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.


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.

Keiko graduated from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University with a degree in Sociology in 2006. While at Ritsumeikan, she spent time volunteering in Kenya, Vietnam, and Korea. Upon her return from Kenya, she created programs about Africa she took to Japanese schools to present a more balanced view of African culture. Committed to the environment and volunteerism, Keiko also participated in various volunteer efforts in her hometown like erasing graffiti and roadside garbage clean-up. After graduation, she worked for the NPO Volunteer Center in Fukuoka. During her first year in Kentucky, she has created a culture program with local experts explaining their special skills in Japanese, taught about Japanese culture in K-12 schools, run booths at Japanese festivals, energized students learning Japanese, assisted with film festival and performing arts presentations. Keiko was 26-years-old at the time of her appointment.

After graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies with a degree in English, she entered their MA program in History. She studied at Mankato State University in Minnesota on a Rotary Scholarship. After receiving her MA, she worked for an educational printing company. In Japan she volunteered at Rotary Club activities, tutored exchange students, volunteered at the Tokyo National Museum, and assisted as a volunteer in a middle school English class . During her first year in Georgia, she has worked with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia programs, presented programs in K-12 schools, organized the Japanese Film Festival and Noh performance, worked with students studying Japanese language, and ran booths at culture festivals in Athens. She is currently busy making culture kits with the Georgia State Museum staff in Athens. Hijiri-san was 28-years-old at the time of her appointment.

Yukako received a BA in Culture and Creativity and an MA in Global Philanthropy from Aichi Shukutoku University. While a student, she traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, and the US where she participated in numerous conferences. She interned at ALC Press and the Japan Center for International Exchange. After graduation she was Friendship Coordinator at the Aichi International Association. In Mississippi, Yukako has worked primarily in education.
After Tamaki received a BS in Pharmacoloy and an MS in Biochemistry from Kumamoto University, she went to work for Sankyo, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Japan. While she worked for Sankyo, she was transferred to their office in New York for three years. Tamaki-san's administrative experience was just what was needed at the Japan-America Society of San Antonio (JASSA) where she became the first permanent staff member. While in San Antonio, she worked with local museums, art galleries, and other non-profits to expand knowledge of Japan. She even took the group studying Japanese language at JASSA to Japan for ten days!! As a result of her organizational work, JASSA is now poised to hire its first permanent staff. Tamaki-san was 37-years-old at the time of her appointment.
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