The Council maintains offices in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, CA. It also has staff based in San Francisco and Tokyo, Japan. U.S.-Japan Council staff members are responsible for administering programs, implementing the decisions of the Board of Directors and promoting the Council’s mission and organizational goals.
IRENE HIRANO INOUYE, President
Irene Hirano Inouye is President of the U.S.-Japan Council, a position she has held since the founding of the Council in late 2008. Through her work at the Council, she also administers the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the Government of Japan that invests in young Japanese and Americans through educational and cultural exchanges and leadership programs. She is the former President and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, a position she held for twenty years. A recipient of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and an honorary doctorate degree from SMU, Ms. Hirano Inouye has extensive experience in nonprofit administration, community education and public affairs with culturally diverse communities nationwide. Ms. Hirano Inouye's professional and community activities include serving as Chair, Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Center; Trustee, The Washington Center; member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; member of the Advisory Board, Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; and Chair of the Advisory Board, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California at Los Angeles. She served as former Trustee and past Chair, Ford Foundation; and former Trustee and past Chair, Kresge Foundation. She was married to the late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.
LAURA WINTHROP ABBOT, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, DC Office
Laura Winthrop Abbot serves as Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the U.S.-Japan Council. Until January 2017, Laura was the Senior Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State. From 2011-2015, Laura served with the U.S.-Japan Council in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo as Executive Director of the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership to provide exchange and leadership development opportunities to young Japanese and Americans. She moved to Japan just six weeks before the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 as a Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi Fellow. Previously, Laura served as Professional Staff Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, as a political risk consultant at Control Risks, and as Special Assistant to the President of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Cambridge University and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and serves on the boards of All Hands Volunteers and The Other Side of Service.
TESS ESPOSITO, Chief Financial Officer, DC Office
Tess Esposito is the Chief Financial Officer, working out of the Washington, DC office. She is responsible for oversight of all finance, accounting, grants management, budgeting and reporting activities for the U.S.-Japan Council (U.S.) and U.S.-Japan Council (Japan). Ms. Esposito has more than 20 years of nonprofit and for-profit experience in accounting, finance and administration, with decision-making responsibilities involving financial management, automated systems, budgeting and cost control, investments, computer technology, grants management, and personnel and facilities management. Her previous posts include: Chief Financial Officer for the Fair Labor Association; Chief Financial Officer for the American Association of University Professors and Society of Industrial and Office Realtors; and Vice President for Finance and Administration at the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. She received her bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of the East in the Philippines and her MBA in International Management from the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird) in Arizona. She also received a certificate in the Japan Management Program from the Japan-America Institute of Management Science in Hawaii and Japan.
KAZ MANIWA, Senior Vice President, San Francisco
Kaz Maniwa became Senior Vice President of the U.S.-Japan Council in March 2012 after serving on the Council’s Board of Directors since the organization’s inception in 2009. He was previously an attorney-at-law with a private practice that has been serving the San Francisco Bay area for over thirty years. Mr. Maniwa plays an active role in Japanese American and Asian Pacific American community affairs, currently serving as Chairman of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, Chairman of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, and Chairman of Nihonmachi Parking Corporation. In addition to his contributions to many organizations, Mr. Maniwa serves as a Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) interviewer and co-chaired the July 2009 Japanese American Leadership Delegation Summit in San Francisco. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
KENTA TAKAMORI, Executive Director, Silicon Valley Japan Platform
Kenta Takamori is a finance executive with entrepreneurial experience in both the United States and Japan. Based in San Francisco, he is the founder of Goodvest, an online advisor that helps people make investments that reflect their values. Kenta has deep experience in global financial markets, with his longest tenures at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. He is a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) charterholder. He previously pursued an entrepreneurial path in Japan's ski resort industry, which resulted in the acquisition of Hakuba 47, a ski resort located in Nagano Prefecture. Kenta was born in Pennsylvania, attended public schools in New York, and is a graduate of Dartmouth College.
