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JASM 50th Anniversary Photo Exhibition

Photographer, Steve Ozone

Steve Ozone is a photographer and filmmaker with a studio practice in Minneapolis. He graduated from Ball State University in Indiana, with a B.A. in Photojournalism. A former commercial photographer, he exhibits both locally and nationally. His work addresses issues of immigration, food and culture. Along with partner Bill Kubota, he is co producer and co-director of the documentary film The Registry, about Japanese American men recruited by the U.S. Army from internment camps to be interrogators and interpreters in the Pacific. The Registry is available for download or rental on Amazon Prime. His latest photographs can be seen on the outside of the Minneapolis/St.Paul Airport Silver Ramp featuring immigrants of Minnesota from Kenya, Syria, Mexico, Japan, Poland and Croatia. Steve’s background and authentic connection to the constituents of JASM makes him a qualified and most appropriate partner in working on this project.

Current Executive Director and Program Manager

Rio Saito,  JASM Executive Director 2018 to Current

I have been serving for JASM as the Director for a while now and always see how many people have been a part of this organization. I am standing on the platform that was built by all of the volunteers, board of directors, previous EDs, and many members. Without those people who came before me, I never would have had this great job that I am so proud to do. My contribution to this organization is just having fun with our community, with the hope that everyone is also having fun with me.

I have met so many people and gone to many places I wouldn’t have if it was not for this job, but what I always have in my mind is the young people who were a part of JASM: as interns, J-Quiz participants or volunteers who come back to me and tell me they got a job in Japan or found a job related to Japan. It always gives me so much joy to know the seeds we planted bloomed somewhere out there.

I would like JASM to continue to be a place where people can gather and share their love of Japan. We learned during the pandemic that we can reach out to so many people outside of JASM’s circle and it has been wonderful collaborating with them. I would like to continue to serve our community through JASM and create a space where everyone and anyone can be together and celebrate Japan. 

Yoko Ueno, JASM Program Manager since summer 2017 

My role at JASM is to plan JASM's events and to organize these events so that they run smoothly. Since joining JASM I have been fortunate to work with many different people like the committed staff, numerous interns, supportive board members, and many dedicated members and volunteers. All have our mission in mind and want to help connect the people of Japan and the US, especially in Minnesota. Our organization could only have existed for so many years because of these supporters.

JASM invites the recipients of the Mondale Scholarship from the previous year to attend the Mondale Award and Scholarship Gala each fall. Once a Mondale Scholar came up to me to thank JASM for the gala invitation and said, "The gala was a great opportunity for me to see where scholarship money comes from. It is very impressive to see that so many people support and donate to this program! I am now even more thankful for the scholarship I received. I want to be like these people and support students in the future." Hearing this commitment was a moving moment for me and I feel that Minnesota's future is bright; we at JASM are doing the right thing with our programs.

I hope that JASM will be able to continue providing access to learning opportunities to enrich the cultural lives of people in Minnesota through its events and programs, although the form and content of the events may change with time. I am confident that JASM will keep providing opportunities for people, whether they be Japanese, Japanese Americans, or anyone who has a connection to or an interest in Japan, to get to know, stay connected to, and learn more about Japan. 

Board Members

JASM Board members of 2022

Kat Daleger
I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the Mondale Award Gala committee for the past two years as the producer of the virtual event. I enjoyed the people and the experience so much that I joined the JASM Board of Directors.

As a Japanese American that was raised in Minnesota in the 60’s and as the only family of color in the neighborhood, assimilation was more important than retaining cultural identity. With JASM, I’ve been able to learn more deeply about the Japanese culture that I had only a shallow understanding of before. I’m grateful for an organization and community that gives me far more than I could ever give to them.

I hope that JASM will continue to provide the rich variety of programming that allows people of all ages and backgrounds to experience Japanese culture. I’ll do what I can to encourage people – particularly “assimilated” Japanese Americans – to enrich their knowledge of Japan by participating in events sponsored by JASM.

