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 establish powerful professional connections and lifelong personal friendships. A new cohort 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. By providing access to members 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.

ELPs are unified in their passion and commitment to build community and strengthen relationships, both domestically and across the Pacific. That diversity of talent and unity of purpose is a great strength and a source of inspiration and energy. 


The Emerging Leaders Program is currently in its eleventh year. Each class has become engaged with and made meaningful contributions to USJC and the ELP community. We wish to continue the momentum by selecting a new class to join this network. 

This year, given the worldwide disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S.-Japan Council will hold a series of virtual events in lieu of a traditional in-person conference. We will select a new cohort of Emerging Leaders to join the USJC network and participate in these events, including special programming designed specifically for program participants. Additionally, the class will virtually participate in leadership training, engage with program alumni, and network with Council members.

Selected applicants will become U.S.-Japan Council Associates with the first year’s membership dues waived (membership is normally by invitation and nomination).

Please join us in welcoming:

Kristin Alm Kamakahi (Honolulu, HI)
Director, Staffing and Operations, Remedy Intelligent Staffing

Kristin Alm Kamakahi is the Director of Staffing and Operations at Remedy Intelligent Staffing in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she has worked for over 10 years. Her current responsibilities include managing the staffing team, providing customer service directly to various local clients, overseeing payroll and benefits processing, and supporting overall operations. She is a past president of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce and continues to serve on its board. She has served in various leadership roles for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Hawaii, including as General Co-Chair. Kristin was in the inaugural cohort of the Patsy T. Mink Leadership Alliance (YWCA Oahu), and in the first cohort of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce’s Hawaii-Hiroshima Emerging Young Leaders Program. Kristin was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She has both a B.S. in Travel Industry Management and a Master’s in Human Resources Management from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In her free time, she enjoys dancing hula and trying new restaurants.

Rayfe Gaspar-Asaoka (San Mateo, CA)
Principal, Canaan Partners

Rayfe Gaspar-Asaoka is an investing principal at Canaan Partners, an early stage venture capital firm that invests in emerging technology and healthcare companies based out of the Bay Area in California. Rayfe focuses on leading investments in frontier technology, including artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles, as well as enterprise and infrastructure software. He is passionate about strengthening the bridge between technology and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and Japan. He earned a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, where he graduated top of his class in three years, and was also a member of the water polo team. Mr. Gaspar-Asaoka was born and raised in Hawaii. In his free time, he enjoys eating and any and all water-related activities.

Ken Kashiwagi (New York, NY)
Director of Global Business Development & Digital Strategy, Sony Music Entertainment

Ken Kashiwagi is the Director of Global Business Development and Digital Strategy at Sony Music Entertainment in New York City. At Sony, his responsibilities include negotiating and strategizing deals with digital partners to license Sony’s songs, and ensuring Sony’s songs are uploaded and marketed on partners’ platforms. He has been in the entertainment and music industry for four years. Prior to joining Sony Music, he was the Manager of Finance at Warner Music Group, where he was evaluating and analyzing recording, publishing and M&A deals. Ken currently resides in the United States but regularly visits family in Japan. He is very passionate about U.S.-Japan relations, and previously worked as a TOMODACHI Initiative intern at the U.S. Embassy in Japan during his gap year after graduating from college. Ken is originally from Japan, raised in the United Kingdom and holds a B.A. from Brown University.

Aya Nishihara Leslie (Honolulu, HI)
Director of Development & Operations, Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Aya Nishihara Leslie is the Director of Development and Operations for the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (HFWF). Aya joined HFWF in 2012 after a referral from her then-boss, HFWF co-founder, chef Roy Yamaguchi. She spent a decade working with Roy’s Restaurants in La Jolla, Downtown Los Angeles and The Original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai, rising through the ranks as a hostess, to corporate trainer, to administrative assistant to group sales, then to restaurant manager and interactive marketing specialist. During her time at Roy’s, Aya gained insider knowledge of the hospitality industry and has made it a priority to take care of others the “Roy’s Way.” As the Director of Development and Operations, Aya is responsible for the sponsorship and donor retention of HFWF, oversees coordination of all event logistics, and supports the overall development of marketing efforts to promote and execute year-long events and activities that raise funds for local culinary and agricultural community organizations. Aya received her Bachelor of Science in Management Science from the University of California, San Diego in 2007.

Meredith Maimoni (Long Beach, CA)
Senior Community Relationship Manager, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Meredith Maimoni is an experienced nonprofit professional and emerging community leader committed to bettering the world. Driven by her passions for service, leadership, and process improvement, Meredith dedicates her time, both professionally and personally, to work that leaves a positive impact on communities locally and across borders. As a Senior Community Relationship Manager with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, she develops and implements community engagement, fundraising, and advocacy strategies across two states to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research and patient services. She manages 60 volunteer leaders, raising $1.2 million annually. In the community, Meredith serves as a board fellow with Little Tokyo Service Center and as a board member and Vice President of Finance with Project Management Institute – Los Angeles. She has been a continuing volunteer with Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP) since 2015 and with the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (CAUSE) since 2018. Meredith is also a graduate of the Kizuna Board Fellowship Program and of CAUSE Leadership Institute. She is a proud alumna of the University of California, Berkeley in Molecular and Cell Biology.

