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.


Asami is originally from Nagasaki. She graduated from The University of Wisconsin at River- Falls with a degree in Art. She taught at a junior high school in Nagasaki and elementary schools in Okinawa, where she also learned Bingata-Kimono dyeing. After learning about Japanese emigrants from Okinawa to South America, Asami participated as a volunteer of JICA as a Japanese culture teacher in Argentina from 2010-2012 before she became a JOI coordinator in 2013. In the past two years, Asami worked with K-12 schools, universities, local libraries, and museums. Through her outreach activities, she became very interested in the variety of education, schools, and diversity of students in the US. She also helped to organize UTC’s Introduction To Asia Conference, a Japanese art director’s lecture, Obento workshop, and the “Walk in US, Talk on Japan” program at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. With a local elementary school, she created a students’ exchange program with a Japanese school. They will start the exchange program in June 2015.

Ai Kataoka is from Saitama prefecture which is located 2 hours from metropolitan Tokyo. She graduated from Hosei University receiving an English teaching license in 2013. During her university time, she went to Taiwan to teach about Japan. She also studied abroad at Truman State University in Missouri as an exchange student for a year and helped organize the Japan club there. Those experiences motivated her to apply for the JOI program. She really enjoys talking about Japanese culture and teaching hands-on activities such as Origami, how to use chopsticks and Furoshiki to all students from elementary school to college students. She also participated in several international fairs in the Georgia area and spread Japanese culture to people of all generations in Georgia.

Yoriko grew up in Nara prefecture, a historical city and recognized as the birthplace of Japanese culture. She graduated from Kansai Gaidai University with a degree in International Communication and a minor in Japanese Language Education. For 4 years in college, she devoted herself to studying Chinese and its culture and spent a total of 13 months at Beijing Language and Culture University in Beijing and at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. She also volunteered to teach Japanese to foreign residents in her hometown. After graduating from university, to enrich her intercultural communication skill, she worked at a Japanese company in Singapore to start her business career. While she lived in Singapore, she realized the importance of sharing different cultures. In the first year at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Yoriko taught Japanese language and culture at an after school program for young kids at a primary school. Also during class, students had the opportunity to learn different types of Japanese arts & crafts such as origami and paper doll making. At the end of the school semester, those crafts made by her after school program students were exhibited in the art museum during the Art Show conducted by the school.

Erika is from Osaka prefecture, Japan's third largest city and known as the country's kitchen. She graduated with a degree in English language from Kansai Gaidai University in 2009. During her college career, she studied abroad at the University of Colorado at Boulder for 10 months as an exchange student. Outside of the classroom, she served as a resident assistant at an international students' dormitory helping them with their daily lives and their Japanese studies. Since graduating from university, Erika spent time working as a global training and operations client coordinator in the English education industry, then took a six-month course to become an English instructor for children. Through a grant provided by the Japan Outreach Initiative, Erika will spend two years as the CEAS Japan Outreach Coordinator promoting Japanese language and culture and conducting Japan-related activities at schools and community organizations.

Haruko is from Yokosuka, a coastal city about 2 hours from Tokyo, in Kanagawa prefecture. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Education, focusing on Comparative Education from Tokyo Gakugei University in 2012. She spent one year as a high school exchange program in Australia. She also studied for 10 months at The University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania as a university student. In addition to these exchange adventures, Haruko had an opportunity to live in an international dormitory during her university years. Through all those experiences, Haruko came to appreciate the relationships focused on individuals, rather than just country of origin and cultural heritage. She serves as a Japan Outreach Initiative coordinator for the development of deeper understanding of Japan in American schools and communities. She has been demonstrating various Japanese cultural traditions from tea ceremony to pop-culture, in places such as schools, nursing homes, community centers, and community colleges. She welcomes the opportunity to respond to requests from throughout Virginia.