Bob Luck

I am the Rip van Winkle of JASM. I served on the Board from 2002 to 2003, and then moved to Japan.  Fifteen years later, I moved back to Minnesota and was amazed at the changes that had taken place.  JASM had two full-time staff members and an amazing number of authentic programs covering arts, culture, food, business, and education. When I left in 2003, my daughter was in 7th grade at one of the two Japanese Saturday schools in the Twin Cities, and the school was struggling with enrollment.  Now both Saturday schools are full! There are many more Japan-related restaurants, stores, and businesses than when I left. Interest in Japan is at an all-time high. This is easy to see at the O-Bon Festival, which is my favorite JASM event. We had to skip it in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, and am thankful that the O-Bon Festival has returned as of August 2022. My number one goal for JASM is to grow our base of members and supporters. Everybody in our state who is interested in deepening the Minnesota/Japan connection should know about JASM…and become a member!

Michiko Smith

My name is Michiko Smith and I work in research and development marketing for Daikin Applied. I have been serving as a JASM board member since June 2018. As a board member, I have supported the planning for the Mondale Gala and Shinnenkai/Shinshunkai.  

I have lived in Minnesota for over 20 years, but I am originally from Kyoto, Japan and many of my family and friends still live there. JASM has been a great way to stay connected to the culture of my home country while feeling very at home in my new country.

At every JASM event I have participated in, I have been very impressed by the vendors and volunteers who are willing to work for the events and serve in our community. JASM volunteers have such pride, and enthusiasm! I look forward to seeing more members and supporters at future JASM events!

Saiko McIvor is a new board member. Without revealing her age, I can tell you that she first came to the U.S. as a High School Rotary Student the same year that Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and The Who played a concert in a little town in New York named Woodstock. She enjoyed her experience so much that she returned to the U.S. for college, got married, and worked first as a nurse and then as an immigration lawyer. Saiko loves to socialize and is looking forward to the continuation of in person JASM events. 

Joe Montgomery has been on the JASM Board for one year and serves as our Vice President. He has been very active in communicating with members, and there is a decent chance that you may have gotten a call or email from Joe in the past. Joe is a native Minneapolitan, having attended Armstrong High School and the U of M. In between, he spent a year in Tokyo as a Rotary Scholar; he claims that was the most formative year of his life. Joe works in Public Relations and lives in South Minneapolis. 

Mirja Hanson & Sarah Walbert

Mirja P. Hanson

“Where is Japan? Somewhere in China?” Believe it or not, that was a question the late JASM Founding Board Member, Martin Hirabayashi encountered 50 years ago! He shared that at the 1992 JASM Board of Directors strategic planning session as we reflected on the history of Japan-Minnesota relations and set course for the next phase of JASM directions. At the time, the leadership group was composed primarily of Japanese-Americans like Mr. Hirabayashi who moved to Minnesota to support the wartime efforts at Camp Savage and founded JASM. Sarah Walbert, Sondra Simonson and I had the privilege of joining this distinguished Board of Directors in the early 1990’s. 

Becoming a Board Member was a welcome step after enjoying time as a JASM member since the late seventies and a move to Minnesota from Japan, my home for nineteen of years as a daughter of Finnish Missionaries stationed in Tokyo and Sapporo for three decades plus. Finding that “you can take the girl out of Japan, but you cannot take Japan out of the girl,” JASM offered a way to stay connected and give back to a country that greatly enriched my life. 

The strategic planning was a turning point for JASM as it took on the role of serving as a central coordination point for linking the many programs and opportunities in the Twin Cities and State with a broad audience of individuals or organizations with interests and ties to Japan. With new and veteran Board Members around the table, we concluded that Japan was not only well-known in Minnesota but there was an abundance of personal, professional and family ties to Japan that had come about not by chance but by design. In fact, a valid corollary to our state slogan would be the “Land of 10,000 Japan-America Relationships per year.” Countless educational, cultural, religious, public affairs, government and business organizations were sponsoring Japan-related programs featuring arts, culture, business, public affairs, technology, science and other topics. 

