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

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, 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 & 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.

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.

Sam Harris
Program Manager, Director, Sakura Matsuri - Japanese Street Festival

Sam Harris joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as the Sakura Matsuri - Japanese Street Festival Coordinator in January 2023 and took over as Program Manager and Festival Director in June 2023. Working in tight collaboration with the Festival Operations Manager, Sam oversees the many varied aspects of the Sakura Matsuri.

Sam’s burgeoning interest in Japan originates from his late grandmother, who was born and raised in Yamagata prefecture in the Tohoku region. Subtle exposure to Japanese language and culture throughout his youth eventually led to a BS in Organismal Biology and a BA in Asian Studies from Towson University. In 2014, he spent a semester studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka. Post-undergrad, Sam was accepted to into the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, where he taught English to high school students in Tanba City in Hyogo prefecture. From 2018 to 2020, Sam worked towards earning a MA in Asian Studies from George Washington University, where he focused on Japanese history and cultural affairs.

During his free time, Sam enjoys socializing with friends, playing video games, and studying Japanese language. In particular, when afforded the opportunity, Sam loves visiting local Japanese shrines, and learning their history.

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

Carolyn (Moi) Nee
PR & Communications Intern

Carolyn is ecstatic to be rejoining the JASWDC family as a Communications intern after working as a Sakura Matsuri intern in 2021! She is a junior at Wellesley College majoring in Education Studies with a minor in Asian-American Studies, and is spending this year studying abroad at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo, Japan. She hopes to return to Japan and Asia after graduating to work as an educator by applying to the JET and Fulbright teaching programs.

As the Chinese-American daughter of Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants, Carolyn loves honoring pan-Asian and multicultural identities through language. Besides Japanese, Carolyn took a gap year in Beijing, China and New Taipei City, Taiwan to study Mandarin. At ICU, Carolyn has joined the dance and karate teams and volunteers at a local children’s daycare center. When she is not exploring the different pockets of Tokyo for her favorite food (dipping noodles) or thrifting in her favorite neighborhood (Shimokitazawa), you can find Carolyn reading, knitting, and biking to the local boba shop!

Irene Nyarko
Japan Bowl Intern

Irene is currently a university of Baltimore student aiming for a degree in Simulation and Game design. She enjoys making art and creating other types of media to grow her knowledge of creation and art.

She's currently looking to join the technology field and also to improve her Japanese language skills as well as learn more about the culture to understand more.

Indy Dorman
Japan Bowl Intern

Indy is a senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in Japanese with two minors in Nonprofit Leadership and Social Innovation, and English as a Second Language (TESOL).

They have been studying Japanese since they were 12 years old and have always had a passion for the Japanese language and culture. After college, they are hoping to teach English through the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program. In their free time, they like to make music, play Animal Crossing, and spend time with their friends. At UMD, they were a member of the Japanese cluster of the Language House, they are a music director in a multicultural a cappella group, and was the president of the Japanese American Student Association (JASA).

Adam Gruner
Japan Bowl Intern

Adam Gruner joined the Japan America Society of Washington DC (JASWDC) as a Japan Bowl Coordination Intern and a Competition Intern in January of 2023. He previously worked for JASWDC as a volunteer for the program called, “Japan In A Suitcase,” in 2018 and 2019, where he helped create slides and present informational knowledge to curious and informed young kids.

Adam Gruner has a deep passion for the Japanese language and for bringing the people of Japan and America closer together in cultural exchange, friendship, and understanding. He is currently a student at the University of Maryland where he is getting a double major BS degree in Japanese and Linguistics. He currently holds an AS degree in International Relations from Montgomery College. He plans to study abroad in Japan and also to get a PHD in Japanese.

Liam Coghlan
Japan-in-a-Suitcase Intern

Liam Coghlan is currently a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in International Relations and minoring in Japanese Studies with a focus on East Asia. His passion for the topic stem not only from his Japan studies, but from his Indonesian mother as well.

Liam grew up in the Washington DC area, but desires to travel and live abroad in the near future. His hobbies include cooking, tennis, watching movies, and playing video games.

Alexa Winter
Sakura Matsuri Intern
Alexa Winter is currently a freshman working towards her BS in Psychological and Brain Sciences with a minor in Japanese Language and Literature at The George Washington University. She works across many divisions to support the Sakura Matsuri team as part of her internship.   
Alexa hopes to study abroad during the final years of her undergraduate degree. She is from North Carolina, and enjoys manga, video games, and fashion, as well as her studies. 


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 and katsu curry

Favorite move: Your Name 君の名は

Blood type: O