JUNKO TSUDA, Executive Director, Japan
Junko Tsuda is the Executive Director of U.S.-Japan Council Japan, working out of the Tokyo office. Prior to joining USJC, Ms. Tsuda worked for the Public Resources Foundation, where she was responsible for fundraising and communications since 2015. Prior to her nonprofit work, Ms. Tsuda performed communications and HR functions during a career in international companies in Japan that included Walt Disney Co., Cartier Japan, Hilton International, ING Life Insurance and GE. She led initiatives on women’s career advancement at GE and ING. Ms. Tsuda started volunteer work for Tohoku reconstruction and supporting social entrepreneurs after the Great East Japan Earthquake. She is a 2015 Alum of the Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative (JWLI). Ms. Tsuda was born and raised in Hiroshima, and received a BA in International Studies at Tsuda College.
WENDY ABE, Director of External Relations, Hawaii Office
Wendy Abe is the Director of External Relations at the U.S.-Japan Council, working out of the Hawaii Office. Previously, she was Executive Director at Palama Settlement, a nonprofit organization in Honolulu. She formerly held leadership and executive positions as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President at Blood Bank of Hawaii, President at Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, and Vice President at Aloha United Way. Ms. Abe was a member of the 2009 Japanese American Leadership Delegation and served as Chair of the 2014 USJC Annual Conference Host Committee in Hawaii. She also represented the Hawaii region in the Membership Committee.
MYA FISHER, Director of Education & TOMODACHI Programs, DC Office
Mya Fisher is Director of Education & TOMODACHI Programs for USJC, working out of the Washington, DC office. Her responsibilities include educational programs, primarily focusing on the portfolio of educational exchange programs under the TOMODACHI Initiative. Ms. Fisher brings to the Council more than ten years of professional international experience, particularly in the field of international education, managing and implementing international programs and supporting the students who participate in them. She spent two years as an Assistant Language Teacher in Kawasaki City, Japan as a participant on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. She served 10 years as a consultant to Youth for Understanding and managed a Freeman Asian Foundation grant, in addition to supporting both domestic and international students, as a study abroad advisor at Beloit College. She has also worked in the Congressional Affairs Section at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC. Ms. Fisher holds a B.A. from Williams College, an M.A. in International Education from New York University and a Ph.D. in Sociology, with a Minor in Globalizing Higher Education, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
SHANE GRAVES, Director of Program Development, DC Office
Shane Graves is Director of Program Development for USJC, working out of the Washington, DC office. His primary responsibilities include planning and executing USJC’s educational programs, including the Annual Conference, the Legislative Networking Initiative and various regional programs. Prior to joining the Council, he was an Admissions Coordinator at Johns Hopkins University and a Research & Programs Intern at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS. He studied abroad in 2006 at Kyoto University as a part of the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies program, and has experience teaching English to Japanese and South Korean students. He holds a M.A. in Public Management from Johns Hopkins University, and a B.A. in East Asian Languages and Cultures and a B.A. in International Relations, both from Michigan State University.
WESTON S. KONISHI, Director of Partnerships & Development, DC Office
Wes Konishi has served as a Senior Fellow at The Maureen & Mike Mansfield Foundation, in Washington, DC since 2009 to the present and previously served as Director of Programs from 1999 to 2007. He was the Chief Operating Officer with Peace Winds America based in the Washington, DC area from 2013 to 2014. He served as the Director of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC. A recipient of a B.A. and M.A. from International Christian University, Tokyo, Wes has held teaching positions and fellowships at Johns Hopkins University, The George Washington University, the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and was a Hitachi/Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Japan. He has over 15 years of experience in Washington, DC in U.S.-Japan and Asia relations and policy. Wes has an extensive network of public and private sector leaders and experts and has broad experience in fundraising and development, team leadership and project management, design and implementation. He has published numerous articles, has conducted interviews with various U.S.-Japan related media, and was a regular contributing columnist for The Daily Yomiuri for eight years.