New JASM initiatives were launched to grow the role as a connector organization. With the strong leadership of Sondra Simonson, Sarah Walbert and an active 25-member Board, JASM hosted regular interchange events such as the 5:01 Club (that met a minute after five o-clock) and launched a monthly events bulletin with upcoming programs in the area (Tsushin Express). The abundance of resources available were breath-taking and continued to increase. In 2009 alone, I counted over one hundred Japan-related programs hosted by some fifty organizations statewide that were advertised in the Japan America Society newsletter. JASM invited Corporate Members and was invited to assist in official ventures. The JASM team that briefed Governor Arne Carlson prior to his first trade mission to Japan and JASM continues in similar capacities to this day. In 1996, Vice President Walter Mondale agreed to be a keynote speaker at the JASM’s 20th Anniversary Banquet, a year before he was appointed Ambassador to Japan. In 1997, Joan and Walter Mondale received the first Mondale Award, another JASM initiative launched to honor people with life-time contributions to Japan-Minnesota bridge-building.

My wish for the Japan America Society is that it continues as a vital gateway to “all things Japan” in proactive partnership with all other individuals and organizations that are committed to strengthening people-to-people ties between two countries through active citizen diplomacy. To that end, I have worked with JASM during my term as Honorary Consul general for Japan in Minnesota and continue to support JASM as a key donor, member, and volunteer on JASM committees, pro-bono facilitator for planning and “other duties as assigned!”

Sarah Walbert

“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been,” as Mark Twain reflected. I can look back with many smiles on the 1980’s-90’s when I served on the JASM board with Mirja Hanson – as “Thirty-Something” youngsters. When you’re young, it’s easier to get up the nerve to take risks, for instance to make a cold call to Walter Mondale’s office and ask the former Vice President to be a keynote speaker. This was before anyone knew he would be named Ambassador to Japan.  

I was VP and a busy Program Chair for 9 years straight before we said “Enough! Time to institute term limits;” and before we had any staff.  The Program Committed took the risk to launch a decidedly un-programmed event called the “5:01 Club,” an after-work networking time, viewed a bit skeptically because it had no speakers or formalities. But it always drew a good mix of us regulars and newcomers, including a future JASM president.   

JASM was in transition even as US-Japan relations had matured. As part of a financial survival strategy we took the risk to introduce the corporate membership category, facing resistance from some founding members. I offered my consulting firm Regent International as the first corporate member which Mirja and I leveraged to persuade a Japanese company to join JASM; others were recruited; and thus corporate membership became a fait accompli.  

JASM worked to become a clearinghouse for all Japan-related groups in Minnesota, promoting everyone’s programs through the Tsushin Express, the brainchild of Mirja Hanson. The monthly was manually mailed out because this was before the days of mass emails or even websites. 

Now well into the 21st century, JASM’s wealth of programs is instantly available at https://mn-japan.org/ as well as a digital library of past and present news. JASM’s continued development was driven by a small succession of innovative executive directors, program managers and interns, with tireless support from board members and volunteers. Corporate membership was extended to non-profit organizations; the annual Mondale Scholarship fund raiser became an anchor event (which I was privileged to MC twice). J-Quiz has served hundreds of high schoolers. The 5:01 Club was reintroduced as the successful Know-Me Kai 飲み会.  

Little could we have imagined 50 years ago that programs would be offered virtually, thanks to Executive Director Rio Saito and her team responding to Covid-19.  In my view taking this risk has made the biggest impact, by virtually extending the reach of JASM to many who weren’t members and participants from as far away as Japan, and kept JASM a viable organization.     

For the future I envision a JASM with 1,000 members because it will be widely known as the hub, “the” place to start for anything Japan – for cultural, economic or personal interests. Social influencers have discovered that Japan is cool. JASM Corporate Roundtable will be a “must” for Minnesota-Japan business. A whole generation of Asian American students are drawn to JASM because of the affinity they feel to Japanese language and culture, not just anime. More and more exchange students and teachers, others who’ve lived in Japan, Japanese expatriates living in Minnesota, we all hunger for our connection to continue.  My hope is that JASM members will reflect society’s diversity because everyone will have a reason to connect with Japan. 

