TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program Alumni have had a profound and unique impact on the U.S.-Japan Council and its mission. ELP Alumni have assumed a variety of leadership roles within USJC, contributed to the USJC Annual Conference programming, and guided USJC and TOMODACHI programming as mentors and planners. ELP Alumni also created and launched the U40 Summit, an event that gathers together leaders of the Japanese-American and U.S.-Japan communities who are under the age of 40.
“To be able to meet and work with people who share the same passion for connecting the US and Japan through our own individual professions is empowering.”
- Kenshiro Uki, ELP Class of 2014
“My experience with ELP has had a more significant impact on my life than I ever could have imagined. ELP provides a supportive and likeminded family who quickly became a sounding board for ideas, thoughts, and aspirations.”
- Courtney Ozaki, ELP Class of 2017
“The greatest benefit for me is that as an emerging professional, the peers within ELP are a family of confidantes, mentors, and senpai I can trust.”
- Miki Sankary, ELP Class of 2015
“Through networks, mentors, and friendships, the program helps to provide the inspiration, connection, and knowledge to propel you forward in your career.”
- Craig Ishii, ELP Class of 2013
“Being an ELP has given me a powerful network of collaborators, from New York to Tokyo. Aside from my many friendships, the USJC has opened up professional opportunities for me that were previously unimaginable.”
- Steve Sakanashi, ELP Class of 2015
Kimberly Haruki is the Senior Director of Integrated Marketing at PacRim Marketing Group. She and her team consult U.S.-based clients seeking to increase business from Japanese and Asian travelers on market strategy, communications, and digital marketing and technology solutions. Her experience includes work with global brands in hospitality, retail and development. In addition to overseeing division operations, Kim is a member of PacRim Marketing Group’s leadership team, who – amidst the firm’s 2017 acquisition by Tokyo-based Vector, Inc. – is charged with integrating resources throughout their offices in the Asia-Pacific region. Kim serves on the Board of Directors of the YWCA Oahu, a division of one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the United States, and was named by Pacific Business News as one of the top “Women to Watch” and a “Forty Under 40” honoree. She received her B.A. in Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University.
Danielle Higa is the Fund Development Manager at Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project in Seattle, Washington. Densho uses digital technology to preserve and share the personal stories of incarcerated Japanese Americans through video interviews, photographs, letters, documents and newspaper articles. With a strong belief in the “power of story” using history and personal stories to promote social justice, Densho aims to engage people and inspire action in communities all over. Danielle’s role involves external relations, helping to increase engagement and overall support for Densho’s programs through community outreach, donor cultivation, stewardship and other activities. Prior to joining Densho, Danielle worked for the Regional Advancement team and College of Arts & Sciences Advancement team at the University of Washington. She is also active with the Nisei Veteran’s Committee and NVC Foundation, as well as the Women’s Philanthropic Investment Group of Seattle (WPIG). Danielle holds a B.A. in American Ethnic Studies and Women Studies from the University of Washington.
Derek Kenmotsu, originally from Foster City, CA, volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army months after the 9/11 attacks. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Relations in 2006. Upon graduation, he commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry branch. He led rifle and recon platoons in South Korea and Washington State. While deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he led logistics operations for his battalion west of Baghdad. Following his combat tour, Derek attended the Army Special Forces Course and earned his Green Beret. He commanded a Special Forces A-Team based out of Okinawa, Japan and led missions in Nepal and the Philippines. After nine years on active duty, Derek transitioned to the reserves and attended business school at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. Elected president of the MBA program, Derek led an executive board of peers to shape student experience. Following graduation in May 2017, Derek pursued a new career in the tech industry as a Global Supply Manager on Apple’s World Wide Operations team. Derek is refocusing from his service in the armed forces to service in his community. During his free time, he enjoys travel, fitness, snowboarding, scuba diving and beer brewing.
Kyla Kitamura is the Manager of Government Affairs at the U.S. office of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), where she analyzes international trade issues, conducts government relations, and supports the organization’s third-party outreach and public affairs efforts. Kyla also utilizes her Japanese translation/interpretation skills to support communication and collaboration between Tokyo-based JAMA headquarters staff and her U.S. colleagues. Prior to joining JAMA, Kyla was the Assistant to the Chancellor at Hawaii Tokai International College and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Hongseong, South Korea. She developed her international relations expertise at USTR, the State Department and the Foreign Commercial Service. Kyla has a M.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a B.A. in Asian Languages and Civilizations from Amherst College. She was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Lea Okudara has built a career in communications and marketing over the past 15 years. Working for multiple public relations firms in Honolulu, she has served an array of clients, from congressional candidates and unions to startup companies, nonprofits and major corporations. She also lived and worked in Tokyo, developing strategic marketing for Hawaii Tourism Japan, and serving as their liaison for the client and its statewide marketing partners. Lea currently works for the Hawaii nonprofit Kupu, managing their public relations and other project development opportunities. Prior to joining Kupu, she worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) National Host Committee during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. She had previously returned from traveling throughout South and Central America, where she volunteered at a fair trade nonprofit organization supporting indigenous women in Guatemala. Lea graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
Kevin Otsuka is the founder and CEO of ABC Coffee Club, a startup social enterprise in Tokyo operating its own cafe and mail subscription service. The subscription partners with the Japan Social Employment Council to support individuals with intellectual disabilities. The cafe also serves as an innovation and creator hub for local makers and artists with events and a free monthly gallery to showcase their work. Previously Kevin led B2B digital marketing at Google Asia-Pacific. Kevin has been featured in various magazines and news outlets including WIRED, Hanako, Mono and the Nikkei MJ. Kevin is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii and later graduated from Stanford University. Born to a third-generation Japanese American and Japanese national, he speaks both English and Japanese. He has previously lived and worked in Honolulu, San Francisco and Tokyo.