Taka says he is a baby boomer of the post-World War II era, which is defined in Japan as those born between 1947-49. He clearly remembers enjoying the American TV drama “Lassie” during the late 1950s, just before Japan entered into the circle of industrialized nations.Taka long had a strong dream and passion to visit the U.S. He actually came to New York in 1977 as a young banker to battle in the financial market. He stayed there for 3 years, however his contacts then were all limited to the professional persons in the financial industry, and not the general population. That is why, after he retired from business, he decided to come to the U.S. again as a JOI member at the age of 62, to exchange cultures with younger people. Taka has had a long career in the banking industry after graduating from both Sophia University and Waseda University in Tokyo. His major fields in banking were widely spread, covering the funds market, corporate banking, and strategy planning in overseas markets while based in both a Japanese mega bank and a leading local bank. Besides New York, he also has a perspective of Europe from living in Milan for 5 years. Taka has been active visiting schools from pre-K to 12, colleges, universities, and communities like churches and libraries, to introduce Japan and its culture through such demonstrations as tea ceremony and calligraphy. Though the size of the Japanese community in Houston is small (less than 3000 people), there are active groups of traditional Japanese dance, taiko drums, and so on. These groups are also Taka’s partners in various cases like the Japan Festival, which drew an audience of over 25,000 people over two days in spring 2012.

Completing a 3-month English study program at Southern Cross University and teaching English to children inspired Manami to live and work in another country. After graduating from Nagoya University of Foreign Studies with a degree in contemporary English, she started studying to teach Japanese language as a second language. Without the ability to speak Thai, she left Japan to teach Japanese at Institution of East Asian Studies in Thammasat University, Thailand. Upon returning to Japan, Manami worked for a currency exchange company and then flew to Spartanburg, South Carolina with JOI. She has visited pre-schools, K-12 schools, home school groups, summer camp, churches, etc. to share Japanese customs and culture. Manami organized several events such as “Remember Japan” to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Tohoku Kanto Daishinsai and a Sushi Night event. In addition to Manami’s presentations and demonstrations at Wofford College, these activities enabled her to reach more students. Participating in “Aikido Interim” helped her connect further with people in Spartanburg. Manami looks forward to meeting and getting to know more people as “Bon festival in Greenville”, the “Pray for Japan” documentary movie and Spartanburg International Festival are coming up this fall. She is very glad to be a JOI coordinator to spread “Japanese footprints” to Spartanburg and beyond.

Asami is from Cincinnati's Sister City of Gifu, Japan. After graduating from Nanzan University with a degree in Linguistics, she taught at the junior high school and high school level. Asami's mission in the U.S. is to share Japanese life and culture with the people of Cincinnati by giving presentations to schools, libraries and organizations in the area.

Yume is a Kagoshima native who graduated from Seisen University, Tokyo with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature in 2002. As a student, Yume studied for both a Japanese teaching certificate and a Spanish teaching license. Yume also has a passion for learning about Latin culture and studied in Santander, Spain. After graduation, while working as a Japanese instructor and camp counselor for the Intensive Japanese Culture and Language Program at her school, she learned skills in how to manage international students. From 2008 until she became a JOI coordinator, she worked at the International Center of Seisen University and provided support for students studying abroad as well as international students. Yume has undertaken graduate level studies on peace education and received a certificate in Global Citizenship Studies from Seisen University, Tokyo in March of 2010. During her first year at the University of Iowa, Yume traveled widely throughout the state of Iowa and brought fresh Japanese information to its citizens.

Rumi is from Shiga prefecture which is famous for the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. She graduated with a degree in the Theory of Intercultural Communication and a minor in Education from Ryukoku University in 2010. During her college career, she went to Malta to study English for a month and to the University of California, Irvine to study International Studies, Asian American Studies, and English for half a year. She was also chosen for several international student leadership positions for several collegiate organizations. Outside of the classroom, she served as an International Student's adviser for four years to provide support to international students in their daily lives, Japanese studies, identity search, and future planning. She gained many culture insights about many other countries through her experience studying abroad and being an RA of an international residence. She enjoyed interacting with people from different countries and learning about the diversity of cultures. Rumi is also a skilled calligrapher who has been practicing the art for more than 15 years. She has a lot of passion to share Japanese culture through this wonderful Japanese tradition as well as through popular culture. During her first year in Valparaiso, she focused on outreach and organized cultural events. She particularly enjoyed being responsible for the organization of the Japan Olympiad of Indiana speech contest.