JASM Former Executive Directors

JASM Former Executive Directors

Kathryn Klibanoff

I served as the executive director for JASM from 1997-1998 and loved my experience. We were preparing to celebrate JASM’s 25th anniversary, and Ambassador Walter Mondale had recently returned from his tenure as Ambassador to Japan. We decided to create the Mondale Award and Mondale Scholarship in his honor, and it’s very gratifying to know that these programs are still going strong.

My most memorable moment was the very first Mondale Award and Scholarship Dinner at the Minneapolis Hilton in 1998. It was a fabulous event emceed by the late Charlie Boone, a WCCO radio personality. At the event, Ambassador Mondale mentioned in his speech that he had only ever had two other things named after him to that point: a school in his hometown of Elmore, MM and a dog. Another touching remembrance is the wide variety of phone calls I’d field at the JASM office. Sometimes it would be a student looking for a conversation partner. Another time it was a Japanese ex-pat looking for a real estate lawyer. One day, a Japanese woman called, whispering in Japanese that she was getting abused by her husband and needed a safe place to go. I was able to connect her with resources to help. You never knew from day to day what calls would come in.

I wish JASM another 50+ years of success as a cultural, educational, artistic, and business hub strengthening Japan-Minnesota relations for generations to come. Omedetou gozaimasu on 50 amazing years so far! I am ever grateful to have been a part of JASM’s history.

Paul Sherburne

I was fortunate enough to be selected as the initial executive director of JASM when it made its transformation from essentially a social club of Nisei into a cross-cultural educational organization designed to encourage greater understanding of Japan; its people, society and culture. This was made possible primarily through a three-year grant from the National Association of Japan America Societies (NAJAS). The grant enabled JASM to put in place tiered individual and corporate memberships which in turn created the funds to establish many new programming initiatives.

Through the hard work of old and new volunteer members JASM greatly expanded its cultural and business related activities. In addition we were able to utilize young Japanese interns and returning JET American teachers of English and many other talented young scholars. I personally was fortunate to go to Japan twice. Once through a self-organized trip that included visits to both Minneapolis and St Paul’s Sister Cities as well the former University of Minnesota Akita Campus. These interchanges helped solidify JASM’s standing and relationships with these entities. A second trip was organized and led by the then executive director of NAJAS, and attended by a handful of other Japan America Society executive directors, that included meetings and briefings with high ranking American and Japanese scholars, business people, journalists and diplomats. A highlight was a lengthy conversation with then US Ambassador Walter Mondale. This helped legitimize JASM in the eyes of the ambassador and eased the subsequent creation of the Mondale Scholarship.

I trust that due to the talents and energy of JASM’s numerous devoted members and staff, JASM will see another 50 years of successful promotion of understanding and amity between Minnesota and Japan.

Elizabeth Simmer, Saint Paul, Minnesota

I served as an Interim Executive Director because the previous ED resigned and a job search for a permanent person to serve in this role was underway. I shared the position and drew on my strengths from my public relations degree. I had lived in Japan (Mitaka near Tokyo, Ibaraki-ken and Nagasaki City) for a few years. I was able to bring my talents to the public relations aspects of this position including writing, editing, and producing the Tsushin Newsletter. 

The ED position is varied and unpredictable from one day to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting people, presenting Japanese culture to school children, and holding necessary meetings with the board and others. My co-Interim ED was excellent with the budgets, spreadsheets, and other skills required for a position such as this. I was also a board member for the Saint Paul Nagasaki Sister City Committee at the time and initiated a collaborative approach to share news and events with Minnesota-Japan related organizations in the Tsushin Newsletter, which at that time was in a paper format.

