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.

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.

Samantha Yi
PR & Communications Coordinator (Intern)

Samantha Yi is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service majoring in Regional and Comparative Studies focusing on Asia and Russia/Eurasia/Eastern Europe and minoring in Japanese and Korean. In the program, she takes numerous courses specifically related to Korean, Japanese, and Russian politics, culture, language, and foreign policy. In addition, at school she is involved in the Georgetown Pre-Law Society as a secretary. She previously interned at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where she researched topics mainly related to East Asian affairs such as housing economics and Sino-South Korea-Japan relations. In addition, she works as a language support intern at the Foreign Service Institute where she helps US diplomats improve their Korean language skills through reading, listening, and writing comprehension exercises and practice. In her spare time she enjoys creating travel itineraries and graphics, practicing calligraphy, watching men’s figure skating, and listening to music. She is also a communications member of a non-profit, the Sejong Society of Washington DC, an organization that strives to inform the public about Korea-US foreign relations. Currently, Yi resides in Northern Virginia since she moved 2 years ago from her hometown of San Diego, California. She hopes to study abroad in the fall at either Japan or Korea to take more in-depth classes about US-Asia international diplomacy.


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.

Miyu Sugita
Japan-in-a-Suitcase Coordinator (Intern)

Miyu Sugita joined JASWDC in January of 2021 as the Japan-in-a-Suitcase program intern. Ms. Sugita is a sophomore at college in Maryland and is currently studying art and graphic design. Following her studies in the US, Ms. Sugita plans to enroll in Foreign Studies, language courses and International Relations at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Ms. Sugita is  eager to educate others about the unique aspects of Japanese culture and is very happy and excited to work as an intern of the JiS program.


Kainoa Sittman
Japan Bowl Alumni Coordinator (Intern)

Kainoa(he/him) is a junior at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo pursuing a BA in Japanese Studies with a Japanese Teaching certificate. Prior to transferring to UH Hilo, he completed two years at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he took courses in Asian Studies and Theatre. Originally from Prince George’s County, Maryland, Kainoa has been studying Japanese since his freshman year of high school, and is a two-time Japan Bowl competitor and Kakehashi Project 2018 alumnus. He is very excited to be working behind the scenes for Japan Bowl this time around, and hoping to bring new opportunities for other alumni to do the same! He is very passionate about language education and global citizenship, and is also currently self-studying Korean and Italian when he can find the time. Kainoa is seriously looking forward to safer times so he can travel and spend time with loved ones again. When not juggling classes, intern responsibilities and studying languages, he loves dancing, playing ukulele and exploring the island.

John Mabilangan
Japan Bowl Volunteer Coordinator (Intern)

John is a senior at Towson University studying International Studies and Asian Studies. He has been studying Japanese since his freshman year of college through his home university and through the Baltimore Student Exchange Program at Johns Hopkins University. While studying Japanese, he has done research on Japanese Immigrant Education and on the Zainichi Koreans.

Emily Zhai
Japan Bowl Competition Coordinator (Intern)

Emily is an undergraduate sophomore at Virginia Tech currently pursuing a major in Business Information Technology and a minor in Japanese. She has been studying Japanese since her freshman year of high school, and has previously participated in the National Japan Bowl as a contestant for three years. Her hobbies include dancing, practicing the piano, and playing games such as League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics.



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.