Japan-America Society of Washington DC Staff



Marc Hitzig
Executive Director

Marc has worked for the Japan-America Society of Washington DC for more than 14 years. He currently sits on the National Cherry Blossom Festival Board of Directors, the Arlington Sister City Association Board of Directors, and the Washington Japanese Heritage Center Board of Directors. Prior to working at JASWDC, he spent three years as an Assistant Language Teacher on the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program in Nagaoka City, Niigata. While on the JET Program, he enjoyed learning Japanese pottery and the culture of Japan. Marc received a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Cincinnati.


Melissa Tolentino
Director of Community Outreach & Strategic Communications

Melissa was born in the United States and spent several years moving back and forth between the U.S. and Japan as a military dependent. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and Japanese, she went to graduate school at Waseda University in Tokyo and received a master’s in International Culture & Communications. Melissa is also a published writer of both fiction and poetry.


Yuko Hishitani Smith
Programming & Language School Director

Yuko was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan and went to Ritsumeikan University where she majored in literature focusing on international cultures. While a student at Ritsumeikan, she joined the Dual Undergraduate Degree Program (DUDP) and studied at American University for 2 years, where she received another degree in international relations. After graduation, she worked at NNR Global Logistics in Japan for 3 years before moving back to the U.S. in 2016.

Nancy Marsden
Director of Japan Bowl & Japanese Public Relations

Nancy was born and raised in Canada, and began taking Japanese in grade 5. She continued studying Japanese after moving to the United States in high school, and was a participant in the National Japan Bowl. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a double major in East Asian Studies and Music, and studied abroad at Keio University her junior year. She earned her MA in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, then taught English in Tochigi before working as a translator for Honda Motor Co., Ltd. for 3 years. While in Japan she studied Japanese cooking and kimono dressing and won the foreigner division of the All-Japan Kimono Yosoi Contest and was made an honorary ambassador (yukai shimin) of Utsunomiya City in 2017.


Risa Okayama Kamio
Director of International Japan Bowls

Before JASWDC, Risa was a Japanese teacher at Glenarden Woods Elementary School in Maryland and an educational coordinator/tour coordinator/interpreter at Japan Travelers Service, Inc. (also known as America Information Service, Inc.). She attended the ladder program of the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo and went on to study American literature at the University of the Sacred Heart.

Rieko Murayama
Programming Assistant (Volunteer)

Rieko was born and raised in Saitama, Japan. After working at Japan Highway Public Corporation for over a decade, she moved to Canberra, Australia for 2 years. During her stay in Australia, she studied English at an institute with multicultural classmates from various countries, and learned the joy of acting as a bridge between Japan and other countries through volunteer activities.

Margot Baden
Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Born in Fairfax, Virginia, Margot is a rising junior at William and Mary majoring in International Relations and Japanese Studies. At college, she promotes Japanese culture on and off campus by organizing events and coordinating dances for the Japanese Cultural Association. During the summer, she works as a counselor for the Japanese-American exchange program High School Diplomats, which she participated in during high school. Through her efforts, she hopes to spark the same passion for Japanese culture in other college and high school students and enhance the Japanese-American friendship at a personal level.

Anshu Jain
Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Anshu was born in Cupertino, California and is a junior at the George Washington University, majoring in International Affairs/Economics and minoring in Japanese. Two summers ago, he went to Japan to visit family and learn more about his roots, due to his lifelong passion of exploring the Japanese language and culture. After coming to Washington D.C., he has explored his passion in Japan with an internship at the Embassy of Japan and acted as a cultural liaison for the National Cherry Blossom Festival with the Goodwill Ambassador Program.

Naomi Natori
Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

Naomi is a Japanese major at Georgetown University. She was a 2014 Japan-America Society of Hawaii’s Japan Wizards Competition winner and had the opportunity to visit Japan which inspired her to pursue her Japanese studies.

John Evans
Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival Assistant (Intern)

A native to Washington, DC, John is currently majoring in Fine Arts and minoring in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. He recently studied at the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS) at Doshisha University in Kyoto during the Fall of 2017. He focused on the numerous traditional crafts practiced throughout the city and how their histories and purposes differ from Western art.

Dair Cruz
Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival Assistant (Intern)

Dair is a Washingtonian through and through, being born in Washington, DC and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland. Currently, he is an undergraduate at the University of Maine studying International Relations with a concentration in languages. His spent the summer of
2017 at Middlebury College Language School of French, where he honed in on his French language skills and then returned to his home institution as a French Tutor. Furthermore, he is a contracted cadet in the Army ROTC program at his University.