Greg Tokuyama is a volunteer Board member of Japan Society to help improve US-Japanese relations within the New Orleans metro area through culture and the arts. Greg is of Japanese heritage born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He obtained a BS/BA from Hawaii Pacific College and an MBA from the University of Phoenix in LA. After retiring as a U.S. Navy Supply Office, Greg became a Financial Claims Reviewer for a law firm in CBD. He has affiliations with a variety of organizations including the APAS, and participates in many other organizations including: Japan Club of New Orleans as the current president, Japan Fest as an organizer, Sushi Fest as a consultant to Renaissance Publishing, and PAWS as an event coordinator.
Jennifer Torres is a native of the New Orleans area. She began taking an interest in Japan when she was in middle school through the Japanese pop culture such as anime, manga, and Japanese pop music. As she got into high school she started researching the country as a whole and became interested in its traditional culture. Once she reached college at the University of New Orleans she began studying the language and even got to study abroad in Japan with UNO for their study abroad program in the summer of 2010. Once she came back from the study abroad experience she quickly gave all of her time into the Japanese culture and wanted to do more to teach people about Japan. She helped organize clubs related to Japan at UNO, but once she graduated in December of 2013, she moved to joining Japan Society of New Orleans and continuing her passion there. She runs two programs for Japanese Society: Nihongo Bin and Nihongo Renshuu. She has been elected as the Secretary for JSNO since the 2017 session.
Other than JSNO, she travels to Japan for her job as Program Coordinator of the UNO summer study abroad program she went on as a student and has her own blog about Japan called JapanTherapy where she discusses everything and anything about Japan. She loves teaching people about Japanese culture, hoping it'll shine some light for people who may know nothing about the country.
Secretary: Samantha Perez
Dr. Samantha Perez is an assistant professor of history at Southeastern Louisiana University where she specializes in early modern Europe. Her research interests include civic and cultural identity in Renaissance Italy as well as Mediterranean contact with Japan in the 16th-17th centuries. She earned her Ph.D. from Tulane University in 2017 and has delivered lectures on Japanese internment in Louisiana, the 1585 Tenshō embassy, and the history of Matsue. In 2015, she was selected as one of seven young professionals from the Greater New Orleans Area to participate in the TOMODACHI Exchange to Matsue and joined the board to further encourage international engagement in the next generation of Louisiana leaders.
She organizes JSNO’s annual Children’s Day celebration, bringing appreciation of Japanese history, culture, music, and storytelling to Greater New Orleans Area libraries in recognition of Japan’s kodomo no hi celebration. In 2019, she served as chair of the New Orleans-Matsue Exchange program in recognition of the 25-year anniversary of our sister-city relationship.
Dr. Perez is a proud resident of St. Bernard Parish and has served on the board since 2017.
Mark A. Dispenza is a writer-director from Louisiana and producer at Serendipitous Productions, LLC. A writer and storyteller all of his life, he’s a former news reporter and freelance contributor to news outlets and blogs. His scripts have won or placed in several competitions and his feature screenplay, "The Laughter of Children," was a winner of the Scriptwriters Network Hollywood Outreach (HOP) program, a Finalist for the 2020 CineStory Foundation Feature Retreat and a Second Rounder in the 2020 Austin Writers Conference, among others. He has directed short films and local television docs, and his current projects include “Doppelgänger,” a short-form science fiction serial. A Louisiana native, he graduated from Jesuit High School in New Orleans and has a BA from the University of Southern California.
While living and working in Japan in the late 1980s, Mark founded the KAISHA Society, an association of foreign employees working for Japanese companies. He was previously an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the Japan America Society of Southern California. Mark also served for several years on the board of the Santa Barbara-Toba Sister City Organization in Santa Barbara, CA.
