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.



Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator with her American friends in North Carolina

Nana is from Ibaraki Prefecture, a state-like area north of Tokyo. Interactions with JET Program ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) at junior high school broadened her horizons and made her interested in intercultural exchange and language acquisition. She received a BA in English from Tsuda University, where she pursued her interests in communication, Japanese language education, and translation. After graduation, she worked for a local food factory with people from many different backgrounds. Nana became a JOI Coordinator hoping to inspire others to become interested in Japan and the world, just like the ALTs inspired her years ago.


Americans enjoying a cultural learning activity with a Japanese coordinator in Michigan

Kanako is originally from the city of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. Her childhood encounter with some children from abroad whose parents worked for Toyota Motor brought her curiosity about the world. After graduating from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University with a bachelor degree of Business Administration, she spent nine years in Tokyo as an international sales representative for a Japanese power equipment manufacturer. Through her business experience mainly in European and Australasian markets, she learned the importance of mutual understanding in global society. Kanako became a JOI Coordinator to take on the challenge of working in citizen diplomacy in the U.S, learning about international relations, and enhancing her skills abroad. During her two-year assignment, the state of Michigan and Shiga Prefecture will celebrate 50 years as sister states. In addition to enriching the sister state relationship, Kanako aims to provide opportunities to people in her area to learn about Japan and foster greater interest in the world.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator cooks Japanese food with American students in Texas

Chinatsu was born in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. While in high school, she studied abroad as an exchange student in Australia for 11 months. After studying English Education at Dokkyo University, Chinatsu worked for a travel company in Tokyo as a sales representative for international cruise companies and traveled extensively around Japan organizing shore excursions where she could meet guests and crews from all over the world. Even though working with cruise lines was a great opportunity, only licensed guides were allowed to tour with passengers, many of whom held stereotypes and particular presumptions about Japan. Chinastsu wanted to engage more with people internationally and contribute to a better understanding about Japanese culture. Through the JOI program, she hopes to meet people as many people as possible in the United States and help them gain a better understanding of Japan.


American kids learn about Japan through a cultural exchange program in school

From Fukui Prefecture, Ayako's father started teaching her English when she was little, sparking an interest in other cultures. Ayako studied in New Zealand for a year during high school. After finishing at Kyoto University with a degree in Foreign Studies, she worked for a bank for three years. However, she always wanted to go abroad and share Japanese culture, so she decided to work as a cultural representative performer for Disney World in Florida. While there, she noticed Japanese people tend not to speak English. She believes that if people are able to speak English, they have more opportunities to interact with the world. As a JOI Coordinator, Ayako aims to help people in her community become more interested in Japanese language and culture and serve as a connection to Japan and the world for them.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator teaches young students in Ohio about his native Japan

Haruhide was born in Abeno, Osaka. When he was in 4th grade, his family moved to Nara, the capital of eighth-century Japan and a city with three world heritage sites. Haruhide graduated from Waseda University with a degree in International Liberal Studies and a minor in Economics. He worked as a system engineer in Tokyo for four years, but his interests shifted to international relations and affairs. After applying to become a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, Haruhide was sent to Belize in Central America to teach computer skills for two years. His current challenge is to energize American students and the broader community in northeast Ohio with curiosity about Japan.


Japanese and Americans sharing their cultures through a card game

Aya is from Saitama, Japan. She studied Intercultural Communication at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, and studied abroad in New Zealand for seven months. Aya then worked for a Japanese style hotel in Tokyo for three and half years, where she served guests from all over the world, from adults to children, while introducing them to Japanese culture. Through interacting with people from different countries, she grew to understand the importance of multicultural understanding, especially in the field of grassroots exchange. Aya hopes to build her career around connecting people beyond borders, so she is now a JOI coordinator serving as a bridge between Japan and the United States.


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

Akira Akiyama was born and raised in Tokyo. He graduated from Keio University and with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering, then joined a US-headquartered multinational IT company. He was stationed in laboratories in MN, FL and NC as a liaison with his family for nearly 5 years in total. Living in the US with his family created many delightful memories that stay forever in his heart. After returning to Japan, Akira set a challenging goal: to pass the National Tour Guide Examination administered by JNTO. Akira passed the examination, and volunteered to take several foreign visitors to Mt. Fuji, Kyoto and Asakusa. Since his retirement last year, Akira has searched for a way to dedicate the rest of his life to cross-cultural exchange and international friendship. Akira decided to apply to the JOI program to give something back to the US people, who gave him such wonderful memories. He is now confident that the JOI program gives him a perfect opportunity to repay their kindness. Because Iowa has had a sister state relationship with Yamanashi 66 years, AKira also hopes to deepen this mutual relationship. Akira is excited to serve as a bridge between Yamanashi and Iowa for the next two years.


