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Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute Hire Executive Director to Oversee New Japan Office

Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute Tokyo Office Executive Director Misako Ito speaking at the Garden’s 60th Anniversary Gala in Tokyo. Photo by Ken Kasturayama.

Portland Japanese Garden has, throughout its 60 years, made a concerted effort to establish and maintain strong relationships with individuals, organizations, and different levels of government in Japan. Now in 2023, the organization is delighted to share that it has established a permanent, year-round presence in Japan with an office at the International House of Japan, commonly referred to as I-House. This new office in Tokyo will afford both Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute better opportunities to collaborate with partners old and new in Japan.

Running the Japan office and overseeing the Garden and Institute’s day-to-day affairs in Tokyo will be its new Executive Director, Misako Ito. Ito, hired in the spring of 2023, was born and raised in Japan and studied at the Australian National University in Canberra and Tsuda University in Tokyo. Prior to joining the Garden, she held multiple positions with the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which included posts in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Singapore. Ito’s most recent position was as Secretary General for the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchanges (CULCON) at the Japan Foundation.

Misako Ito, Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute’s Japan Office. Photo by Nina Johnson.

“As Executive Director of the Japan office, I will be responsible for establishing a networking framework that will maintain, strengthen, and add connections between Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute and organizations and individuals in Japan,” Ito shared. “I will also support Japan Institute’s three programmatic centers [International Exchange Forum, International Japanese Garden Training Center, and Global Center for Culture & Art] here in Tokyo. Given how much of our programming includes people who are based here, it is clear there was a need to have a Garden representative working fulltime in Japan.”

Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute staff who organized the Gala in Tokyo. Photo by Ken Katsurayama.

Ito first learned about Portland Japanese Garden and its CEO, Steve Bloom, in 2007 while serving at the Embassy of Japan as Counselor and Director of the Japan Information & Culture Center (JICC). “I received a phone call from my former colleague at the Japan Foundation New York,” she reminisced. “He wanted me to meet with a very passionate American who ran a Japanese garden in Portland. So I did, and that is how I met Steve. I still remember our first meeting, because he was overwhelmingly passionate and knowledgeable about the Japanese gardens in the U.S. Our comradeship started as both of us are passionate about disseminating something to do with Japan and its culture!”

For Ito, the work that Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute does is meaningful. “We are in the middle of uncertain times,” Ito concluded. “People need mindfulness and wellbeing in harmony with nature. We need to immerse ourselves in the serenity of gardens, especially if you live in an urban setting. Japanese gardens offer the opportunity to enter a peaceful state of mind and soul, something critically needed for all people in this modern world. I am very excited to join Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute and to work toward our mission of inspiring harmony and peace.”