I believe the mission of JASM, to promote mutual understanding and friendship between Japanese and US citizens, hasn't changed since my time there. My hope for JASM's future is to continue in this endeavor, bringing people of all ages and opportunities to interact with one another and share mutual cooperation and rapport.

Darryl Magree

After living in Akita from 1994-1997 on the JET Programme, joining JASM helped me maintain and further my connections to Japan.  One volunteer opportunity led to another, and in 1999 I applied for the half-time position as executive director.  Little did I know how much that decision would shape my life.

There was so much I had to learn about managing a nonprofit, working with a volunteer board of directors, and building relationships.  That network made so much possible: J-Quiz was in its infancy, and would not have survived without the collective efforts of Japanese teachers; Como Park and the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee established the Japanese Obon Festival; corporate members stepped up to host a wide range of roundtables to share business insights; and distinguished speakers - community elders, diplomats, artists, and elected officials - shared their own Japan-Minnesota connections.  

Over my six and a half year tenure, step by slow step JASM grew from its shoestring origins to a more stable organization.  Over that same period, fellow JASM member Yukiko Oshu went from acquaintance to friend to wife.  When we decided to relocate to Japan together, I was proud to hand over the reins to Ben van Lierop, and incredibly fortunate to get an unsolicited job offer from JASM board member David Smith.  

Seventeen years have passed since then.  Yukiko and I are raising our two children in Tokyo, and even though David took early retirement last year, I continue to thrive in the global business he helped build.

J. Bernard van Lierop
It was wonderful to serve as the Executive Director of JASM from 2006 to 2018. It was the best job of my career. I felt very fortunate to work with dedicated Board members who truly wanted JASM to fulfill its mission of promoting cultural understanding and international cooperation between the people of Japan and the United States in Minnesota. 

In the years that I was serving JASM, I believe that the work of volunteers had a deep impact on the success of the events that JASM provided to the community. The Obon Japanese Festival was successful with about 50 volunteers who helped to staff the booths. Volunteers were also key to the success of the J-Quiz High School Japanese language contest. Many of these volunteers were Japanese language teachers, and their students, who shared an interest in promoting Japanese language proficiency. 

Another important area was collaboration with other Japan related organizations, such as Sister City groups. JASM has had a long-term relationship with the Saint Paul – Nagasaki Sister City Committee. This partnership continues with the planning for the Obon Japanese Festival. JASM has also reached out to other sister city groups in Bloomington and Duluth, and to Japan-related organizations such as Concordia Language Villages, the Japan-American Citizens League, and the JET Alumni Association. These collaborative efforts have given JASM opportunities to provide leadership and Japanese cultural expertise. 

A third area of vital importance was education. JASM, through the Mondale Scholarship program, has inspired students to go to Japan and become Japan experts both in culture and language. The JASM internship program also provided college students with practical experience in learning how to work in a non-profit office by planning and promoting events. 

Finally, JASM was very fortunate to benefit from the leadership of the late U.S. Vice President and Ambassador Walter Mondale and Joan Mondale. They heartily supported the JASM Mondale Scholarship program by regularly attending the annual Mondale Award and Scholarship Gala. Their presence was a blessing and a legacy for JASM for generations to come. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to have served JASM and I believe the organization will continue to thrive as it fulfills its mission in serving the Japan America community in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. 

Asako Hirabayashi

Asako Hirabayashi, Harukaze Committee

I moved to Minnesota in 2001 and met Takuzo Ishida, who was seated in the front row of the audience of my first performance here. He was the first Japanese person I met in the Twin Cities. Takuzo introduced me to the Japanese school and JASM. From that time we did many projects together. Takuzo was such a generous, energetic, passionate person and devoted himself to the Japanese community as well as classical music in Minnesota. As the president of Japanese School, he even accepted my daughter, who had serious disabilities, and gave her opportunity to learn there. Those two years represent the only time my daughter could learn with regular students in the same class room. I will never forget it. San Asato of JASM, who introduced me to a Japanese adoption agency (which is almost non-existence in Japan), so I could adopt my son from Japan. I and Takuzo invited top players from both the US and Japan and presented many wonderful concerts together at Harukaze. I have organized, performed and composed for the Harukaze Series, but the most memorable experience was founding Thunder Wave, which is the first and only Japanese children’s dance group in Minnesota to introduce Japanese traditional folk dance combined with contemporary pop music. The debut of Thunder Wave was accompanied by top players from the Minnesota Orchestra for the Harukaze.


