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.
Full Bio

Saori Kobayashi

Director of Programs and Japanese Language School

Saori Kobayashi joined Japan-America Society of Washington DC in May 2022. In her current position she helps coordinate, manage, and implement Society programs including the Japanese Language School and corporate member events.

Prior to joining the Society, Ms. Kobayashi worked as Associate Director of Programs in the Tokyo office of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. She has also served as a senior communications/public information assistant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representation in Japan. From 2012-2014, she worked at the International Peace Cooperation Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Foreign Policy Bureau, where she was responsible for program management, coordinating with program implementers, and conducting research on peacekeeping policies.

Ms. Kobayashi studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and has an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England and a BA in Foreign Studies from Sophia University.

Olivia Kent

Communications Director and Japan-Representative

Olivia Kent joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as Communications Director in October of 2019. In addition to internal and external communications, Ms. Kent manages the Society’s annual US-Japan Capital Gala, Individual & Corporate Membership programs, and assists the President in managing the Board of Trustees. In October, 2021, Ms. Kent assumed the role of Japan-Representative and now works remotely from Tokyo on behalf of the Society.

Ms. Kent brings extensive international experience to the position, having previously worked in education, communications, and sales & marketing roles in Tokyo and Sydney. 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. in Japanese Language and Asian Studies from the University of Sydney and most recently completed Japanese language studies at Kobe University, Japan. She has also completed a Chinese Language Summer Program at Peking University, Beijing.

Mari Fromel

Administrative and Program Manager

Mari Fromel joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as Administrative & Program Assistant in August of 2020 and was promoted to Manager in 2022. Born and raised in Chiba, Japan, Ms. Fromel earned her B.A.in British & American Communications from Toyo Gakuen University.

Ms. Fromel brings with her extensive experience, having worked in HR, Accounting and Administration in Japan and Hawaii for over a decade.

In her spare time, she enjoys travelling and surfing.

Elece Smith

Japan Bowl and Educational Programs Director

Elece Smith joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as a Program Assistant in 2021 and was promoted to Japan Bowl and Educational Programs Director in 2022. Ms. Smith was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland where her interest in Japan piqued at her local library when she began reading the magical girl manga Tokyo Mew Mew in the 4th grade. In high school she began studying Japanese and participating in the National Japan Bowl and Japanese National Honor Society. She went on to receive her B.A. in Japanese and Anthropology in 2020 from the University of Maryland, and in 2019 she studied abroad at Waseda University where she earned a Japanese Language Program Certificate.

Ms. Smith brings an eclectic array of educational programming, communications, and customer service experience to the Society alongside her deep interest in Japanese language and cultural affairs. Prior to joining the Society, she worked as a Social Media Coordinator and Student Coordinator at the University of Maryland Honors College, freelance entertainment writer for Diamondback News, and as a Library Circulation and Information Assistant in several library systems across the DC Metropolitan Area.  She previously worked with JASWDC as a Sakura Matsuri volunteer and as a Japan Bowl intern.

Ms. Smith loves books, stationery, and Japanese indie music and is currently trying to learn how to do sashiko, a Japanese embroidery technique often used for visible mending.

Jessica Webster

Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival Director

Jessica Webster joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC staff in August 2022 as Director of the Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival.  Ms. Webster collaborates closely with other staff and JASWDC volunteers on this flagship event as well as the Society’s annual Gala and certain community cultural programs.  

She previously served a full career as a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Department of State, which included two postings in Tokyo, Japan.  Ms. Webster earned an undergraduate degree in International Relations from Pomona College as well an M.B.A. from The American University and an M.S. in National Security Studies from the National Defense University.  

She hails originally from California but moved throughout the country as part of a Navy family, growing up.  

Emily Johnson

Japan Bowl & Program Assistant

Emily Johnson joined the Japan-American Society of Washington DC as Japan Bowl and Program Assistant in August 2022 where she helps coordinate and manage running the National Japan Bowl, as well as assisting with various JASWDC events and programs throughout the year.

Emily’s background with Japan started locally, in Maryland, where she first began studying the Japanese language, and minored in Asian Studies at Towson University. She spent a semester living with a Japanese host family and studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka in 2009. After graduating, she worked for 3 years as an English teacher in Nagoya, Japan, then worked in the Japan travel and events industry for a year in Boulder, Colorado before pursuing a Master’s in Japanese Studies with a focus on translation and linguistics at SOAS University of London in 2016. From 2016 to 2018 she worked in translation and media localization as Japanese subtitle editor and translator for a number of localization companies in Los Angeles, California, including Square Enix where she worked in translation and operations for their mobile games department.

Since 2018 she has worked as a freelance translator and subtitle editor, as well as working on her personal projects of translating and publishing a number of Japanese folklore and short stories.

Her passions when it comes to Japan are Japanese literature, dialect and folklore. She also loves to read classical and modern philosophy, and she even lived and studied for a short period in Japan at a Zen Buddhist temple. When she has spare time, she loves reading novels, playing video games and traveling.

Colette H. Fozard

Sakura Matsuri Event Manager

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.

