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.



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.

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.
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