Also, I premiered my first original concert opera, Yukionna, which was a sold out, standing room performance and received many positive reviews. I cannot thank JASM enough for enriching my personal life as well as my professional career. 


Tomoko Drake
I’m not exactly sure when, but I was recruited by Mr. Takuzo Ishida and became one of the JASM board members, probably at least two decades ago.  I remember I was asked to help start a new food booth for JASM at the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival at Como Park.  Darryl was the executive director then and he brought over some gas grills and we sold Korean Style Yakiniku BBQ beef slices.  It smelled good and tasted good, but was very sticky and smokey and hard to cook.  I suggested having a Beef Bowl booth at the Festival in the following year.  As I was deeply involved with our Minneapolis Japanese School then, I asked some of my friends (aka Oyaji Club members) and their families to help us cook and sell beef bowls.  It was an unbelievable success! Many times we sold out everything, and ended up selling rice bowls with stew broth on it for $1 to the hungry crowd! 

I am not sure exactly when it started, but it became a summer tradition of our circle of Minneapolis Japanese School friends.  Fathers stood by the two large pots stewing big pots of beef and onions, and mothers managed cooking rice in dozens of  home size rice cookers. Mostly students and their siblings sold beef bowls, drinks, and some sweets at the store front.  I am not sure how many years we continued to volunteer managing the beef bowl booth, but August of 2018 was our final year. 

Those were our happy memories with the late Kaz Kuroki and Tak Ishida.  Some of our Japanese school friends left MN, and almost all the children of our group have grown up and left home. But I am happy that the rest of us remain as close friends, thanks to the volunteering time through the Minneapolis Japanese School and hot and sometimes cold Lantern Lighting Festival memories.

Thank you JASM and our dear friends!


Bruce & Tomoko Drake

Yukiko & Masa Kawase

Ruth & Kaz Kuroki

Ayumi Malin

Keiko & John Martin

Yuko & John Moon

Serena Moon

Naoko Koyano & Yasushi Nakagawa

Miyuki & Jim Nichols

Midori (Drake) Parks

Tamara & Dave Berg + Lucia & Remy

Mami Russel

Eri Sato

Naomi & Yoshi Sato

Tomoko Silbert

Mia Smith

Yoko & Katsu Toda

Sogetsu Ikebana School

Fifty Years of JASM with Ikebana

Flowers have always been part of JASM programs. Ikebana, the arrangement of living plant material, is considered one of the many Japanese Arts. Its long history of using natural materials to create a beautiful flower arrangement is admired and studied worldwide.  

The advancement of Ikebana in the Twin Cities area was further developed with the arrival of Yoshie Suzuki Babcock.  She was welcomed and appreciated for her creative and skillful teaching of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana.  

As her outreach grew, her students showed great enthusiasm and dedication to learning more about Ikebana.  To further their studies and interactions in the community, Yoshie saw the need for a study group. The request was granted in 1996 from the Sogetsu School in Tokyo.                          

With JASM’s role and position in the community expanding, Japanese culture and arts were becoming more popular at the same time.  It was during this time that Ambassador Walter Mondale was returning from Japan and he provided inspiration for the Mondale yearly award.  The recipients of the award are recognized for their outstanding work and influence in promoting the arts and culture of Japan.

A highlight of the Sogetsu Ikebana study group was the 2013 selection of Yoshie Suzuki Babcock to receive the annual Mondale award.  The award was given in recognition of her over 40 years of teaching Ikebana and of her community outreach.

The award ceremony was well attended by Yoshie’s students and friends.  It is the custom for the study group to provide table arrangements and a large arrangement each year for the event.  

