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.

2019 Emerging Leaders

USJC is proud to announce the members of the 2019 Emerging Leaders Program. In its tenth year, thirteen Japanese American young professionals will attend the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference and Members Day in Los Angeles. The Conference is a forward-thinking public event where leading professionals and members of the U.S.-Japan community convene to explore cutting-edge topics that provide opportunities for growth and cooperation between the United States and Japan. By providing access to senior leaders and education on relevant topics, the program aims to motivate participants to promote strong and positive U.S.-Japan relations in their personal and professional lives. 

Please join us in welcoming:

Yumi Adachi (Honolulu, HI)
Vice President, Aichi Fukkou Co., Ltd.

Yumi Adachi is the Vice President of Aichi Fukkou Co., Ltd., a fourth-generation family-owned asset holding company. After her grandfather (former President of the company) passed away in 2016, Yumi left her career at Deloitte and returned to Japan to help manage her family’s assets. Her responsibilities include working with advisors to increase the financial performance of the assets, and introducing new ideas, resources and talent to modernize the company. Yumi currently splits her time between Japan and Hawaii and is passionate about U.S.-Japan relations. In her spare time, Yumi serves as the Secretary for the Women in Business Committee for the ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce in Japan), travels internationally, and stays active hiking, surfing and paddling. Yumi holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego and an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

Dana Baba (San Diego, CA)
Dental Officer, United States Navy

Dr. Dana M. Baba is an active duty Officer in the United States Navy in San Diego, CA. She is originally from Simi Valley, CA and attended UC Berkeley for her undergraduate education, receiving a B.A. in Psychology in 2012. In 2016 she graduated with high honors from the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, obtaining her Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree. Dana currently works as a General Dentist at the fast-paced Marine Corps Recruit Depot Dental Clinic, a bootcamp facility for the United States Marine Corps that sees thousands of recruits every year. She also recently completed a 26-month tour as the sole Dental Officer onboard the naval warship USS AMERICA (LHA-6) where she completed its 7-month maiden deployment to the Middle East and contributed to the ship’s numerous accolades from 2017 to 2019. Outside of her professional life, Dana partners with various philanthropic organizations through the Impact Committee of Junior League San Diego, and volunteers at free dental clinics operated by UC San Diego. Her passions include running, eating, hiking, cooking, and spending time with animals.

Joy Champaloux (Washington, DC)
Program Officer, Sasakawa USA

Joy Champaloux is a Program Officer at Sasakawa USA, a nonprofit in Washington, DC, where she supports research projects focusing on security and foreign affairs, energy and technology, economics and trade, and other emerging issues within U.S.-Japan relations. Previously, Joy worked at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC, where she assisted senior diplomats from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense. She also taught English for three years on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program in Wakayama Prefecture and served on the board of the JET Alumni Association of Washington, DC for five years, including two terms as President. She earned her B.A. in International Studies from Willamette University and studied abroad at Tokyo International University in Japan. Joy is passionate about community building at the grassroots level and empowering youth in politics. Originally from Oahu, she has interned at the Hawaii State Legislature and the Office of the Governor of Hawaii, as well as volunteered for local campaigns and rallies.

Yuga Cohler (Cambridge, MA)
Senior Software Engineer, Google; Orchestral Conductor, Ridgefield Symphony

Yuga Cohler is a cultural innovator and technologist. He works at Google as a Senior Software Engineer and Tech Lead / Manager in the Search PA. He is also an orchestral conductor, serving as the music director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. Yuga is the creator of multiple orchestral concerts presented by Lincoln Center, including Yeethoven, a comparison of the works of Kanye West and Beethoven, and K-Factor: An Orchestral Exploration of K-pop. He regularly conducts the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and recently led the group on a sold-out international tour featuring the music of Japanese rockstar Yoshiki. He has performed extensively throughout Asia as Artistic Director of the Asia / America New Music Institute, a collective that pursues cultural exchange through modern music. In 2018, he was awarded the Paolo Vero Orchestral Prize at the Toscanini International Conducting Competition. Yuga attended Harvard University, where he graduated summa cum laude in computer science, and the Juilliard School, where he studied orchestral conducting.

