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
Claire Fukuoka is a Project Manager at Austin, Tsutsumi & Associates, Inc. with seven years of experience managing various transportation projects within the state of Hawaii. Born and raised in Wailuku, Maui, Claire studied engineering at the University of Portland before graduating and moving to Oahu to work at Austin, Tsutsumi & Associates, Inc. as a transportation engineer. While working full-time, Claire studied business at the University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business, and graduated with a Master of Business Administration in 2016. Claire is involved in a number of professional and community organizations, currently serving as the Hawaii Section President at the Institute of Transportation Engineers. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, golf and leisure bicycling.
Eric Hattori is the co-owner and founder of Piko Street Kitchen. Piko Street Kitchen serves modern Asian street food to the Chicago area. It has been in operation for four years and has been recognized by Zagat, various bloggers and the TV show Chicago’s Best as one of the top food trucks in Chicago. Eric’s passion for food began when he grew up watching his parents run two successful restaurants in the city of Chicago (Pusan House and Pan Asian). Growing up in a restaurant environment, Eric has designed his travels around food. He has traveled to Europe, Africa and Asia to try the local flavors and absorb their food cultures. He has been particularly influenced by the night markets in Southeast Asia, and he brings some of those flavors to the streets of Chicago with Piko Street Kitchen. Eric holds a B.A. from Wittenberg University.
Yuki Inoue is an anchor and reporter on News 7 on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting corporation. He joined NHK’s domestic division in April 2007, starting his career at the Matsue Bureau in Shimane Prefecture. There, he covered multiple news events in various fields, including politics, business, culture and sports, with an in-depth focus on Japan’s depopulation and aging society. In 2011, Yuki transferred to NHK’s Tokyo headquarters as a reporter for Good Morning Japan, and extensively covered the communities affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, reporting directly from the field. He moved on to continue reporting for News Watch 9 and World News Academy, and covered international topics such as the TPP negotiations, the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Currently, Yuki delivers frontline news as it unfolds, on weekends at 7:00 pm JST on NHK. He holds a B.A. from Keio University.
Toshiki G. Nakashige is a chemical biology researcher at The Rockefeller University in New York. Originally from Dallas, TX, he graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied chemistry and Asian art history. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at MIT, he conducted research on metal-binding proteins involved in human innate immunity, and earned a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry. His current work focuses on host-microbial interactions of the human intestinal microbiome. Combining his background in the natural sciences and humanities, Toshiki hosts and produces the podcast Scientist. The podcast features conversations with established scientists, and explores themes such as science communication, social identity and international collaboration. Toshiki joined USJC as an Associate in 2015. He enjoys ramen, scuba diving and spending time with his dog Jayden.
Alyssa Nilemo works as an Executive Aide in the City Manager’s Office in Westminster, Colorado. She works with the City Council, the citizens and with the departments that help make Westminster a vibrant and inclusive community, which is quickly becoming the next urban center of the Colorado Front Range. Outside of work, Alyssa is an intern with the local Asian Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Chamber’s past recipient for the Scholar’s Program to Washington DC. She volunteers at the Denver Buddhist Temple as the Dharma School Superintendent. There, she educates students not only about Buddhism, but also about the temple’s Japanese American roots, as well as the cultural importance of the temple and the surrounding block known as Sakura Square. Alyssa is an alumna of the Sakura Foundation’s inaugural Mirai Generations Leadership Program, and is completing her B.A. in Political Science at Metropolitan State University.
Eiko Okamoto is an independent consultant based in New York, with active roles at startups and large corporations looking to grow across continents. After graduating from college, Eiko worked in Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs, advising companies on fulfilling their capital and strategic goals. She then relocated from New York to Singapore, where, leveraging her expertise from her years at the bank working with multinational companies, she advised companies to expand their businesses into Southeast Asia. Most recently, she was COO at ABC Cooking Studio Worldwide, overseeing the company’s growing business in Asia across seven countries. Eiko is originally from Osaka, Japan and moved to Los Angeles at the age of nine with her family. A lifelong runner who lives by the mantra “Attitude is a Decision,” she is excited for opportunities that bridge different cultures together. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a B.A. in Economics.
Amy Rubinger is the Marketing Director of Golden Whales Group, a startup dedicated to connecting tech companies in Tokyo and Silicon Valley. She consults Tokyo-based clients on market strategy, communications, design, digital marketing and other technology solutions. Previously, she worked in Singapore as a public school teacher through the Princeton in Asia fellowship program. While in Singapore, Amy joined TOTO, the world’s largest bathroom fixtures company (headquartered in Fukuoka, Japan), as a marketer/graphic designer. Through the company, she also worked in Atlanta and San Francisco, focusing on bringing the TOTO Washlet, a high-tech bidet seat, to American consumers. Amy received her B.A. in East Asian Studies and Fine Art from Connecticut College. She was born in Hawaii and raised in Indiana by an American father and Japanese mother, and speaks both English and Japanese. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling, swimming, running and sketching.