Lindsay Nakano (San Francisco, CA)
News Producer, KTVU FOX 2

Lindsay Nakano is an evening news producer for the highest rated newscast in the San Francisco Bay Area at KTVU FOX 2 News. She began her professional career in the Monterey/Salinas market and began working in the San Francisco market in 2008 at KRON. During her career, she has produced both from the control room and in the field, producing coverage of major earthquakes, plane crashes, SF Giants and Warriors championship parades, and the election and impeachment of Donald Trump. She has also helped direct coverage of news that is important to the Japanese American community such as economic challenges in San Francisco’s Japantown, profiles on Japantown merchants, Japanese American incarceration during World War II, hate crimes and other topics. Lindsay has served as an official representative of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and has volunteered at the festival for the past 15 years. She continues to volunteer her time at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association.

Monika Oyama (Chicago, IL)
Principal, Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell, Ltd.

Monika Oyama is a Principal at Masuda Funai, a law firm that has served Japanese corporations and their U.S. subsidiaries in the United States for over 90 years. Born and raised in the United States, spending her developmental years in Tokyo, and then attending law school and working in the United States as a young adult, Monika is a true bicultural and bilingual professional, which has been integral to Masuda Funai’s Japan practice. Her practice focuses on cross-border and domestic business transactions and intellectual property matters. She is the Chair of Masuda Funai’s Associate Liaison Committee as well as the Visiting Attorney Program at the firm. She is actively involved in a number of organizations, including serving as Vice Chair of the Chicago Mita-kai (Keio University alumni group), Vice Chair of the International Law Committee of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and board member of Global Kids Judo Association (a newly established Japanese nonprofit). When Monika is not working, she enjoys traveling, scuba diving, cooking and wine tasting, as well as Latin culture, food and music.

Aiko Shimizu (New York, NY)
Senior Vice President of Global Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, EVA, Inc.

Aiko Shimizu is the Senior Vice President of Global Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at EVA, a company founded by former Tesla executives that develops the world’s largest drone charging stations. She is also an Atlantic Council Millennium Leadership Fellow, a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader, a Salzburg Global Fellow and the Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leader. Aiko grew up in the United States, Japan and Canada and has worked in the private, public and nonprofit sectors across the United States, Japan and Germany, including at BMW and Daimler urban mobility joint venture SHARE NOW (formerly car2go), Daimler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the United Nations and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. She has also held fellowships focused on U.S.-Japan relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Pacific Forum CSIS, the Mansfield Foundation and the East-West Center in Washington, DC. Aiko received her graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Chicago.   

Eriko Stronach (Tokyo, Japan)
Program Manager, Amway Japan G.K.

Eriko Stronach is a Project Manager in the Government and External Affairs division at Amway Japan G.K. in Tokyo. She develops and implements strategic plans to foster public relations with key stakeholders, including local and national government, the media, academia and think tanks, and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, she analyzes domestic and foreign political and economic developments relevant to the company’s business planning. Prior to joining Amway Japan G.K., she managed client relationships, supported coordination of projects with analysts, and facilitated geopolitical risk consulting as a Business Associate at Eurasia Group. Eriko holds a Master’s degree focusing on security in the Pacific-Asia from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Courtney Takara (Honolulu, HI)
Bank Regulatory Specialist, American Savings Bank

Courtney Takara is a Bank Regulatory Compliance Specialist for American Savings Bank in Honolulu, Hawaii. Inspired by her grandparents and great-grandparents, she has immersed herself in her Uchinanchu (Okinawan) heritage. Since 2007, Courtney has been active with the Hawaii United Okinawa Association (HUOA), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote, perpetuate and preserve Okinawan culture. She chaired the Okinawan Festival (2017), served as President (2018), chaired the Legacy Awards Banquet (2019) and currently serves as Assistant Treasurer. She also serves as Treasurer for the United Japanese Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that promotes the welfare of the Japanese in Hawaii, while fostering friendship between the people of Japan and the United States. Courtney graduated from the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law in 2015 and maintains an inactive license with the Hawaii Bar. In her spare time, she enjoys playing Okinawan music on the koto and sanshin, trying new restaurants, baking and traveling.

Eiko Tsukamoto (New York, NY)
Associate Director, Community Affairs and Corporate Responsibility, UBS

Eiko Tsukamoto is an Associate Director of Community Affairs and Corporate Responsibility at UBS, a global wealth management firm. Through philanthropic programs and partnerships, Eiko manages the Elevating Entrepreneurs portfolio and provides training, resources and networks for underrepresented founders building high growth startups. In addition to her work in social impact and inclusive entrepreneurship, Eiko has led international education experiences that encourage global citizenship at the Fulbright Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Education First (EF) and Berkeley Global Access. As a proud Nisei, she also served as the Camp Director and Consultant for the TOMODACHI Initiative to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Eiko is a Cal Alumni Leadership Scholar, an AmeriCorps public service alum, and a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. Eiko received her B.A in Social Welfare at the University of California Berkeley and an Ed.M in Education Administration at Harvard University.

Bryan Yonamine (San Jose, CA)
Named Account Executive, Gartner Inc

Bryan Yonamine works as a Named Account Executive for Gartner Inc, a research and advisory firm that enables digital transformation and optimization. Bryan strategizes with Silicon Valley-based technology companies on achieving business objectives like customer acquisition, product road mapping, competitive intelligence and business development. Outside of work, Bryan serves on Santa Clara University’s MBA Advisory Board. Most notably, he supported an initiative that connected Japanese Business Executives with Santa Clara University alumni and staff to encourage introductions of students into the Japanese workforce, and the importance of investing in Silicon Valley-based talent. Bryan split his childhood between Hawaii and Japan. After graduating from the American School in Japan, Bryan earned a B.A. in Economics from Santa Clara University, where he was also a member of their Division One Men’s Soccer team. He later returned to Santa Clara University to earn his MBA with an emphasis in marketing.

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


USJC thanks our founding program sponsor

…as well as our key program supporters

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 Abbot 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:


“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