JASM serves a unique purpose and fulfills its mission in promoting varied aspects of Japan and US relations.  Members come together in a common goal of support via education, culture, and business networking. The Ikebana Sogetsu Study Group has contributed to many events in conjunction with JASM.  The Mondale Gala, Harakuze event, Obon (Lantern Lighting), and the Mpls. Institute of Arts, are a few  of the numerous programs and events that the Sogetsu group participates in each year.  

We send JASM our best wishes for another 50 years of partnership with Sogetsu Ikebana and the beauty of flowers.  Congratulations!

Front row, from left:Front row, from left

Noriko Ishida,

Barbara Kennedy 

Yoshie Babcock,

Joyce Beauchane, Hiroko Shade,

Back row, from left

Sachiyo Nishi, Yoko Toda, Kim Gordon,

Keiko Kawakami, Yasuko MacNahb,

Keiko Martin

Kiku Enterprises

Don Katagiri

I became an individual member of JASM around 1975 and brought Jim Hoffman, a future JASM president, to the JASM board. My wife, Patricia was a secretary of JASM while Doctor Nishida was a president and received the Mondale Award in 2019.

Biggest event of my involvement with JASM was America Japan Week, May 28 - June 4, 1994 when Arne Carlson was the Governor of Minnesota and Mirja Hansen was the president of JASM. Events over the course of the week were held at various venues, including the Minneapolis Convention Center, Target Center, Nicollet Mall, U of M, and Hilton Hotel. At the events there were a total of 86 groups: 2,580 people came from Japan; business associations, culture/music groups, martial artists, sumo wrestlers, sister-cities affiliates, etc. The Minnesota participants were CVBs, schools from WI, IA, MN, churches, Boy Scouts, citizens groups, business chambers, JETRO, JNTO. In all there were over 100,000 people there!

Deborah Huskins

Deborah Huskins, Daughter of Shirley Huskins
The Japan America Society of Minnesota has meant a great deal to me and our family over the years.  After having attended a number of JASM events over the years with my mother, I now have become a member and enjoyed my first volunteering event at the recent Obon Festival.  It was a lot of fun, and people were so welcoming!

Our family’s connection to Japan runs deep.  My parents, Shirley and Bill Huskins, were founding members of JASM.  Their connection to Japan started when I was 2 ½, when we moved to Tokyo; Dad worked for Northwest Orient Airlines.  Mom quickly became engaged in studying Japanese, Sumi-e, Ikebana, and many other activities.  We moved back to Minnesota in 1967, and both Mom and Dad wanted to do what they could to strengthen community and  corporate and personal ties between our two countries. They helped found JASM in 1972.  Through the years, Mom volunteered for the Festival of Nations and other events and was Secretary of the Board for a time.  I attended the Mondale award events with her several times; one very memorable occasion was when Mom’s good friend, Kimi Hara, received the Mondale award.  Mom’s granddaughter, my daughter Alyssa, also attended that event.  Soon after, Alyssa traveled to Tokyo where she was an exchange student for a year and attended Japanese high school.  Alyssa loved Japan so much she moved there after college in 2009 to teach English to schoolchildren.  She quickly became fluent in Japanese and now lives in Osaka with her husband and two daughters. My niece, a senior in college, has also been studying Japanese for 4 years. 

The most memorable event for me was the evening when Mom was presented with the 2009 Mondale Award for Japan-America Partnership.  Mom was so honored! Our whole family was there to celebrate.

I hope that JASM continues to thrive and build even stronger connections between the people and organizations of Japan and Minnesota.  I look forward to continued participation in JASM activities in the future.

