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 co-chairs our Kwaidan Book Club, is a co-host for the Krewe of Japan Podcast, and assists with other events and programs, along with helping with our social media. She has been elected as the Secretary for JSNO since the 2017 session and Treasurer since the 2019 session.
Other than JSNO, she is Assistant Director of International Education at the University of New Orleans. She has run a study abroad program to Japan, and now assists with a study abroad program to Austria.
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.
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.
Gissel is a local author and attorney practicing law in New Orleans since 2004. Originally from Puerto Rico, she graduated from the University of Arizona in 2001 with a degree in Psychology and Classics. In 2004, she received her Juris Doctorate, with a Certificate in International Law, from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. Upon her admittance to the bar, Gissel began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney for the Parish of Orleans. From prosecution she then moved on to insurance defense litigation at a local firm, and at the end of 2011, she joined her husband, Oskar Pérez, in founding the law firm Ferriol Pérez, LLC.
As a child of the 80s, Gissel’s first exposure to Japan was with The Karate Kid films and the American adaptation of Japan’s Beast King GoLion, Voltron. She was also exposed to Asian culture at an early age due to her family’s involvement in martial arts. It wasn’t until The Karate Kid Part II, however, that Japanese culture became a fascination. As a child from Puerto Rico, seeing a tropical island on screen that felt so similar to home (hurricanes and all!), yet was halfway across the world and had a culture so completely different than her own, filled her childhood imagination with wonder and awe. The tea ceremony scene in the film left an imprint in her heart that to this day kindles her interests in Japanese tea ceremony and Kitsuke, the art of kimono dressing. The film became a catalyst for years of reading and studying anything she could get her hands on related to Japan.
Gissel’s fascination with Japanese culture and folklore, fueled by the writings of Lafcadio Hearn and other works of Japanese literature, led to a personal journey in 2011 to begin writing a fictional book series greatly influenced by Japanese folklore as well as other world mythologies. The first novel of the series, The Butterfly Crest, was published in 2014 under her pen name, Eva Vanrell. Gissel joined The Japan Society of New Orleans in 2015, established the Kwaidan Book Club in 2016, and has been a Board Member since 2017. Gissel and her husband spent some time in Japan in 2017, and her sibling currently lives there. Gissel has participated in Japan Fest for several years, conducting a Kitsuke demonstration for those attending.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Sean is an instructional designer at the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency and a long-time resident of New Orleans. He received his BFA through New York University double-majoring in Theater and History and his EdM in Educational Policy & Management through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Sean is a co-founder of The NOLA Project theater company and is a particular fan of Shakespeare in the Park. He has loved Japan and its culture since childhood when a relative introduced him to Godzilla and the movies of Akira Kurosawa. Since then, his interests have expanded to enjoying JRPGs, J-Pop, and traditional crafts and art. Sean lived in Japan off and on as an educational consultant and instructional designer for about 5 months over the course of several years and it remains his favorite place in the world to visit. He is honored to be a board member for the Japan Society of New Orleans.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Flora P. Williams
Flora visited Japan often as a child with her mom who was born and raised in Tokyo. After undergrad, she wanted a more immersive experience, so she moved to Japan, first living in rural Ibaraki where she taught English on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, followed by a stint in Tokyo. JET was a life-changing experience, so upon returning to New Orleans she volunteered with the local JET Alumni Association (JETAA), which led to a position at the Consulate General of Japan in New Orleans. Through the Consulate, Flora became involved in the Japan Society, later joining the board and becoming actively involved in JSNO's first TOMODACHI Matsue-New Orleans Exchange. Flora currently works at the Louisiana Supreme Court, assisting state judges with their judicial educational needs, while continuing to volunteer with JETAA and serving on the board of Global New Orleans, which promotes international understanding through citizen diplomacy.
Bio & picture coming soon.
Bio & picture coming soon.
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.
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