Meet Our Team

BENJAMIN CHU

President

Ben has an AA in Horticulture and has worked at the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG). There, he has supervised the Japanese garden since 1985. In 2012, he received the Foreign Minister’s Commendation from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his contributions to Japan/U.S. relations in the cultivation and promotion of the Japanese Garden. He has also served in various capacities on the NAJGA board. He is a member of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and is an ISA Certified Arborist.

Ben teaches pruning and Japanese Garden Design at MBG and through the University of Missouri Extension Master Gardener program. He has consulted, designed and built private Japanese Gardens and regularly consults and prunes at the Japanese Garden in Terrace Park in South Dakota.

Michelle Day

Vice President

Michelle Day Miles is the Executive Director of Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden where she is working with the Lethbridge and District Japanese Garden Society on their largest expansion.

Michelle has years of volunteerism and currently represents the University of Lethbridge as a Senator. She is chair of Tourism for Economic Development Lethbridge and Vice-President for Lethbridge Tourism DMO.

JEANETTE SCHELIN

Immediate Past President

With a background in non-profit management, Ms. Schelin assumed responsibility for managing the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden (EBMJG), California State University, Long Beach in 1995. With a staff of three full time employees, approximately 25 part time employees, and more than 500 volunteers, EBMJG’s mission is focused on cultural education for the CSULB campus and community. Under her direction EBMJG has been recognized by garden scholars as one of the most widely utilized and socially conscience gardens in North America.

Amongst her academic and creative activities, Ms. Schelin serves as the editor of The Lantern, a CSULB publication that has won numerous awards and co-chaired the International Conference of Japanese Gardens held in Long Beach in March 2009. She is a founding member of the board of the North American Japanese Garden Association, currently serving as Vice President and serves on the CSULB Sustainability Task Force. The EBMJG was acknowledged for Excellence in Sustainability by the California Secretary of Natural Resources and the California Museums Association in 2018. Ms. Schelin is the recipient of the David Gray Leadership Award from CSULB. She serves on numerous boards and community committees including the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Association, The Museum of Teaching and Learning, and the Howard Asian Art Collection.

EMI YOSHIMURA

Secretary 

Emi Yoshimura joined the Descanso Gardens management team in October 2013. She is currently their Operations and Administration Officer.

Prior to Descanso, she worked in Education and Exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for more than 11 years. Ms. Yoshimura holds bachelor and master’s degrees in biological sciences from Stanford University.

SHOZO KAGOSHIMA

Treasurer

Shozo Kagoshima is the Executive Director of the Hakone Foundation in Saratoga, CA.

Shozo is a native Californian, born and raised in the San Jose area. He spent the first 35 years of his career at the world-famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. He has spent the past five years as Executive Director for the Hakone Foundation leading a team of 10 staff members in managing the historic Hakone Estate and Gardens. He enjoys his “office view” every day because it is so tranquil and beautiful no matter what season it is.

MARISA RODRIGUEZ

Staff: Manager

Marisa Rodriguez is Manager of NAJGA. Marisa joined the NAJGA team in 2018, first as a volunteer, then as a part-time employee. She is very excited to join NAJGA as a full-time staff member and help build on the work of her predecessors to grow the organization into a strong multi-national network of Japanese garden professionals and enthusiasts.

Prior to joining the NAJGA Team, Marisa had been the Operations Assistant at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego from 2009-2019. Marisa holds a BA in Community Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego.

NAJGA BOARD MEMBERS

Barrie Agar has over thirty-five years of experience in the horticultural world. Her training on old estates in Ireland was useful for her tenure as Head Gardener at Hatley Park, Victoria, B.C. Trips to Japan to study some of the classic gardens laid the groundwork for restoring and adapting the current Japanese Garden at Hatley Park.

Peter Bowyer is owner of DBA Garden Form & Composition. Shaping earth, water, stone and plants individually, and in a larger scheme. Inspirations range from natural landscapes to cultural ones. Specializing in the intersection of arboriculture and landscape design by pruning plants and arranging landscape features to work together. Instructor for service-learning projects in public gardens.  Aesthetic Pruners Association and Merritt College Pruning Club functionary. Lead for sister city gardens in Oakland CA and Fukuoka Japan. CA Landscape Contractor License 712862; Certified Aesthetic Pruner 007, Merritt College Certificates in Aesthetic Pruning, Advanced Landscape Design & Construction, Advanced Parks & Gardens Maintenance; University of California Santa Cruz Certificate in Biological Horticulture.

Andrew Deane is a humanities teacher at an international school in Tokyo. His interest in Japanese gardens began during his first stay in Japan in the mid-1990s, and he is the author of the Japanese Garden Reference Guide available through the NAJGA website. He maintains a Japanese garden in the suburbs of Tokyo, and recently joined the NAJGA Board

Jim Elmore  Private Garden Owner

Nick Esthus is the Senior Gardener at the Fort Worth Japanese Garden and previously was the gardener at Memphis Botanic Garden’s Japanese garden. He attended the 2013 Japanese Garden Intensive Seminar in Kyoto and has assisted with previous NAJGA regional workshops across the country. Mr. Esthus holds a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Horticulture from The Ohio State University.

Tim Gruner is Curator at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, where he supervises a team of gardeners, and works under the direction of renowned garden designer Hoichi Kurisu. Tim has written numerous articles for Sukiya Living magazine and has served on the NAJGA board of directors and the editorial advisory board.

Nicole LaPlante owns and operates Land Art Fine Gardening in Peru, NY. She applies her formal education in Landscape Architecture and Restoration Ecology to Japanese-influenced garden building and aesthetic pruning practices. Nicki’s goal in each garden is to raise users’ sense of belonging in the natural world and the benefits of that connectivity, all in an artful and ecologically- mindful manner.

Maryann Lewis is an APA Certified Aesthetic Pruner and California licensed architect. She is thrilled to find that like architecture, aesthetic pruning is the combination of art and science. Maryann co-founded the Aesthetic Pruners Association in 2010 and is the owner of an aesthetic pruning business in Portland Oregon.

Jan Liverance Principal, Blue Skies Studio and Private garden owner

Michiko Kurisu

Akihito Nakanishi  Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Art, Culture and Education, Portland Japanese Garden

Don Pylant is a retired horticulturist, president and founder of Japanese Gardening Organization, Intl.  Four decades in horticulture, garden design, construction and maintenance led to his passion for Japanese gardens.

Dr Michael Rabkin is a retired skin pathologist who owns a private Japanese garden and enjoys Japanese gardens, hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities, martial arts, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and spending time with his wife, son, daughter in-law, and three grandchildren.

Reiko Reavis was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan. She moved to the United States in 1994 to attend Arizona State University. Her nonprofit management background and expertise in Japanese gardens and culture made her the natural choice to head the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix (JFG) as Executive Director for six years. Reiko continues to serve JFG as their current International Relations Liaison, a special ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. In order to continue her passion for traditional crafts and gardening, Reiko resides in Kyoto.

Duane Wingate  Private Garden Owner, Anderson Japanese Gardens Board Member

Do you want to join our

team of volunteers?