Robert Gondo (Houston, TX)
Director, Tokyo Gardens Catering

Robert Gondo is a Director at Tokyo Gardens Catering (TGC), which provides sushi to major U.S. grocery chains and owns a local Asian catering operation in Houston, TX. He is focused on sharing Japanese culture through food and bringing restaurant-quality sushi and innovative items to grocery retail. TGC is a family business, which originally started as a Japanese restaurant in Houston by Robert’s grandparents in 1966, before transitioning to retail in 2001. TGC also supplies Japanese food to major airlines in Houston. Prior to joining the family business, Robert lived in Seattle for several years working at Amazon, where he advised the retail strategy group on negotiations with Amazon’s largest global vendor suppliers and implemented retail strategies in the US, Europe and Japan. Then he joined the Consumer Electronics group, where he ran the wireless and mobile electronics categories. At TGC, he leverages his e-commerce and retail background to improve and modernize the business. He received his MBA from the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, and B.B.A. from the University of Georgia.  He enjoys golfing and traveling in his spare time.

Naomi Hattori (Chicago, IL)
Acting Vice President, Global Development, Choose Chicago

Naomi Hattori is the Acting Vice President, Global Development at Choose Chicago, the official destination marketing organization for the city of Chicago. She never knew that tourism could be a profession until an unconventional career path with stints in Thailand and China led her to be an international vacation promoter for her hometown. In her role, Naomi is responsible for the creation, development and implementation of integrated sales and marketing strategies to increase Chicago’s profile as a leading international tourism destination. Since joining Choose Chicago in 2012, Naomi has frequently traveled to Japan for in-market activations, such as Chicago Sales Missions in Tokyo and promotional tours with the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  As a native Chicagoan, she is looking forward to the 2020 USJC Annual Conference, when she can showcase why Chicago has the third highest tourism numbers in the U.S. (58.3 million visitors in 2018) . Naomi holds a B.A. in Psychology from Carleton College.

Derek Hirano (Torrance, CA)
Owner, Hirano Homes Real Estate Team, Keller Williams Realty

Derek Hirano is the owner and leader of the Hirano Homes Real Estate Team at Keller Williams Realty, where he advises his clients on selling, purchasing and investing in residential real estate. He is consistently recognized as a top producer in his industry. His high level of production has earned him multiple awards, including the International President’s Circle Award for ranking in the Top 5% of his brokerage’s 45,000 thousand agents. Derek has been a featured speaker at the South Bay Association of Realtors, has given seminars at local community centers such as the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, and will serve next year as a Board Member for the LA-Coastal Chapter of AREAA (Asian Real Estate Association of America). He is a third-generation entrepreneur and strongly believes in the importance of API entrepreneurship. His passion for business ownership was inspired by his grandfather, who founded AHTKY Insurance, a highly successful insurance agency; and father, who built Clear Choice Optometry, which was voted South Bay’s Best optometry practice 10 years running. Derek holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine. During his free time, he enjoys traveling, board games and playing golf.

Stephanie Nitahara (Los Angeles, CA)
Executive Director, Kizuna

Stephanie is the Executive Director of Kizuna, a Nikkei youth organization with the mission of building a community for the next generation of leaders through education, empowerment and engagement. Grounded in her grandparents’ World War II incarceration experience, Stephanie is passionate about creating a just society through education and activism. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, she became involved with the Japanese American Citizens League as a youth leader, where she discovered her love for Nikkei and Asian Pacific Islander organizing, leadership and program development. In 2012 she moved to Los Angeles to work for JACL as the Pacific Southwest Regional Director, and later Interim Executive Director and Associate Director. While at JACL she was involved with several projects, including youth leadership and program development, education programs centered around the Japanese American incarceration during World War II and Redress Movement, and fund development. Stephanie also has served on organizing committees for Little Tokyo community programs, including Okaeri: A Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering (2014, 2016, and 2018) and the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program, and is currently a co-chair for the Membership/Marketing Committee for the Little Tokyo Community Council.