The Ishida Family

Noriko Ishida, Tetsunori Ishida and Mio Ishida

In the absence of Takuzo Ishida, who passed away in 2019, his family stood for a portrait in what was his bonsai workshop attached to the house. As a former JASM president and founder of the Minneapolis Japanese School, he left a mark on the community, and we honor his memory with the Takuzo Ishida

Memorial Scholarship for high school students through JASM. We are delighted that the newest recipient, Walter Barlow from Apple Valley High School, will have the opportunity to study in Japan with the help of the funds that were raised by the generous donations from friends. Aki Ishida, who was unable to fly into town for the portrait was part of the scholarship selection committee. The Ishida family will continue Takuzo’s legacy with a seat on the board of directors and participation and support of JASM mission and activities.


J-Quiz Committee as of 2022

The original J-Quiz was a competition developed by the Japan America Society of Minnesota to test the ability of high school students who were studying Japanese language from 2003 to 2022. It was modeled on a quiz show format and aims to make the study of Japan and Japanese challenging and enjoyable. Teams of students were asked questions regarding Japanese language — including grammar, vocabulary, kanji and kana, and culture — with the top teams advancing to a final competition in front of their peers. The first-place team in levels 2, 3, and 4 were sent on a trip to Washington D.C. and given an opportunity to compete in the National Japan Bowl.

In 2023 JASM widened the target group of participants. J-Quiz is now an online trivia event for anyone who is learning Japanese, to test their level of knowledge of Japanese language and culture and to meet like-minded people.

From left

Keiko Kawakami

Naomi Satoh

Hiroko Shade, Co-Chair

Kyoko French

Michiko Kato Dressen, Co-Chair (not pictured)

Lydia Rose

Lydia Rose, Mondale Scholar 2020-2021, JASM Board Member 2022-Current

I was first introduced to JASM in my first Japanese class at the University of Minnesota my sophomore year. My sensei began class by telling us about the Mondale scholarship as well as JASM’s internship opportunities. I remember sitting in that classroom, hearing about JASM and thinking that I had to be a part of it. As a Technical Writing and Communications major with a Japanese minor there were few opportunities for me to utilize both of these fields of study at once and I saw that a JASM internship would give me that opportunity. 

Fast-forward three years and I have been fortunate enough to have been JASM’s Media Relations Coordinator, a recipient of the Mondale scholarship, and am now a member of JASM’s board. 

However, it may be surprising to some that I have never been to Japan. When I received the Mondale scholarship in 2020, I was hoping I would be able to study abroad my senior year. However, due to COVID restrictions, I was allowed to use the scholarship toward an online, Japanese-language program through CET Japan. Since I have not been able to go to Japan myself, JASM has been my way to experience small pieces of Japan here in Minnesota.

Since I first joined JASM in 2019 I have been privileged enough to attend many of JASM’s events from the Mondale Gala, to the Obon festival, to corporate roundtables and more. Through each event I have learned about the complexities of intercultural communication and international relations; the beauty of cultural differences; and the nuances of Japanese language, culture, history, and tradition that I would never have learned otherwise.

Going forward, I want to encourage students like me, who are looking for ways to learn more about Japan and the Japanese community, in Minnesota and Japan itself. I want to see more people making it a yearly tradition to come to the Obon festival and for students and business professionals to attend and learn from corporate roundtables. I have experienced first-hand the impact JASM’s programs and events can have and I know that as a member of JASM’s board I will continue to do so and encourage others to do the same.

Samantha Vang, Mondale Scholar, MN State Representative

Samantha Vang is a lifelong Minnesota native, a proud daughter of refugees, a Democrat, and a longtime Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park resident.

She was elected in 2018 to become the first of the two Hmong women to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She co-founded the first ever legislative Minnesota Asian Pacific (MAP) caucus and became chair of the People of Color Indigenous (POCI) caucus. She was selected to be Speaker Pro-Tempore in 2021 and continues to step into leadership roles at the Minnesota DFL House.

She was a recipient of 2014-2015 Mondale Scholarship and studied in Japan for one year. Samantha learned many valuable skills during her time in Japan that have helped her in her work today as a House Representative.

“I owe a lot to JASM as well. I think if I had not had the scholarship opportunity, I would not have been able to travel abroad and become the person that I am today. JASM will always hold a place in my heart.”

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