Kowata comes to UA Fort Smith from Tokyo, where she is an assistant convention director for the Show Management Company. She was previously an intern with the International Environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth Japan. She has a master’s degree in environment, science and society from Essex University in Essex, England, and a bachelor’s degree from Rikkyo University in Tokyo. During her first year in Fort Smith, she has organized the Japanese Fashion Show at the university, worked with students studying Japanese language, worked with the international office at the university with helping international students, and taught Shodo at the Center for Lifelong learning. Yoko was 26-years-old at the time of her appointment.

Natsue graduated from Kyoto University of Foreign Studies with a degree in English in 2004. After graduation, she studied abroad in Adelaide, Australia for 6 months. Following that, she worked for a company as a sales representative then took a three-month course to be an English instructor for children. Natsue went back to work for an electric company, working with foreign customers before joining the JOI program. During her first year in Findlay, she worked in a wide range of settings. Natsue has developed a curriculum for her K-12 school programs, migrant schools and universities, and organized the program “EXPERIENCE JAPAN!” at the Findlay/ Hancock County library. Through this program, children enjoy Japanese folktales and origami. On The University of Findlay campus, Natsue has worked on various community events for children and helped Japanese exchange program students with their presentations on Japan. Her most recent major event was organizing a Rakugo and Katsuben performance and workshop this fall.

After graduating from Yokohama City University with a degree in sociology, she worked for seven years for the local city government in Japan as a staff member for sister city and volunteer programs within the Board of Education. She later went on to work for the Urban Policy Institute of Yokosuka city, the Policy Management Department of Miura, and the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program before she was accepted by the Japan Outreach Initiative.During her first year, she has organized several Family events, worked with Kalamazoo-Numazu Sister City Committee, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, "Reading Together 2010" committee of Kalamazoo Public Library, Central Michigan University Public Broadcasting, Portage Community Center, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and so on. She also made presentations at many area schools as well.

After graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University with a degree in Law, she worked for a publishing company and a broadcasting company in Tokyo as a sales representative. Later, she studied at University of Washington on a Tempstaff Worldwide Scholarship before joining JOI. During her first year in North Carolina, she has worked closely with the Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University and she has taught a social studies program on Japan. Japan is one of the thematic units covered in the second grade curriculum of the public schools in North Carolina and the MOA’s program is the only one in Forsyth County that systematically provides additional resources and instructions to strengthen education on Japan. She also assisted the Japanese Studies Club at Wake Forest University with cultural enrichment activities on campus and community service offcampus. At The Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem (CMWS) she hosted a monthly origami calendar program. She folded seasonal objects with origami and created a calendar for the upcoming month. Storytime featuring Japanese folktales followed after the craft time.
She received a bachelor in communication studies from Aichi Shukutoku University with a chance to spend half an year studying in West Virginia University through an exchange program. Since April 2005, she achieved her initial goal of becoming a full time English teacher and started working at Moriyama Junior High School. Her main work in St. Louis: 1) visiting k-12 schools and making presentations related to Japan, 2) doing workshops at the St. Louis and St. Charles county libraries, 3) teaching Japanese culture and organizing classes at Webster University. Recently, Kana has been involved in the Japanese Festival which was held September 4 - 6, 2010. She performed several traditional Japanese arts at the festival.

Mitsuo had a rewarding business career before he joined the JOI program. After graduating from Dokkyo University with an English degree, he worked for Japanese and American software companies, rising to Vice President. After retirement, he became certified to teach Japanese language and volunteered to teach in Colorado, Malaysia, and Japan. He has been a Boy Scout leader for his entire adult life. During his first year in Tampa, he has interfaced with the business community, worked with Sister Cities, organized exhibits of the World Heritage Picture Panels, focused on expanding Japanese consciousness and exchange opportunities on the University of South Florida campus, and spearheaded a teacher workshop. He is committed to the involvement of senior citizens worldwide in NPO activities. Mitsuo was 60-years-old at the time of her appointment.

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