I first became involved with Japan Society when I agreed to host one of the exchange participants from Matsue. This was a wonderful and rewarding experience and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Naoko as well as the local members of Japan Society. My daughter and I spent a week in Tokyo in 2012 when we were headed to Truk Lagoon for a dive trip. Tokyo is the cleanest and most polite large city I have ever visited. I returned to Japan in 2015 and visited Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Kobe, then met up with the Tomodachi Exchange group from New Orleans when they arrived in Matsue. A highlight of the visit was visiting with Naoko in her home town and getting to know her family. We have remained close friends and still communicate regularly. I am Chairman of the Social Events and responsible for planning sake tastings, Japanese whiskey tastings and dinners at local Japanese restaurants. All of these events help in promoting friendships and understanding of the culture and opportunities in Japan.
Nigel Copeland is a Japan enthusiast hailing from Baton Rouge Louisiana. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans in Film Arts and a minor in Political Science. While completing his undergraduate degree, he became involved in several leadership roles at the university, including the president of the UNO Film Society, and an Ambassador for the Division of International Education.
During his time in film school, he worked as a producer on short films in the New Orleans area. He credits one of the most meaningful experiences of his life being an opportunity to spend a semester abroad studying film and humanities in Kyoto, Japan. This experience was the catalyst for a desire to learn more about the fields of international law and foreign policy. Upon returning from Japan, Nigel became active with several organizations that focused on those respective fields such as the Japan Society of New Orleans, the World Affairs Council, and the UNO Model United Nations. He currently attends the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center, where he continues his commitment to studying international law and foreign policy with a keen focus on Japan. He spent the summer semester of 2019 in Lyon, France studying comparative law, and upon graduating in 2021, is on track to receive a degree in comparative law along with his Juris Doctor.
Matthew Paul Smith is a visiting assistant professor of English at Tulane University. He specializes in nineteenth-century American literature, in particular the work of New Orleans writers. He came to the Japan Society via his research on Lafcadio Hearn, and he joined the board after helping to organize the performance of "Kwaidan: Call of Salvation Heard from the Depths of Fear” at Tulane in October 2019. Matthew also helps to manage and oversee JSNO’s Give NOLA Day fundraising drive. In addition to his work with JSNO, Matthew also volunteers with One Book One New Orleans and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Adult Learning Center. A native of New Iberia, Louisiana, he earned his bachelor’s degree from LSU and his MA and PhD from the University of Tennessee.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Naomi has been a student of Japanese Buddhism and arts since 1996. Naomi has a background in Soto Zen Buddhism, and received lay ordination at Green Gulch Farm Green Dragon Temple in 2011. Naomi uses “they/them” pronouns, and they have studied the Japanese Way of Tea in the Urasenke school, since 2009. Naomi currently holds a Shikaden level license to study. Naomi has lived in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans region since 2013, and after completing a Master’s degree in Marine Science at University of Southern Mississippi, they are now a Staff Scientist at the regional non-profit Healthy Gulf.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Duane Williams is a New Orleans native whose love of Japan was passed down from his father. From watching Bruce Lee movies on his knee, enjoying weekend Samurai Showdown movies together, watching Voltron (before learning it was actually Go Lion), and studying martial arts. As he grew older he loved reading anything he could get his hands on about Japan and anime was slowly creeping into the US. He still remembers being surprised by the options Blockbuster was putting in their kids and cartoons sections of the store. He was thrilled to learn about and join the Japan Society while attending Japan Fest.
Duane works for a marketing agency in the Bywater which helps non-profits with their fundraising and advocacy.
In April 1957 I was married in Japan to Lieutenant Bill Turner, USA. Our son, Mike Turner, was born in Japan. Thirty years later Bill and I celebrated our anniversary in Japan to find a new and vibrant country. The Foreign Ministry of Japan selected me as a delegate to visit Japan when I worked for the Foreign Relations Association of New Orleans. I served as president of the Japan Society of New Orleans and the Japanese Garden Society, now the Japanese Garden Foundation.
Honorary Board Members