SHIORI OKAZAKI, Director of Communications, DC Office
Shiori Okazaki is the Director of Communications for USJC, working out of the Washington, DC Office. Ms. Okazaki's responsibilities include communications strategy, media relations and Council messaging across all platforms. Before joining USJC in 2013, she worked as an Information Officer at the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. for four years, and as the Press Attache at the Embassy of Japan in the U.K. for two years. Ms. Okazaki grew up in Hawaii and Tokyo, and has always wanted to bridge the United States and Japan through language and communications. She has worked as a simultaneous and consecutive interpreter on many occasions. Ms. Okazaki holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College, as well as a Master of International Affairs and a M.S. in Journalism, both from Columbia University.
SONOKO PLUMMER, Administrator, Executive Office & Operations, DC Office
Sonoko Plummer is the Administrator, Executive Office & Operations for the U.S.-Japan Council. She is fully bilingual and has more than 13 years of experience as Executive Assistant for the Washington, DC office of a major Japanese corporation. During her tenure at the corporation, she served as a liaison and provided support for executives both in the United States and Japan. She provided assistance in research, outreach, project and event management, and general administration to assist the corporation with U.S. regulators, private companies and technology suppliers. Sonoko holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the International Christian University in Tokyo and an M.A. in Tourism Administration and Marketing from George Washington University.
YUMI HIROSHIMA, Executive Assistant & Program Manager, Silicon Valley
Yumi Hiroshima joined the Silicon Valley – Japan Platform as Executive Assistant/Program Manager in December 2015. Yumi resides in Silicon Valley and worked for the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APRC) at Stanford University for seven years. She began as an executive assistant to Professor Dan Okimoto, then Director of APRC, and was promoted to manage the Center’s public and private events as the Program Coordinator. She was then promoted to the Center’s Manager of Corporate Relations where she designed and implemented programs for corporate members. While raising her young children, Yumi has been serving as a volunteer Board member and fundraising chair for her children’s elementary school and preschool. Yumi graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.A. in Economics. She spent a year in Chiba, Japan teaching English.
AYA MAHER, Communications Manager, DC Office
Aya Maher is the Communications Manager at the U.S.-Japan Council office in Washington, DC. Her responsibilities include supporting media relations and member outreach while ensuring a cohesive brand identity and managing USJC's web presence and messaging across digital platforms. Prior to joining USJC, Aya worked as a White House Reporter for The Asahi Shimbun where she covered U.S.-Japan relations and foreign affairs. She also managed the production of a digital gastrotourism guide to Japan for Roads & Kingdoms, in collaboration with Microsoft and Anthony Bourdain. Aya was raised in Tokyo, Fukuoka and Fairfax, VA and is bilingual and bicultural. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from Waseda University.
ALLISON MURATA, Program Manager, Los Angeles Office
Allison Murata is Program Manager for the U.S.-Japan Council, working out of the Los Angeles Office. Her responsibilities include planning and implementing the TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program, U40 Summit, and the Japanese American Leadership Delegation. Prior to joining USJC, Allison worked as Medical Education Coordinator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Program Coordinator for educational programs at the Japan-America Society of Hawaii. Allison has interned for the Hawaii Herald and MAVIN Foundation’s Community Mixed Race Action Plan in Seattle, and served as a Legislative Aide to Hawaii State Representative Barbara Marumoto. She is a 2017 Kizuna Board Fellow. Allison holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Occidental College. She spent her junior year abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo and returned to Japan to teach English following graduation. She was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii.
GARY ZOTTOLI, Finance Manager, DC Office
Gary Zottoli is the Financial Manager for the U.S.-Japan Council, where he provides technical and analytical support for accounting and administration. Prior to joining the USJC staff, Gary worked as a Programming Intern for USJC, as a Teaching Assistant for Microeconomics at American University, and as a Research Intern at the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. Gary graduated from American University (where he completed independent capstone research on topics related to the political and financial framework of the Asia-Pacific region, with a specific focus on Japanese economic policy) in 2014 with dual bachelor degrees in International Studies and Economics.
