Japan-America Society of Washington DC Staff

Ryan Shaffer

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.  Mr. Shaffer also serves on the Board of Directors of the Western Pacific Fellowship Project.


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.

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.

Olivia Kent
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.

Margaret Geanacopoulos
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
Sakura Matsuri Event Coordinator

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 Chiba
Sakura Matsuri Event Coordinator

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.

Ryan Distaso
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.

Elece Smith
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.

Aykys Salchak
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.

Mei Yuzuki
Sakura Matsuri/Japan Bowl PR Coordinator (Intern)

Mei Yuzuki is a freshman at the College of William and Mary. She spent the past year studying Chinese in Beijing on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship program. While working at Glenstone, a museum of modern art in Potomac, MD, Mei researched and wrote about Gutai, a post-war Japanese art movement. When she isn’t studying languages and modern art, Mei can be found geeking out over Kurosawa films, playing flute, and running around with her two little brothers.


Sakura Usagi

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.

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