2013 Northern Calif. Cherry Blossom Queen Program candidates announced

The 2013 Queen Candidates for the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Clockwise from bottom left: Kelly Yuka Walton, Kimberly Miya Sasaki, Michiko Marie Maggi, Tiffany Sieu Okimura and Jamie Sachiko Martyn. photo by William Lee

The 2013 Queen Candidates for the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Clockwise from bottom left: Kelly Yuka Walton, Kimberly Miya Sasaki, Michiko Marie Maggi, Tiffany Sieu Okimura and Jamie Sachiko Martyn. photo by William Lee

The five candidates who will compete for the title of Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen were introduced to the public for the first time on Saturday, March 16 at the Union Bank Community Room in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Michiko Marie Maggi, Jamie Sachiko Martyn, Tiffany Sieu Okimura, Kimberly Miya Sasaki and Kelly Yuka Walton will participate in the Queen Program Saturday, April 13, giving speeches, performing traditional Japanese dance and participating in a question-and-answer section.

This year, the popular talent portion has been reimagined as the “Creative Expression” category. Benh Nakajo, chairperson of the Queen Program, said he enjoys the chance for the candidates to show their individuality, which he feels the new category title emphasizes.

He also said that he was impressed with the candidates’ academic backgrounds. “They have degrees and study things I don’t understand,” Nakajo said. “It’s amazing the level of education these people have.”

Michiko Marie Maggi
Michiko Marie Maggi, 25, who graduated from the University of the Pacific with a master’s degree in educational leadership and holds an undergraduate degree in English and film studies, teaches leadership and multiculturalism at Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif. “I have students that are from 17 to 70 years old,” Maggi said. “We’re all learning from each other because we are so diverse in ethnicity and age and other ways.”

Maggi, who is sponsored by Benihana, said that she hopes to get a doctorate in educational leadership and create a theater arts foundation that teaches students empathy, which she believes is especially important given the increasing budget cuts for arts programs at public schools.

For her creative expression, Maggi, a Yonsei, will present a short film on her life’s story. The project has been challenging for her, she said, since she studied film theory rather than film production. She also said that she thinks that making short films could be a good way for the court to reach out to younger members of the Japanese American community.

Jamie Sachiko Martyn
As the daughter of a diplomat, Jamie Sachiko Martyn, 24, spent part of her childhood abroad, living in Pakistan and France, and, while majoring in international relations and studio art at Virginia Tech, she studied in Japan and Korea. Martyn said she hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps by entering the foreign service.

Martyn, whose mother is from Nagasaki and her father from the American South, said she fell in love with San Francisco during a layover and decided to move here after graduating. “The energy was the right fit for me. I knew the next chapter of my life would be in California,” Martyn said. She works at Sunrun in San Francisco, a leading solar service provider.

Martyn, sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, will be doing a live drawing during the program, but she said the content isn’t decided. “It’s been a hobby of mine since I was a little kid, so I thought it would be fun to do that.” Another of Martyn’s ambitions is to draw children’s books, starting with a book about the various neighborhoods and “hidden gems” of San Francisco.

Tiffany Sieu Okimura
Foster City, Calif. resident Tiffany Sieu Okimura, 22, a preschool assistant teacher who majored in sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara, has been practicing Japanese classical dancing since the age of 5.

This passion, however, has not been entirely without challenges. “It was tough doing Japanese dancing when I was a teenager because it’s not something everyone does,” Okimura said, “but now it’s part of who I am.”

Okimura, who is sponsored by Takara Sake, said she is excited to share the dance with the Queen Program audience. “It’s an exposure to a different segment of Japanese culture. I’m really proud of it and there’s so much grace to it,” Okimura said.

Since she, a Yonsei, grew up attending the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Okimura said that participating in the Queen Program is particularly meaningful to her. “Ever since I was 5 I’ve been participating in the festival with dancing,” Okimura said. “I remember I always saw the queen float going by and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Kimberly Miya Sasaki
Kimberly Miya Sasaki, 24, works as a pharmacy clerk at San Francisco General Hospital and said she hopes to work as a psychiatric pharmacist in the future.

Sasaki said that pharmacy is “in her blood,” as her parents and grandfather are pharmacists. “I always liked health care and working with people,” the animal biology major from the University of California, Davis said. “I’m fascinated by psychiatric pharmacy … I think that the client-pharmacist relationship is imperative.”

Sasaki, who was on her dance team in high school, will perform a jazz dance. “I kind of dance like a baby giraffe. It’s kind of erratic. I might not be the best, but I enjoy doing it,” Sasaki said. She is sponsored by the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco.

A Yonsei on both sides, Sasaki said she has considered entering the Queen Program for years. “I remember looking at the pictures in the magazines and thinking I wanted to do it someday, so this is amazing,” Sasaki said.

Kelly Yuka Walton
Kelly Yuka Walton, 25, who teaches eighth grade math in Redwood City, said she is interested in being a politician or principal, or possibly remaining a teacher. “Being in the classroom is an important job and I would feel very fulfilled doing that,” said Walton, who studied gender studies at Brown University and received a master’s degree in education at Stanford University.

Walton considers it an “honor” to participate in the Queen Program. “I feel so blessed to have been part of the Japanese American community. It’s been such a huge part of my life. It’s always been a goal of mine to give back for all I’ve received so I’m looking forward to doing that.”

Walton considers herself a Nisei, although she said that she, along with her mother, are both technically Issei. Walton, who was born in Japan while her mother was living on a U.S. military base, said she has the “full support” of her math students. “My students are really excited about it,” she said. “They are like, ‘You got this, Ms. Walton!’”

Walton’s sponsor is Kagami Kai, a first-time sponsor of the Queen Program that became involved in part to support Walton, whose family has been a longtime member of the group.
Asaki Osato, the current queen, said the participants seemed “very intelligent.”

“Their average age is lot older than ours and a lot of them have master’s (degrees), so that will help them since they are already working and have professional skills,” Osato said.

As for ending her own term as queen, Osato said the hardest thing will be to not see the court members as often. “The court and I are parting ways, traveling and going to work, so it’s sad we won’t get to spend time together as much, but I know we will stay in touch,” Osato said.

Tickets to the 2013 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Program, which will be held Saturday, April 13 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. To purchase tickets in advance, contact Tosh Mitsuda at (650) 871-9287.

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