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 Smith serves as the Director of Programs and the Festival Director of the Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival. In this capacity she has general management responsibilities for the largest single-day Japanese cultural festival in the United States, entailing the coordination of over 600 volunteers, and hundreds of vendors and performers, and as many as 40,000 day-of attendees. Ms. Smith is also the director of the JASWDC Japanese Language School, the longest running Japanese language program and the largest the U.S. Capital Region. In this role Ms. Smith coordinates the efforts of ten to twelve language faculty over four annual semesters of courses.

Ms. Smith, 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 & Scholarships

Nancy Marsden joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC in August of 2017. In addition to being the Director of Japan Bowl, she manages relations with Japanese organizations in the DC community, coordinates culture classes, and administers the Tanaka & Green scholarship. Prior to joining JASWDC, Ms. Marsden worked in Tochigi, Japan translating ISO standards for Honda Motor Co., Ltd. for 3 years and teaching English in middle schools for 2 years. While in Japan, she studied Japanese cooking and kimono dressing and won the foreigner division of the All-Japan kimono Yosoi Contest.

Originally from Canada, Ms. Marsden began studying 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 received her B.A. in East Asian Studies and Music from The College of William and Mary and her M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also holds a language certificate from Keio University, where she studied abroad for her junior year of college.

Olivia Kent
Communications Director

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 the Board of Trustees. 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 Assistant

Mari Fromel joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as Administrative & Program Assistant in August of 2020. 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.

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.

Ben Bizot
Japan Bowl Assistant

Ben is currently a senior at the George Washington University majoring in International Affairs with minors in Japanese and German Language and Literature. He is the President of the Japanese Cultural Association at his university, and is very passionate about English-Japanese language exchanges, soccer, and sparkling water. In his free time, Ben enjoys discovering new music, cooking with friends and family, and reading manga.

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.

Mei Yuzuki
PR & Communications 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.

Shaylah Hutchins
PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Shaylah is a Japanese major at Michigan State University graduating this fall. Having always been passionate about her Japanese heritage, Shaylah was a founding member of the Japanese American Student Association at her university and is a sister of alpha Kappa Delta Phi. She has interests in social media, travel, history, and cultures around the world. In her free time, Shaylah enjoys hanging out with her friends whether that be playing video games or eating out.

Alice Rees
Japanese Language School & Ad Hoc Programs Assistant (Intern)

Alice is a senior undergraduate student studying Japanese Language and Literature as well as Linguistics at the George Washington University. She has been studying Japanese since her freshman year of high school, participated in a Kakehashi Project Inoyue Scholars program with the University of the Ryukyus, and recently returned from a year-long study abroad at Waseda University. Along with assisting in English-Japanese language and cultural exchanges, she enjoys long walks, photography, and discovering new reads in both Japanese and English.

Kiyomi Osborn
Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Kiyomi Osborn was born in Tokyo and grew up spending most of her childhood in Japan. After living there for 11 years Ms. Osborn relocated to Houston, Texas. Currently, Ms. Osborn is a sophomore studying International Relations at American University, enrolled in a joint degree program called Sakura Scholars. As part of this program she spends her time studying at both American University in D.C. and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Kiyomi has always loved being around Japanese culture – relieving childhood memories of her home – and is eager to learn more about the country.


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.