American kids learn about Japan through a cultural exchange program in school

Airi is from Hokkaido. She studied Childhood Education at Hokkadio University of Education, and earned an MA in English Education with certificates in Elementary, Jr. High School, and High School Education. Airi has had the opportunity to work and travel in Canada and Australia. While in Australia, she volunteered as a Japanese teacher at an elementary school. Airi loves to travel and experience different cultures. She has experience in and enjoys teaching a wide range of people. She has taught English as a Foreign Language at the elementary and high school levels, and also worked as a Teacher’s Assistant at her former university. She would love to share her interests with American citizens. For example, Airi has experience in karate, calligraphy, tea ceremony, and tying yukata. She feels immense pride in her culture, and it would be wonderful if she could teach Japanese culture through activities to many people in Murray, KY. Also, she is willing to create pen pal exchanges, video projects, and Skype meetings between American and Hokkaido youth.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator teaches young students in America about his native Japan

Taiki Sawabe was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. After finishing high school, he moved to the United States in order to pursue his interest in ethnology. Taiki graduated from Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut) with B.A. in Anthropology and Certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. He then worked for a major electronics company in Japan for three years, taking charge of international marketing. Taiki, however, could not give up his childhood dream job, which was to become an elementary school teacher. With his experience in cultural anthropology, he decided to participate in JOI in 2015.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator with a group of American students during a cultural exchange activity

Megumi was born and raised in Yokohama, in Kanagawa prefecture. She graduated from Meiji Gakuin University with a Bachelor degree in International Studies. When she was in college, she studied at the University of California San Diego for an academic year as an exchange student. During this time, she participated in various activities to introduce Japanese culture to both Americans and international students from other countries and found it fascinating to see people develop interest and understanding in Japan and Japanese culture through the activities. After graduating from university, she worked for a travel agency in Tokyo, where she had wonderful opportunities to work with people from around the world and found pleasure in introducing them to Japanese culture. This deepened her desire to work in an international scene to build connections between Japan and other countries, so she applied for the JOI program. She enjoys interacting with children and finds it worthwhile when she sees the smiles and excitement of children when they learn about Japanese culture. She looks forward to reaching out to more areas in West Virginia and people from various generations and backgrounds through the remainder of her term as a JOI coordinator.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator with a group of American students during a cultural exchange activity

Haruna is originally from Osaka. She started working in the Philippines after she graduated the university to teach Japanese language. During her stay in the Philippines, she found out how difficult and fun it is to live in a foreign country. This experience stimulated her curiosity regarding cross-cultural experiences and she decided to live in Ghana as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) through Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). She taught I.C.T, Japanese language, and Japanese culture to elementary and junior high school students. After two years’ contribution, she applied to the JOI program because she thought it was a perfect position to continue her international experience. She has visited educational institutions, such as K-12 schools, universities and libraries, and conducted presentations and hands-on activities. She is also helping The Japan-America Society of Georgia with special events to promote mutual understanding between Japan and the state of Georgia. She is proud to be a tie-in between Japan


American kids learn about Japan through a cultural exchange program

Ayane is from Kyoto, a city that was named “World’s Best City” by Travel Leisure Magazine in 2015. She graduated from Ritsumeikan University with a degree in Sports and Society, with a minor in English. After graduation, Ayane studied abroad in Hawaii, where she discovered the value of immersion in a foreign culture. Upon her return, she began training to teach the Japanese language abroad. She is currently serving as a Japanese Outreach Coordinator, bringing Japanese culture and language to schools and organizations throughout northwest Ohio.


Young Americans learning about Japan through the Japan Outreach Initiative

Tadashi spent over 38 years in business, primarily in banking, after graduating from Hitotsubashi University with Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics. During his business career, he visited and lived in numerous countries, including 10 years in the US. As his father was a diplomat of Japan, he also spent several years in Indonesia and India in his childhood. While he was engaged in the international business arena, his desire to participate in an effort for better understanding of Japan with the people of other nations gradually built up. The JOI program came to his attention at the right time. Tadashi is now based at Creighton University’s Asian World Center giving lectures to the students. He is also visiting the local schools ranging from elementary to high schools and other Universities. His presentations cover a variety of topics including economy, business, history, mythology and other traditional cultures of Japan, depending on the audience. Lovely smiling faces of elementary school children always remind him of his grandchildren in Japan. He is often invited to participate in the community gatherings and events where he enjoys performing calligraphy, origami, etc. He is recognized as a key member for organizing various events of the Omaha Sister City Association, in which the City of Omaha has the longest sister city relationship with the City of Shizuoka Japan, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator teaches young Americans about her native Japan

Saya is from Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Her home city, Fuchu City, is a suburb of Tokyo, and has lots of famous companies as well as very beautiful nature. She graduated from J. F. Oberlin University with a degree in Business Management. In her junior and senior year, she studied abroad at the Western Carolina University in North Carolina for 10 months as an exchange student. Western Carolina University is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has a very small Asian population. However, Saya took advantage of the situation and tried to help people understand Japanese culture. She worked as a Japanese tutor, visited high schools for presentations, and shared Japanese games and cooking at church. Also, she tried lots of different kinds of American culture and activities that she could only experience in beautiful mountains. After she graduated from her university, she was interested in working among people from different backgrounds. The JOI program was a perfect position for her to use her experience of grassroots cultural exchange and her passion for serving people to enrich their lives with new encounters of Japanese culture. She has already visited lots of schools, library, senior centers, youth facilities, and community groups for presentations and activities in Michigan, as well as cultural events that take place in Michigan State University. She is excited to connect more places and people throughout her two year term as a JOI coordinator.


Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator with American youth dressed in kimonos

Eimii graduated from Otaru University of Commerce with a degree in business. During her college years, she studied abroad at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA for a year as an exchange student. After graduation, she worked for a company as a sales representative. She applied to the JOI program to realize her childhood dream of becoming a liaison between Japan and America. During her first year in Kentucky, she worked in a wide range of settings, from being a teacher at schools to working with sister cities as a translator. She has taught about Japanese cultures in K-12 schools and universities. Outside of the classroom, she has also given her cultural presentations at children's homes, nursing homes and public libraries. Through her outreach activities, not only students at schools but also the various people in the community learn and experience Japanese culture. Her major upcoming event is teaching a course of basic Japanese at a public library.



Japan culture program coordinator in a traditional kimono

Chieko was an English teacher for children and a volunteer chairperson for the high school exchange program “AFS.” She was once an exchange student in the USA , and became interested and involved in interacting with international students. Chieko is also an instructor of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (sadō) and flower arrangement (ikebana).


Japanese and Americans during a cultural exchange event

Chiaki is from Togakushi in Nagano Prefecture, which is surrounded beautiful nature and mountains. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Shinshu University in 2010. She worked at a middle school in Nagano as an English teacher for two years. After that, she spent a term on the international Peace Boat which traveled around the world, an experience which inspired her to learn more about people from different countries, as well as to spread an interest in Japanese culture. Also, she felt the importance of face-to-face communication for cultural exchange to be a bridge between other countries and Japan. Then, she started to work in the historic city of Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, at an international hostel where many backpackers came to stay. At that time, she enjoyed cultural exchange with people from different countries. When she joined the Japan Outreach Initiative (JOI) Program, she was sent to Indiana as a coordinator to build more interest in Japan. She is always happy to visit schools, Japanese companies, and community organizations throughout Indiana and enjoys the cultural activities and wonderful people there.


Americans learning about Japanese food during a culture program in Alabama led by Japanese coordinator

Yumi is from Hokkaido prefecture, the largest prefecture in Japan and known for winter sports and delicious sea food. She graduated from college in Japan with a degree in Education with teaching licenses in pre-school, elementary school, junior high school (English) and high school (English). After graduating college, she taught English at a high school in Japan. With an interest in supporting foreigners and returnees with language lessons and adjusting to the country, she studied teaching Japanese as a foreign language while working. During her two years as a JOI coordinator, she has worked closely with the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa City and County Schools, and the Tuscaloosa Sister Cities International organization to share Japanese language and culture by doing presentations and conducting Japanese classes. Yumi also organized and supported several events such as the “Walk in U.S., Talk on Japan Symposium”, which had discussions on the Japanese economy, trading, women’s life etc. with participants from the university and surrounding communities. During her second year, she worked with university students to make the Japan outreach program ongoing after she leaves Alabama and made the intercultural enrichment program “Heart Touch” into a student organization.

Yuki was born and raised in Kyushu (Fukuoka and Saga), the southern part of Japan, which has a lot of unique original culture of its own same as other part of the country. She has been inspired by her mother, who used be an English teacher, very much since she was very little, and while she was a student, she got several different great opportunities to come to the United States as a foreign exchange student. She majored in English at university and after that she worked in Australia as a Japanese Teacher Assistant and continued her career in education area after she returned to Japan. Along with her journey, she has got to be thinking what the “real” cultural exchange is, what the “true” cultural interaction is. Throughout the JOI program, she has been visiting many different schools from pre-schools to universities, local libraries and also different types of community events to share her culture in all over the Iowa. It has been a great pleasure to share the culture she grew up with to the audiences who has never really heard of or known about it. She also works with other organizations such as Iowa Sister States and whenever there is a group of visitors or delegations from Japan, she works for them as a volunteer interpreter. These have been wonderful opportunities for her also. She always appreciate all the opportunities to get involved with any Japan-related activities in the community very much.

Through her experiences growing up in Korea, and working in England, China, and Russia as a Japanese language instructor, Hiromi became ever more interested in working for cross-cultural understanding through education. She was happy to have the chance to become a JOI coordinator because the program provides opportunities for practical field work in intercultural understanding. While it focuses on developing understanding specifically between American and Japanese people through the JOI coordinators' outreach, Hiromi's main goal is not only to increase people's interest in Japan, but also to cultivate international mutual understanding on a larger scale. She hopes that her talks and activities can help to inspire her audience, especially when she works with K-12 children, to see different cultures of the world more clearly, and to understand and respect the uniqueness of every culture. Surely, helping people open their minds about one different culture will help them be open to yet others. An unexpected bonus in her experience as a coordinator came from being asking to help with Japanese language lessons for K-12 children. This form of outreach gave her opportunities to improve her skills in her special field of Japanese language teaching luckily.

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