Executive Director of Japan-America Society of Indiana
Non-profit leader with more than three decades of fostering connections between Indiana and Japan.
In 1981, Indianapolis native Theresa Kulczak packed her bags and moved to Japan—in a decision that would define her professional career. She had recently graduated from Purdue University, where she majored in Public Relations and originally studied French. But through her university connections, Kulczak found an opportunity to teach English abroad in Japan.
Kulczak’s love of travel and passion for other cultures began at a young age. Her family regularly attended local cultural and ethnic festivals, and they enjoyed long-distance road trip vacations and outdoor adventures. She continued to pursue this passion during her collegiate studies, where she also discovered an interest in Buddhism and East Asian philosophy.
Theresa Kulczak spent three years teaching English in the Japanese countryside with the Catholic Church, before moving to the bustling city of Osaka, Japan. There, she worked at an advertising agency for another three years, where she gained a deep understanding of both traditional Japanese culture and modern Japanese business.
When Kulczak returned to the United States in 1987, she was ready to share her expertise with Indiana. At the time, Indiana Governor Robert Orr wanted to strengthen the relationship between Japan and the Hoosier state. He recognized a need for a dedicated organization that could foster cross-cultural relationships and attract Japanese companies to Indiana.
So, in 1988, Indiana business leaders came together to create the Japan-America Society of Indiana (JASI)—with Theresa Kulczak as one of the founding staff members. She and Mitchell E. Daniels, Sr. opened the office together, and in 1990 Theresa became the Executive Director and remains there today, leading the organization as they provide invaluable services to both Indiana and Japan.
“Now, there are over 300 Japanese business facilities in Indiana, but when JASI was formed there were only about 50,” said Kulczak. “The Indiana-Japan relationship has grown beyond what anyone could have imagined.”
JASI’s success can be credited to its keen attention to the needs of businesses, individuals, and partners alike. Over the years, they have hosted many cultural events, led valuable networking receptions, and guided government agencies through important delegations. Kulczak has worked closely with seven Indiana Governors and state administrations.
But their work goes beyond economic development and government affairs. JASI also helps facilitate cultural understanding and friendship between our two countries.
“It’s about the real experience of other cultures, understanding that we’re all human and that the Japanese people here really want to share their gifts and friendship while they’re here,” said Kulczak. “That represents the effect that our grassroots non-profit organizations can have.”
Many Hoosiers still remember the “Bridges to Japan” exhibit at the 2010 State Fair, which featured Japanese-inspired performances and a record-breaking attendance of 250,000 visitors. Then, after an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, JASI helped raise over $800,000 in relief funds, quickly becoming the fourth largest fund of its kind among similar Japan-related organizations in the United States.
In 2018, JASI realized a long-time goal of creating a Japan Culture Center in Indianapolis with an authentically designed space for tea ceremonies, cultural workshops, and meetings.
Over the years, Kulczak has received numerous recognitions for her dedicated work, including The Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Governor Mitch Daniels and The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays from the Government of Japan. The Order of the Rising Sun is a prestigious decoration conferred by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan.
Today, Kulczak continues to lead the Japan-America Society of Indiana toward a bright future. She has helped JASI become a model organization for international relations, helping Hoosiers develop international business relationships and friendships. In the coming years, JASI looks forward to continuing to develop new strategic initiatives connecting Indiana and Japan, involving industry, education, and bringing new forms of contemporary Japanese arts and culture to Indiana communities.