The U.S.-Japan Council’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) identifies, cultivates, and empowers a new generation of Japanese American leaders. Emerging Leaders participate in leadership education, design and implement original USJC programming, and develop powerful, lifelong personal and professional friendships. A new cohort of leaders aged 24-35 is selected annually to attend the Annual Conference, become USJC Associates, and join program alumni in bridging the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

2018 Emerging Leaders

USJC is proud to announce the members of the 2018 Emerging Leaders Program. In its ninth year, the program brought 12 Japanese American young professionals to Tokyo for the 2018 USJC Annual Conference. The Emerging Leaders participated in a leadership orientation program, networked with high level leaders, attended all conference events and participated in the Annual Members Meeting.

Please join us in welcoming:

Claire Fukuoka (Honolulu, HI)
Project Manager
Austin, Tsutsumi & Associates, Inc.

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 (Chicago, IL)
Piko Street Kitchen

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 (Tokyo, Japan)
News Anchor & Reporter

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 Nakashige (New York, NY)
Chemical Biologist
The Rockefeller 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 (Westminster, CO)
Executive Aide
City of Westminster

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 (New York, NY)
General Manager, CyberGym NYC
Founder, EOKA NYC

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 (San Mateo, CA)
Marketing Director
Golden Whales Group

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 (Menlo Park, CA)
Client Solutions Manager

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 (San Francisco, CA)
Software Engineer

Lindsey Sugino is a full-stack developer 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 (Washington, DC)
Program Manager
U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress

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 (Rancho Dominguez, CA)
Vice President of Marketing and Communications
Sun Noodle

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 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nakatomi & Associates

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.

Past ELP participants have created a vibrant alumni network deeply engaged with the work of the Council.

Click here for more information on ELP and alumni activities.

Click here to read reflections from ELP alumni.

2018 Sponsors (Partial)




Mr Devid Kenji Chang

Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye

Anonymous Donor

Ms. and Mr. Colbert and Gail Matsumoto

Satoru and Hiroko Murase

The Okada Family Foundation

Mr. Henry Ota

The U.S.-Japan Council’s Emerging Leaders Program is supported by the generous sponsorship of companies, foundations and individuals. If you would like to make a donation to the program, please contact Robin Mitchell at [email protected] or (202) 223-6842.

We also thank the many generous donors who have contributed to USJC’s U40 Summit and other ELP alumni activities.


Photos from prior classes are available here:

A Word from Emerging Leaders Program Alumni:

“ELP provides the space to build meaningful relationships with the ‘next generation’ of thought leaders, decision makers and movers and shakers. The ELP program is unique in that it offers the platform to challenge individuals to grow in their leadership and engage with prominent, distinguished leaders in U.S.-Japan relations.”

– Amy Watanabe, ELP 2018

“The USJC Emerging Leaders Program was a truly unforgettable experience and it opened a door to an entire network that I never thought existed. This is one of the most memorable experiences I will carry with me throughout my life.”

– Danielle Higa, ELP 2017

“The Annual Conference was hands down the most inspiring conference I have ever attended…the Emerging Leaders Program and the Annual Conference were overwhelmingly impactful. That experience has already started reshaping the course of my future and expanding my ability to contribute more effectively to promoting U.S.-Japan relations.”

– Andrea Sugano, ELP 2016

“The U.S.-Japan Council Emerging Leaders Program was unbelievable and far exceeded my expectations. I left Tokyo with a strong sense of responsibility and possibility. As an individual it seems daunting, but together with all of ELP and USJC, I know it can happen. The idea that we can ‘change the world,’ I think is a real possibility and this definitely is just the beginning.”

– Lianna Kushi, ELP 2015