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.

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.

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.


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.

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

Marino Uezu
Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

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.

Ryan Distaso
Japan-In-A-Suitcase 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.

Nicholas Gucciardo
Sakura Matsuri Assistant (Intern)

Nicholas Gucciardo is a Junior studying international affairs at the George Washington University. As an important ally and partner of the United States, Nick has had a long-standing interest in U.S.-Japan relations as well as international relations in the greater Indo-Pacific region. As a result, he has been studying the Japanese language for more than two years. His work at the Japan-America Society of Washington DC will be the continuation of his practical application of international affairs. He looks forward to facilitating the already strong relationship between the United States and Japan.

Shule Chen
Sakura Matsuri PR Coordinator (Intern)

Shule Chen is a senior majoring in International Affairs with a concentration on Asia and a minor in Business Administration at the George Washington University. Last fall, she studied abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo, where she had the opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and language. Her hobbies include painting, cooking, and singing along with Broadway musicals.


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.