Kelly Nuibe (Tokyo, Japan)
Senior Admissions Counselor, Temple University, Japan Campus

Kelly Nuibe is the Senior Admissions Counselor at Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ) in Tokyo. TUJ is the branch campus of Temple University in Philadelphia and is the oldest and largest foreign university in Japan that offers U.S.-accredited associates, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Kelly is responsible for international student recruitment in Europe, the Philippines, Korea and parts of North America. When she is not traveling for work, she is on stage performing hula in Japan. She was born and raised in Hawaii, and followed her dreams to find her family’s roots in Japan while working on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. During her Japanese language studies at Keio University, she completed an internship at The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation in Tokyo. She holds a B.A. from Occidental College.

Takashi Ohno (Honolulu, HI)
State Representative, Hawaii State Legislature

Takashi Ohno serves as an elected member in the Hawaii State House of Representatives. Running against an established incumbent in 2012, Takashi won an upset election against all odds to represent his community as their State Representative. In his first four years at the Legislature, Takashi served as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Education. Currently, Takashi serves as both a Whip and the Chair of the Committee on Intrastate Commerce, where he leads policy surrounding banking, insurance and licensing. Previous to elected office, he was a public school teacher. Takashi was accepted into Teach for America and placed as a third-grade teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was elected the chair of the School Community Council in 2011 by his fellow teachers, where he led community stakeholders, businesses and parents to create school goals. In his free time, Takashi enjoys yoga, travel and live music.

Niki Robins (Denver, CO)
Content Director, Spectacle Marketing

Niki Robins is the co-founder and content director of Spectacle Marketing, a content marketing agency based in Denver, Colorado. As one of the only female minority-owned agencies in Denver, Spectacle focuses on harnessing the power of social media and content creation to uplift the voices of small to medium-sized brands. Born and raised in San Francisco, Niki received the first-ever Jazz Flute degree from the University of Denver, also graduating with degrees in Strategic Communications and Japanese. In her spare time, she leads discussions around social justice and diversity/inclusion, wanders around plant shops, and plays occasional gigs at local jazz clubs. Niki believes in good storytelling and change for progress, and that a killer bowl of ramen can fix all of your problems.

Ryota Sekine (Chicago, IL)
Cofounder, Cubii

Ryota Sekine is determined to make a positive contribution to the health and happiness of people around him. While Ryota was a pre-med biology student at the University of Chicago, he cofounded Cubii, a healthcare brand helping people with limited mobility experience by providing the simple joy of movement in their lives. He leads the international expansion for the fast-growing Cubii, and enjoys interacting with business partners and customers across the world. Ryota has been an Associate of the U.S.-Japan Council since 2014, and is a TOMODACHI alumnus from the 65th Japan-America Student Conference (JASC). His lifelong mission is to expand possibilities for underserved people through the ethical and equitable use of technology, socioeconomics and philosophy. Ryota recently took up leadership roles with Singularity University and the Seasteading Institute to play a more active role in creating an abundant life and sustainable future. He is collaborating with his relatives in Miyagi Prefecture in Japan to create business ventures that aim to uplift the next generation. His passions include contemporary art, Japanese tea and sci-fi anime. Ryota was born and raised in Singapore.

Courtney Taira (Gardena, CA)
Consumer Promotions Manager, King’s Hawaiian

Courtney Taira is a fourth-generation Japanese American who was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Her roots are planted in her Japanese heritage, Aloha culture from Hawaii and Los Angeleno background. She is currently working for her family business, King’s Hawaiian, the baker of the original Hawaiian sweet bread. She used her marketing degree from The George Washington University to establish the Consumer Care Department. She then used her Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry degrees to head up experiential marketing by taking a branded food truck to high profile events such as Super Bowl parties. She is passionate about mentoring Japanese American girls and therefore has coached FOR Hoku, a girls’ basketball team, for the past 11 years. She strives to live her best life and enjoys traveling internationally, creative cocktails and Japanese nail art. She is the president of her MBA Class of 2018 from UCLA Anderson.

Click here to read reflections from ELP alumni.

2019 Sponsors (Partial)





Mr. David Kenji Chang

Highland Capital Management

Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye

The J. Morey Company

Anonymous Donor

Ms. and Mr. Colbert and Gail Matsumoto

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 Laura Winthrop Abbot at [email protected] or (+1)(202) 223-6840.

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

Donate to the Emerging Leaders Program


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