The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival unveiled its 2012 Queen candidates and presented a festival preview at San Francisco’s Japantown on March 10. The yearly event, set to take place over two weekends in April, will crown the new queen on April 14 at the annual Queen Program.
Benh Nakajo, program chairperson, called the introduction of the new candidates an “end and a beginning.” Nakajo said the Queen Program differs from other Cherry Blossom Festival programs in that the court remains active all year. This year, court members visited the Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival and Nisei Week in Los Angeles, and the queen visited Japan. The current court will also visit Hawai‘i later this month for their Cherry Blossom Festival.
Four of the five court members from the 2011 court also attended the event: Queen Jeddie Kawahatsu, first princess Tamiko Escalante, Miss Tomodachi Lauren Kawawaki and Richelle Farley. Kaori Saito, the fifth member of the court, is currently in San Diego for school.
“Cherish today and have fun,” Kawawaki advised the new court.
Miki Fukai, a 22-year-old student from Saitama, Japan, moved to the United States five years ago to attend the St. Croix Lutheran High School in St. Paul, Minn. so she could learn English. “It was a bit of a challenge for me to go to the countryside of a foreign country,” she said. “The environment really pressured me to study English harder.”
For college, however, she moved to San Francisco. “I’m a city girl; I wanted to live and study somewhere with public transportation for college,” she said. She currently attends San Francisco State University, where she is studying marketing. She hopes to start an international fashion business with clothing from Japan. “I always track trends and help pick out what looks good for people,” she said. “Fashion is a hobby I want to take into my professional career.”
Fukai plans to play a piece on the trumpet during the talent portion of the program.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California is sponsoring Fukai.
Asaki Osato, a 21-year-old Shin-Nisei from San Jose, is studying statistics and economics at the University of California, Davis.
She is a member of the school’s Japanese American Student Society and the former vice president of events for the Student Alumni Association. She currently volunteers as a math tutor for local schools.
Osato hopes to find a job in finance, which will take her across the globe. “I’ve always wanted to visit Israel — the culture there seems so different,” she said. She also wishes to travel throughout Europe and a number of African countries, such as South Africa.
For her talent, she will do a dance. “I used to dance ballet in high school and was a part of a dance team in middle school,” she said. “I’ll be incorporating those into a mix of arts.”
Takara Sake USA Inc. is sponsoring Osato.
Megumi Yoshida moved from Kyoto to Eugene, Ore. in 1996. Her parents now live in Portland, where her mother teaches at a Japanese immersion program.
After high school, she applied to the Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. as an international student. “There usually aren’t a lot of scholarships for international students, but Mount Holyoke had a generous one,” she said. “When I told my mother she said, ‘You’re not going to Massachusetts,’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah? Watch.’ And I did.”
Yoshida, 24, studied anthropology, but fell in love with filmmaking through a chance encounter with a film class. She now works with her “partner in crime” — her sister, who is a composition major studying in Japan — to make movies. She hopes to pursue a career in filmmaking to tell the story of Japanese American immigration, and to become a role model as an Asian American in the media.
Megumi Yoshida will be singing for her performance at the program.
The Golden Gate Optimist Club of San Francisco is sponsoring Yoshida.
Manami Kidera, a Sacramento, Calif. native, was raised in Nevada City, Calif. “My parents and I always speak Japanese at home,” she said. “My dad doesn’t speak much English.”
In total, however, Kidera is fluent in five different languages: English, Japanese, German, Italian and Spanish. The 22-year-old has studied in both Germany and Italy. She admits her Spanish is a little rusty, though, as she speaks it like an Italian, “hand motions and all.”
Kidera studies linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is especially interested in language structures and syntax for English. Using her knowledge in multiple languages, she hopes to go on to international law, and work with a variety of different cultures across the world.
She is a fan of Japanese music and will sing enka for her talent.
Benihana is sponsoring Kidera.
Chihiro Hirai moved to the U.S. four years ago to study microbial biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She had lived in the U.S. for three years while her father studied at the school for his doctorate. Hirai attended the Canadian Academy, an international high school in Kobe, Japan where she studied in English.
Hirai, 21, is also taking a minor in LGBT studies. “It was the first class I took for general ed., and I was blown away,” she said. “It complements the microbio because so much of the LGBT community is influenced by the scientific community.”
Hirai hopes to become an international doctor through an organization such as Doctors Without Borders. She said the prerequisites to medical school are “tough,” but that she is making progress to reaching her goal.
Hirai will perform spoken word at the program.
The Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco is sponsoring Hirai.
Tickets to the 2012 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program, which will be held April 14 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, located at 1881 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown, will go on sale in the lobby of the theater. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the program starts at 6 p.m. General admission is $25 a person. Parking will be available at the Japan Center Garages.