SONIA SUGIMACHI LIVDAHL
Sonia Sugimachi Livdahl is a Client Solutions Manager at Facebook’s headquarters in California, where she manages the Facebook marketing partnerships with Airbnb and Lyft. She graduated in 2017 from Columbia Business School, where she focused on technology and social enterprise, and worked on strategic initiatives for Google’s Tokyo office to help Japanese brands expand their global marketing. Prior to receiving her MBA, Sonia worked in risk management consulting in Tokyo, providing strategic guidance and investigative due diligence to Fortune 500 multinationals and Japanese firms, and leading the firm’s first Japan-based women’s leadership group. She also served as a Princeton in Asia Fellow, representing a U.S.-based nonprofit to deepen cultural bonds between the United States and Japan. Born to a Japanese mother and American father and raised across Tokyo, Hong Kong and Beijing, Sonia speaks English, Japanese and Chinese. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, travel, ramen and writing about/traveling to ramen.
Lindsey Sugino is an independent software consultant based out of San Francisco. With over five years of experience as a software engineer, her expertise is in building scalable and user-friendly web applications that range from online stores to online investment management. Before becoming a software engineer, Lindsey was an online marketing manager who worked on search engine, content, social media and email marketing. Leveraging her strategic marketing background, she is now focused on building applications that attract and retain a well-defined audience and drive profitable customer action. Lindsey has dedicated her free time to helping women break into software engineering. She helps facilitate and instruct at weekend-long workshops that teach women how to code, and spearheads events in the Bay Area that provide mentorship for women. She looks forward to contributing to the U.S.-Japan Council through her skills in technology. Lindsey holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.
ALEXIS AYANO TERAI
As Program Manager for the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC), Alexis Ayano Terai leads the programs of The Congressional Study Group on Japan, a 25-year old legislative exchange program between the United States Congress and the Japanese Diet. Since 2015, she has organized and staffed nine congressional delegations to Japan for Members of Congress, Chiefs of Staff and District Directors. She is also responsible for the development of the Study Group, working closely with congressional offices, institutional and corporate partners as well as the Embassy of Japan. Alexis holds a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in French and Francophone Studies from Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. Born in Pasadena, Alexis was raised in Tokyo before arriving to Minnesota as a Grew-Bancroft Foundation scholar. She also studied at Sciences Po Paris. Previously, she has worked for the Honorable Kono Taro, a member of the House of Representatives of Japan; the Foreign Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo; and the Tokyo Bureau of Reuters.
Hisae Uki is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Sun Noodle, where she oversees public relations and marketing strategy. She focuses on increasing brand awareness as Sun Noodle expands to new markets nationally and globally. Known for its artisanal approach, Sun Noodle is a family-owned manufacturer of freshly made ramen and Asian noodle products in the United States. Hisae grew up working in the family business, spending summer and holiday breaks packaging noodles in the production area. Understanding that she and her siblings would not have the life they live today without the support and loyalty of Sun Noodle employees, Hisae strives to continue to cultivate the internal culture and aloha spirit that was fostered by her parents. Over the years, Hisae has worn many hats to support the company’s rapid growth, from managing the operations of the company’s New York City incubator ramen pop up, to developing and managing the human resources and quality assurance department. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hisae is now based out of California, where she frequents the company’s headquarters in Hawaii and operations in New Jersey. Hisae received her MBA from University of Hawaii’s Shidler School of Business. When she is not working, she enjoys exploring new restaurants, cooking and spending time outdoors.
Amy Watanabe is an associate at Nakatomi & Associates, a Los Angeles-based communications firm that uses the power of communications and different forms of media to inspire positive change and social impact for its mission-driven clients. She is also the Associate Producer for the Mineta Legacy Project, a documentary and educational curriculum profiling the life and career of Secretary Norman Mineta. Amy has worked with local and national nonprofit organizations, and spent time in Washington, DC doing advocacy work with the Japanese American Citizens League. She also developed the political pipeline and leadership of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders regionally and nationally as the Program Director for the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). In both her past and current work, she has always advocated for increased diversity and opportunities, especially for people of color, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and women. Amy was born and raised in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and minored in Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the current Vice Chair of Kizuna, and serves as an executive board member for the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation and the Venice-West Los Angeles JACL chapter.
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