GRACE KIM, Program Coordinator, DC Office
Grace Kim is the Program Coordinator for the U.S.-Japan Council, working out of the Washington, DC office. Her primary responsibilities include supporting USJC’s signature programs such as the TOMODACHI Initiative, Watanabe-endowed Scholarship, Annual Conference, and various regional programs. Before joining the U.S.-Japan Council in 2017, Ms. Kim served as the Coordinator for International Relations as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program in Okayama City. Ms. Kim also has experience in coordinating events and exhibitions while working at the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. as the Exhibition Coordinator for two years. Ms. Kim was born in the United States and spent seven years in Japan. She holds a B.A. in Global Affairs from George Mason University.
TAMAKI LAYCOCK, Program Coordinator, DC Office
Tamaki Laycock has joined us as Program Coordinator, working out of the Washington, DC office. Prior to joining USJC, Tamaki worked for Fontheim International, a social corporate responsibility firm, as Executive and Research Assistant to the CEO. Prior to her move to the United States, she studied at the University of York in York, England, and earned a BA in Politics with International Relations. As a student, she was elected as Academic Officer for the University of York Students' Union, working to benefit students locally and nationally on matters of education policy and national politics. She was active on campus as an organizer and campaigner and followed her passion in the arts as Chair of the World Cinema Society. She was born in Mie Prefecture, Japan, and raised internationally, leading to an appreciation for people-to-people relations on an international scale.
ROBIN MITCHELL, Development Coordinator, DC Office
Robin Mitchell is the Development Coordinator for the Washington, DC office, overseeing incoming gifts and managing relationships with U.S. donors and stakeholders. After graduating from college she worked as an assistant editor at a Tokyo-based translation and localization company, editing and writing materials for organizations including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the National Institute for Defense Studies before returning to her home state of Maine and working as a programs assistant at the Maine Bankers Association. She joined USJC in the fall of 2018. Robin holds a B.A. in Eastern Asian Languages and Literatures from Wesleyan University and completed a post-graduate curriculum at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama.
MERISSA NAKAMURA, Membership Engagement and Regional Coordinator, DC Office
Merissa Nakamura is the Membership Engagement and Regional Coordinator at the U.S.-Japan Council office in Washington, DC. She is responsible for the administrative and operational support of activities relating to the engagement of members, which includes membership and regional activities. Prior to joining USJC, she served as the Norman Y. Mineta Fellow at the Japanese American Citizens League where she organized national programs such as the JACL Kakehashi Project in coordination with Japan International Cooperation Center and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. In addition to the Kakehashi Project, Merissa organized the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit, creating opportunities for Asian American leaders to engage with congressional representatives on a variety of social and political issues. She also was responsible for producing social media content and monitoring key advocacy efforts in Japanese American historical preservation, LGBTQ issues and hate crimes. She is passionate about creating platforms for young Japanese American leaders. A yonsei from Salt Lake City, Utah, Merissa holds a B.S. in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from the University of Utah.
KANA TAKAGI, Development & Program Coordinator, Tokyo Office
Kana Takagi is the Development & Program Coordinator at the USJC office in Tokyo. She is primary responsible for coordinating and managing relationships with various donors, members and stakeholders as well as processing donor information. She is also responsible for program implementation and execution for the TOMODACHI Initiative. Previously, she served as Administrative Assistant for USJC (Japan) for two years, and Alumni Coordinator for TOMODACHI. Before joining as staff, she worked as a TOMODACHI intern for 10 months from September 2014. She was then selected to the Environmental Leadership Program funded by the U.S. Department of State, and spent four months in Washington, DC. She is an alumna of two TOMODACHI programs: the TOMODACHI Metlife Women's Leadership Program and Building the TOMODACHI Generation. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Keio University, Tokyo.
Click here to learn about the Tokyo-based staff who work on the TOMODACHI Initiative.