Kyle Sayaka Fujiki Tana crowned 2014 Northern Calif. Cherry Blossom Queen

The 2014 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen’s court. (Left to right): Alessandra Mieko Dameshghi, Kristin Mariko  Matsumoto, Saaya Stephanie Sakurai, Queen Kyle Sayaka Fujiki Tana and First Princess Alison Ke’pola Nishiyama. photo by William Lee

The 2014 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen’s court. (Left to right): Alessandra Mieko Dameshghi, Kristin Mariko Matsumoto, Saaya Stephanie Sakurai, Queen Kyle Sayaka Fujiki Tana and First Princess Alison Ke’pola Nishiyama. photo by William Lee

With cherry blossoms in bloom in San Francisco’s Japantown, the 47th annual Cherry Blossom Festival began April 12, and with it, the new queen’s court was named that evening during the queen program at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

Emcees Jana Katsuyama, a KTVU reporter, and George Kiriyama, a former NBC Bay Area reporter, led the program, which featured five young women — Saaya Stephanie Sakurai, Kristin Mariko Matsumoto, Alison Ke’pola Nishiyama, Alessandra Mieko Dameshghi and Kyle Sayaka Fujiki Tana — vying for the title of queen. Six judges scored the candidates based upon an essay, a backstage interview conducted by the judges, an on-stage interview with the emcees, a speech and a creative expression segment.

Second-Generation Queen
Tana, sponsored by the Golden Gate Optimist Club of San Francisco, won the title amid loud cheering from her supporters in the audience, earning the same title won by her mother 40 years ago. She was crowned with a tiara and given a black furisode kimono adorned with orange and red peonies, donated by the Fujiyasu Kimono Company in Tokyo. In the coming year, she will serve as a goodwill ambassador and representative for the Northern California Nikkei community.

“I feel awesome and elated, words cannot do justice,” Tana told the Nichi Bei Weekly following the program. She hopes to spend the year representing the Northern California Nikkei community, and using her knowledge in mural-making to leave her mark by painting at least one mural in the ethnic enclave.

The arts have always been important to Tana, who said her family was separated during World War II. Tana said her grandmother was imprisoned with her three sons in Gila River, Ariz, while her Buddhist minister grandfather was imprisoned in Lordsburg, N.M. Tana said in her speech that art helped her grandparents communicate through tanka poetry, since letters were censored. Now working at Mural Music & Arts Project in East Palo Alto, Calif., she said her job is to “make sure all youths are exposed to art.” Tana performed a modern dance with a mural backdrop she painted.

Tana wore a dress that her mother, Marjorie Fujiki, wore when she was crowned queen in 1974. To further the family connection, Tana’s grandmother made the dress. Fujiki said that she appreciated that the program emphasizes the court as a group rather than just the individual. “The community service and leadership program has come a long way.”

Akira Tana, Tana’s father, said he was proud of his daughter’s commitment to juggling her professional life with the program. He said her creative expression, wherein she performed a modern dance in front of a mural she painted, was “spot on with connecting to her life in art.” He also said she may be the program’s first queen with a former queen for a mother.

The First Princess and Miss Tomodachi
Nishiyama, sponsored by Takara Sake USA Inc., was crowned first princess and named Miss Tomodachi by her fellow candidates for congeniality.

She said she was “happy to spend the rest of the year” with her fellow court members and was glad her friends and family were able to attend the program. Nishiyama said she was humbled at being named Miss Tomodachi. “It brings tears to my eyes and I can’t wait to get to know them better throughout the year.”

Nishiyama, born and raised in Hawai‘i, danced hula for her creative expression and spoke fondly of food during her speech and interview. She said food holds a great deal of meaning to her family as an opportunity to pass down the culinary culture and traditions, and to talk, cook and eat with her elders during holiday gatherings.

Nishiyama is currently working and studying at the University of San Francisco to earn an M.B.A. to take back to Hawai‘i and help her father’s nonprofit youth organization, Kama‘aina Kids.

The Princesses
Sakurai, Matsumoto and Dameshghi will join Tana and Nishiyama as the 2014 princesses.

Sakurai, a biochemistry and molecular biology student at University of California, Davis, spoke about the strength her best friend gave her through compassion when she was bullied at school. She cited her mother as a confidant and said her participation in the program is also in part to thank her. Sakurai, sponsored by the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco, performed a flute solo to Ariana Grande’s “Daydreamin.’”

Matsumoto, who studied plant biology at UC Davis, spoke about what people can learn from plants. “Plants have taught us how to adapt,” she said. While working with children, she was called boring, but she learned to adapt and develop a thick skin. Matsumoto, sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, performed an original taiko composition.

Dameshghi spoke about being different from everyone else in a room and taking pride in it. “How boring would it be if everyone were the same,” she said. Dameshghi focused on her height and her pride in being short. Dameshghi said she developed a bigger personality as a result and proudly owned her height with an abundance of energy and volume. Dameshghi, sponsored by Benihana, performed a Tahitian dance.

Acknowledging Service
Benh Nakajo, chair of the queen committee, said the outgoing court participated in 50 events. The program featured a slideshow of their trips to other Nikkei queen courts and a goodwill tour in Japan. Nakajo said the court helped to raise thousands for various charities.

Nakajo also thanked Glenda Okamura, a queen committee volunteer, for her 35 years of serving the program and exemplifying the spirit of volunteerism for the program.

Tiffany Sieu Okimura, 2013 court member and Miss Tomodachi recipient, received the Klara Ma Women’s Leadership & Service Award. Named after the former Cherry Blossom Festival chair and Japantown businesswoman, the award is given to court members who have exhibited exceptional dedication to the program. Kiyomi Tanaka, the 2010 award recipient, presented the award to Okimura, who was taken by complete surprise and was at a loss for words.

The 2013 Queen Kelly Yuka Walton said she and the court have experienced a myriad of once-in-a-lifetime experiences throughout their reign, learning about the Japanese American community’s history and the prospects for the community’s future. “It was inspiring to witness our community’s commitment to action and service because these values helped us blossom into the leaders we are today,” she said. She said each member of the community is a “change agent” and called everyone present to do something that embodies the Japanese American legacy of “action and service.”


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