Interns, Volunteers, & Seasonal Staff

Angel Shen, PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Angel is a recent graduate from the George Washington University, where she double majored in International Affairs and Japanese Language and Literature at the Elliott School.

Born in a Taiwanese-Chinese family, Angel was raised in Beijing but spent her teenage years on the East Coast. Some of her passions include Japanese foreign policy, gender in Japanese pop culture, learning languages, as well as arts and crafts.

Helen Zhu, PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Helen Zhu is a business student at George Washington University, majoring in a Bachelor of Science with a concentration on Marketing Strategy & Analytics and a minor in Japanese languages & literature. 

Helen is fluent in English, Mandarin, and has intermediate spoken efficiency in Japanese. She has a great passion for traditional Japanese culture, Japanese cuisine, and the Japanese artisanal spirit of pursuing the utmost detail and perfection.

In her down time, Helen enjoys reading fictional and historical based literature, watching Japanese dramas, and traveling. Ms. Zhu is optimistic and open-minded, and loves to explore the unknown, collaborate with others, and learn new things through the process!

Mylz Hahn, Japan Bowl Coordinator (Intern)

Mylz Hahn is a rising senior at Princeton University, majoring in East Asian Studies and focused on Translation and Intercultural Communication.

Growing up, Mr. Hahn was fascinated with Japanese culture and history due to his exposure through pop culture. His school district did not have a Japanese program, so he began his studies in college, recently completing independent research on translations of Kojiki. He is a passionate haiku writer and student coordinator of the Princeton Haiku Workshop. Due to his love of video games and anime, he dreams of being a localizer for Japanese pop culture, potentially at Nintendo of America.

Pratyusha Joshi, Japan Bowl Coordinator (Intern)

Pratyusha is a first year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Her academic focus in graduate school is on the Asia-Pacific region, specifically diplomatic and trade relations. Her interest in the region grew from studying international relations as an undergraduate student at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

Before going back to the academic world, Pratyusha worked with in the Press and Culture department of Republic of Korea Embassy in India and later worked with Brookings India in development and outreach.

In her free time, Pratyusha enjoys experimenting with new trending recipes, hiking, and walking the freedom trail in Boston where she is currently located.

Amanda Collado-Mesa, Japanese Language School Coordinator (Intern) 

Amanda is currently a Sophomore at The George Washington University’s Elliott School majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict Resolution and a minor in Japanese Language and Literature.

She is originally from Miami Beach, Florida and has close ties to her Cuban heritage. She speaks fluent English, Spanish, and is continuing her studies in Japanese to be able to teach English for the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program once she graduates from GW. Amanda is also interested in Criminal Law and hopes to go to law school after she lives in Japan. In her free time, she organizes events and fundraisers for GW’s Dear Asian Youth chapter and Japanese Cultural Association.  

Ariel Hampton, Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Ariel Hampton, Japan-in-a-suitcase Coordinator (Intern)Ariel Hampton just recently graduated from Elizabethtown College with a B.A. double major in Japanese and Asian Studies.

While she has not studied abroad in Japan due to the pandemic during her college career, she was able to be part of an online program with Kansai Gaidai University during her junior year. She hopes to go to Japan sometime soon. For her career interest, she wants to become a Japanese Interpreter for the State Department or U.S. Embassy to strengthen US-Japan foreign relations.

In her free time, Ariel loves to play video games, watch YouTube and Twitch, and listen to Japanese music to keep herself immersed in the language.

Elizabeth Gaver, Japan Bowl Assistant (Intern)

Elizabeth “Beth” Gaver is a senior at Bridgewater College, double majoring in Global Studies and History/Political Science with a focus on East Asia. Beth had the opportunity to take Japanese classes at her high school in Boonsboro, Maryland where she grew to love the language and culture.

Ms. Gaver participated in the 2018 National Japan Bowl in her junior year and was inspired to provide this opportunity to other students as well. In college, she continues to foster her Japanese education by participating in Japanese conversation tables on campus and by publishing research on prevalent topics in Japan.

In her free time, Beth likes to draw and watch movies with her sisters.

Zachary Parker, Japanese Language School Coordinator (Intern)

Zachary Parker is a rising Junior at The George Washington University in the Colombian College of Arts and Sciences, currently majoring in Political Science with a minor in Japanese Language and Literature.

Growing up in South Florida, Mr. Parker attended an international high school where he was introduced to many cultures. He is a native English speaker and has taken one year of university-level Japanese coursework. He plans to continue his Japanese studies in hopes of working with Japanese companies or in US-Japan foreign affairs in the future.

In his free time, you can find Zachary boxing, cooking, and tending to his plants.


Sakura Usagi (Sakura-chan)

A special rabbit from birth, Sakura was always able to detect the seasonal changes on Earth, even from her home on the Moon. The DC cherry 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 a young rabbit. Since then, she had always wanted to visit the United States. In 2018,  Sakura-chan, 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) in beautiful Washington, DC”. Now, Sakura-chan is working hard to bring Japanese culture to Washington, DC. 

Favorite food:

  • Hanami dango
  • Katsu curry

Favorite movie:

  • Your Name 君の名は

Blood type: