S.F. Cherry Blossom Queen candidates announced

SISTERHOOD OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS ­— The five candidates for this year’s term as Cherry Blossom Queen are (from top to bottom) Emiri Sakurai, Nicole “Nikki” Tachiki, Maya Hernandez, Rachel Mika Kawawaki and Lauren Kieva Matsuno. photo by William Lee

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program presented its 2018 queen candidates during its annual preview March 11 at the Union Bank Community Room in San Francisco’s Japantown. The queen program, a highlight of San Francisco’s annual cherry blossom festival, will take place Saturday, April 14 at the AMC Kabuki 8. The candidates are: Lauren Kieva Matsuno, Rachel Mika Kawawaki, Maya Hernandez, Nicole Tachiki and Emiri Sakurai.

Lauren Kieva Matsuno
Lauren Kieva Matsuno, 24, is a Yonsei from San Jose. She has a bachelor’s degree in molecular toxicology from the University of California, Berkeley. She works as a scribe for an internal medicine and infectious diseases physician in Fremont, Calif. Matsuno, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent, said she entered the program to gain a better connection to her father’s ethnic roots. “Some of the goals I had was to learn more about my identity,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about what it means to be Japanese American and this opportunity is a great way to learn more about our community here.” Matsuno said she has learned that the Japanese American community is “diverse,” noting that there are both recent immigrants from Japan as well and multi-generational families who have resided in America since before the war.
For her creative expression, Matsuno will perform the cello.
Matsuno is sponsored by the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco.

Rachel Mika Kawawaki
Rachel Mika Kawawaki, 23, is a Gosei from Millbrae, Calif. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in managerial economics from the University of California, Davis. She is a workplace effectiveness scenario and space planning intern at Genentech. Kawawaki learned about the program from her sister, Lauren Kawawaki, who was the 2011 court’s Miss Tomodachi. “I saw how much she gained and improved and learned from this program … I’ve always really admired her, looked up to her, and so I thought that there was a lot I could learn if I took part as well,” she said.
Kawawaki’s parents enrolled her in shotokan karate when she was four years old to teach her discipline. She grew to love competing in front of audiences and entering tournaments. Today she is a brown belt. While she put aside her karate practice in high school, she said she picked it back up recently and hopes to obtain a black belt soon.
For her creative expression, Kawawaki will perform karate kata. Kawawaki is sponsored by Benihana.

Maya Hernandez
Maya Hernandez, 26, is from San Diego, Calif. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Johns Hopkins University and is a clinical researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. While born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother, Hernandez considers herself a Nikkei since she moved to America when she was two weeks old and spent the first few years of her childhood in San Diego. Her father, who was in the U.S. military and later continued to work for the government, moved the family around frequently. Hernandez lived in Texas, Michigan, Okinawa, Maryland and Massachusetts before she came back to California three years ago. She resided in Okinawa for four years while attending middle school and high school. “My favorite memory is actually going to the beach after school,” she said. “They have these beautiful sea walls that were covered in artwork from local residents and we would go there and hang out. That’s one of my fondest memories.”
Hernandez will present a floral arrangement for her creative expression. She learned how to arrange flowers while working for a flower shop in Boston under a Japanese owner. She said the owner taught her how to incorporate emotions into her arrangements.
Hernandez is sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California.

Nicole “Nikki” Tachiki
Nicole “Nikki” Tachiki, 25, is a Yonsei from Anaheim Hills, Calif. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of California, Los Angeles and currently works for the Environmental Protection Agency. Tachiki said she grew up admiring her grandmother, whom she considered a strong and resilient woman. “I think one of the things she did in order to always move forward in life was to never dwell on the past,” Tachiki said. “So I grew up in a very American household and I wanted to learn more about my Japanese American culture and the Japanese roots that are in my family, so that’s one of the reasons why I applied to this program.”
To promote her own Asian heritage and understanding of other Asian groups, Tachiki is also a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program. “There isn’t a heavy Asian American population where I work, so it’s a great way to put on cultural events to increase cultural awareness and it’s a great way for us to network within our organization and with each other,” she said.
Tachiki will perform spoken word for her creative expression. She is sponsored by Nihonmachi Street Fair.

Emiri Sakurai
Emiri Sakurai, 24, is a Shin Issei from San Jose. She received her bachelor’s degrees in marketing from San Diego State University and international business from Kedge Business School in Marseille, France. She is an assistant manager of search engine marketing at Sephora’s digital marketing and me dia department. Having moved from Japan at the age of one, Sakurai said she grew up with Japanese-speaking parents and around the San Jose Japanese American community. “I never really noticed the difference between a Japanese person who was born in Japan living in the U.S. versus a Japanese American,” she said. “And so throughout spending time with my fellow sisters, I was able to really understand that we have different experiences and we have completely different backgrounds, but in the end we’re all struggling and facing the same issues.”
She will dance for her creative expression.
“In the beginning, at San Diego State University, I was a dance major,” she said. “I went from dance major to liberal studies — I wanted to become a teacher — and then I went into business. I think the majority of me wanting to go into marketing was my father, who was very business oriented, a salaryman.”
Sakurai is sponsored by Takara Sake, USA Inc.

The Queen Program will be held Saturday, April 14, at the AMC Kabuki 8, 1881 Post St. (at Fillmore) in San Francisco’s Japantown. Doors open at 4 p.m. The program starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 general admission, and can be purchased at the door with cash or check. For more information, visit www.nccbfqueenprogram.org.

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