Courtney Ozaki Moch is the Operations and Business Director for the Lone Tree Arts Center, a municipally run performing arts center that demonstrates a dynamic model for presenting and producing. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Denver with a B.S.M. in Recording Arts and Music Management, and holds an M.F.A in Performing Arts Management from Brooklyn College. While in New York City, she produced and toured cultural and interdisciplinary works for the Joyce Theater that were developed with preeminent international choreographers and dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Malpaso Dance Company. Courtney is a founding member of professional taiko ensemble Mirai Daiko, and has performed across the globe from California to Dubai. She is Secretary for the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple board, serves on the board of the Japanese American Resource Center of Colorado, and is a graduate of the Sakura Foundation’s inaugural Mirai Generations Leadership Program.
Rylan Sekiguchi is a Curriculum Designer at the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), where he develops globally themed teaching materials for K–12 and community college classrooms. His publications focus largely on East Asia and include 15 curriculum units, two documentary films and several online resources. The Association for Asian Studies has twice recognized him with the Franklin Buchanan Prize, an award given annually to an outstanding curriculum publication on Asia for any grade level. Prior to joining SPICE, Rylan was a teacher at Revolution Prep in San Francisco and an instructor at Hawaii Shotokan Karate in Honolulu, his hometown. He is a graduate of Stanford University. Outside of his professional life, Rylan performs, teaches and tours with San Jose Taiko, and is particularly interested in the power of music and the arts to build and foster community.
Michael Sueoka is Head of User Experience at Gimbal, which was recently awarded The Fastest Growing Tech Company in Los Angeles. He is an award-winning User Experience Designer, having started three of his own startups, launched two nonprofits and advised several companies, from one of the most popular social apps in the iTunes store to the most used hospice software in the country. His experience managing and scaling design and engineering teams allows him to pursue his passion of turning ideas into technologically advanced working products. His product design process is based on a holistic user experience that includes elements outside the confinements of the digital screen. He has helped companies like Grindr, Honda, EXOS, MC & Saatchi, Daily Associates, Ohio State University, HCHB, DivX and Entertainment Arts. Michael has taught at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, and received his B.A. from UC Irvine.
Jaime Sugino is an Investor Relations Manager for Institutional Investor’s Conference Division in New York City. She directs marketing strategy and develops audience relationships for the firm’s various conferences. Since 2011, she has also served as Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Bulb Rocket, a web development startup. Previously, Jaime was owner-operator of a restaurant business in Manhattan. Prior to that, she was a PR executive. A native of Southern California, Jaime graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara where she majored in Political Science and minored in History. Jaime has been a member of USJC since 2010.
Yuko Watanabe is an experienced international development professional, with expertise in global development policies, government relations and stakeholder engagement. Most recently, she worked as the Japan government relations lead at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. Prior to that, she worked for the private sector development department at JICA, Japan’s aid agency, and at JBIC, Japan’s development finance institution, in Tokyo. Yuko is a native of Tokyo but has traveled extensively as part of her career in international development, including stints in China, India, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Yuko has a Master in Public Administration in International Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in Economics and International Studies from the University of Oregon. She currently lives in Seattle and enjoys hiking, dancing ballet and unicycling when she is not looking after her two young children.
Staci Yamashita-Iida is a lifelong Los Angeles native. She attended Loyola Marymount University as a Valedictorian Finalist and Leadership Scholar, receiving degrees in Political Science, Asian and Pacific Studies, and Theater Arts. She then graduated from Southwestern Law School’s accelerated two-year program, where she was an editor for the International Law Journal honors program. Professionally, Staci is a junior Partner at Elder Law Services, an Estate Planning law firm. Within the community, Staci is actively involved with the Go For Broke National Educational Center and serves on the Board of Directors for Kizuna, Little Tokyo. When she’s not working, Staci enjoys being outdoors with her fiancé and their two German Shepherds. She has also been an avid hula dancer for the past 25+ years. She is an annual participant at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival and has most notably performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the Osaka-jō Hall in Japan.
Amy Ancona Houlihan
Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura
Dana Fujiko Heatherton
Natsuma (Nate) Imai