Japan-America Society of Washington DC Staff
Ryan Shaffer joined the Japan America Society of Washington DC as President in February of 2019. He previously served as Director of Programs and Development at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, where he oversaw integration of programmatic efforts to advance shared interests in U.S. relations with Japan and other NE Asian Partners. Mr. Shaffer was the founding director of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum and the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group and has produced a variety of publications on the topics. Prior to joining the Mansfield Foundation, Mr. Shaffer served as a research analyst for the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan. Mr. Shaffer, who was raised in Portland, Maine, has an MSc in Asian politics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a BS in environmental policy from Bates College. Mr. Shaffer, a proud resident of the District of Columbia, sits on the Board of Directors of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Associate Director of Communications
Olivia Kent brings extensive international experience to the role of Associate Director of Communications having worked in Japan and Australia over the last five years. With a keen interest in Japanese language and cultural affairs, she offers a unique perspective from which to approach communications at the Japan-America Society of Washington DC.
Originally from Australia, Ms. Kent received her B.A. from the University of Sydney and most recently studied Japanese language at Kobe University in Japan. She has also completed Chinese Language Studies at Peking University in Beijing.
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.
Yuko Hishitani Smith
Director of Programs & Language School
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.
Administrative & Program Assistant
Margaret is a longtime resident of the DC metropolitan area. She graduated from Towson University in May 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies concentrating on Asian Studies and Sustainable Development. For the duration of junior year, Margaret studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Japan. During her time in Japan, she not only studied Japanese politics, language, and culture, but also worked as an English teaching intern at a local elementary school through the Kansai Gaidai Internship program
Interns, Volunteers, & Seasonal Staff
Colette H. Fozard has been working with the Sakura Matsuri in an Operations Manager role since 2012, volunteering since 2006. She came to her career as an independent event planner from over 20 years of volunteering for genre and literary conventions.
Yuko was born and raised in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Previously, Yuko worked as a program director for NHK Enterprises in both Japan and Washington DC and covered social, economic, and political issues. Following this, her desire to work for a non-profit organization took her to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she worked as a capacity building coordinator for disaster areas. She has a degree in Cinema?TV Production from the University of Southern Carolina and is currently pursuing her master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Sakura Matsuri Assistant
Aya Hashimoto Tonsing, originally from Kobe, Japan and a longtime resident of San Francisco, moved to DC recently and is thrilled to be a part of the JASWDC community.
Formally, Aya was a Research Associate at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California, where she oversaw programs supporting the wellness of Asian and Asian American Youth. She has always been passionate about community building and organizing, and worked with various organizations to promote these efforts. She has received a Masters in Public Health and Bachelors in Science in Biology from San Francisco State University. She enjoys cooking, exploring new restaurants, traveling, and watching movies. Her favorite Smithsonian museum is the National Air and Space Museum.
Marino is a junior studying Global Studies and English teaching at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo, Japan. She is originally from Okinawa prefecture and fluent in island dialects. She has a black belt in Karate and has participated in many competitions. She has also achieved the highest degree of competence in Japanese Calligraphy. Marino has won several English speech contests in Japan, and was a Japanese representative at the 2018 International Public Speaking Competition in London. In her free time, Marino likes taking photographs with film camera and joining dance classes.
Sakura Matsuri Volunteer Coordinator (Intern)
Ryan is a first-year graduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs and Japanese. He graduated from Boston University in 2018 with a Bachelors in International Relations with a focus in International Systems and World Order and Asia. After graduating he worked in Tokyo as a cultural and language instructor at a local private school. In his free time, Ryan likes exploring the city and trying new foods.
Japan Bowl (Intern)
Spencer is currently a senior majoring in Political Science and Japanese Language and Literature at George Washington University. He studied abroad in Nagoya for the fall semester of 2018 where he learned a lot about Japanese language and culture. In the future, he aspires to do something related to the US-Japan relationship in his career.
Japan Bowl (Intern)
Elece is a senior undergraduate student double majoring in Japanese and Anthropology at the University of Maryland. She has been studying Japanese language and culture since high school where she participated in the National Japan Bowl. Last spring she had the opportunity to study Japanese language as an exchange student at Waseda University. When she isn’t studying or working hard on Japan Bowl, she can be found working at her university’s library, trying to figure out how to make risotto, or playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends.
Japan in a Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)
Aykys is a sophomore at American University studying International Relations with a focus on East Asia. She is originally from Tuva, Russia and moved to the United States when she was eight. She has a strong interest in Japanese culture and language and would like to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. Her hobbies include cooking, watching movies, visiting restaurants, and studying languages.
Sakura Matsuri/Japan Bowl PR Coordinator (Intern)
Minkyu is a sophomore at American University studying Communication Studies and Asian Studies. He is from Gwacheon, South Korea and is currently studying abroad in the United States. He has been studying Japanese language since high school. He has a strong interest in the Asian influence on American society and the Korea-Japan relationship. In his free time, he likes cooking Korean and Japanese food and taking photographs.
Sakura Matsuri Performer Coordinator (Intern)
Gilbert Ren is a junior undergraduate student from Waseda University, Japan, majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is currently participating in a one-year exchange program and studying at The George Washington University. He was born in China and raised in Japan, speaking both Chinese and Japanese fluently. Gilbert is also a photographer, in his free time he likes taking pictures in DC.
A special rabbit from birth, Sakura was always able to detect the seasonal changes on Earth, even from her home, The Moon. The blossoms reminded her of the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who had come from the United States and landed on the moon when she was just young rabbit. Since then, Ms. Usagi had always wanted to visit the United States. In 2018, Ms. Usagi, who is fluent in Japanese, English, and alien rabbit language, was hired by JASWDC as the new mascot for the Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival. Her goal? To “celebrate the sakura (cherry blossoms) and be in beautiful Washington, DC at the same time.” Now, Sakura – who changed her name to Sakura Usagi, or Sakura-chan, for the festival – is working hard to bring Japanese culture to Washington, DC.