounds. She also learned how important international understanding is and went on to study global regional studies at Doshisha University. She studied abroad in Michigan and joined a local school activity program to teach Japanese culture. The program was managed by a former JOI Coordinator, and through this experience she discovered JOI. After graduation, she worked at an electronics manufacturing company in international sales for 3 years. As a JOI Coordinator, she hopes to get involved in her community and leave an impact through Japan outreach activities in Oklahoma.


Aiko Hatano posing in front of trees

Aiko is from Kanagawa Prefecture. Her interest in connecting people in Japan and other countries began as a child, hearing stories of her grandmother working at the British Embassy as a Japanese calligraphy teacher. While she was in university, she had many experiences of cultural exchange, including studying English in Dublin for 4 weeks in summer, joining the International Student Conference, and taking a Japanese language education course. Aiko realized that sharing culture and language is a good way to make friends who have different backgrounds. She believes that knowing people of different backgrounds and becoming friends can address problems such as discrimination or prejudice. After graduating from university, she worked at a Japanese trading company and oversaw U.S. beef imports, which increased her interest in America. Aiko is so excited to be in North Dakota as a pioneer to broaden cultural exchange programs. She hopes to build sustainable relationships between North Dakota and Japan.

Coordinator from Japan in Tennessee to raise awareness about the Japanese culture among Americans

Yumi Shimada was born in Gunma Prefecture in Japan but lived in the U.S. briefly as a child. Since then, she has been interested in travel, international exchange, and cultural identity. In college, Yumi worked at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Sydney, Australia. After graduating from Dokkyo University in Saitama, she spent two years living in Tokyo. In 2017, Yumi spent nine months teaching in Manado, Indonesia with the NIHONGO Partners Program (facilitated by The Japan Foundation). She has visited 15 countries in total. Spending time abroad has helped Yumi realize Japan’s true beauty, deepening her connection to her cultural roots. Looking back, Yumi’s experience living abroad at a young age made her a global citizen: she had the opportunity early on to think about stereotypes, cultural differences, and international friendship. Now she is happy to be contributing to a better understanding of Japan in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Through the JOI program, Yumi hopes to increase awareness about Japan and build a mutually beneficial relationship with her community.

Participants of the Japan Outreach Initiative sharing the Japanese culture in Alabama

Yoko Minami was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. She had her first international experience at a young age, when she took a family vacation to Hawaii. She was extremely impressed by the local culture, people and natural beauty, sparking a strong interest in learning English. Yoko went on to major in English at university. While studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, she volunteered at a Japanese club to teach Japanese language and culture at the local university. This brief experience with teaching led her to pursue a career teaching Japanese in other countries. After graduating from university, Yoko attended a technical college to learn how to teach Japanese as a second language. As a JOI Coordinator in Alabama, Yoko hopes to inspire as many people as possible to learn about Japanese language and culture in the hope that they might visit Japan in the future.

Cultural exchange program participant from Japan pointing at her host state Ohio on a map

Hirashita was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. She became interested in other cultures and languages because she grew up with a Korean-Japanese family living next-door. During her high school years, she had the chance to visit Germany and Australia on a sister-school program, and she became even more interested in getting to know people from all around the world. She graduated from Kwansei Gakuin University with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. Mai studied at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska, as an exchange student for two semesters. During the time studying abroad, she learned that many people had only a vague idea of what Japan is like because they didn’t have the opportunity to interact with people from Japan. While working with K-12 aged children in the Kansai region as an English instructor, Mai applied to the  JOI program, hoping to help more people in the US--as well as people from countries around the world--to feel closer to Japan.

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