Nicole Tachiki named 2018 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen

The newly crowned 2018 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Nicole Tachiki and her court. photo by William Lee

San Francisco’s 51st annual Cherry Blossom Festival crowned its 2018 queen April 14 during the ceremony held at the AMC Kabuki 8 in the city’s Japantown.

The program, emceed by KTVU-TV reporter Jana Katsuyama and KGO-TV reporter David Louie, had Lauren Kieva Matsuno, Rachel Mika Kawawaki, Maya Hernandez, Nicole Tachiki and Emiri Sakurai vying for the title of queen.

At the end of the night Tachiki was crowned 2018 queen, and Hernandez first princess.

For the next year, the five women will travel across the United States representing Northern California’s Japanese American community.

Tachiki, as queen, will also visit Japan as part of a goodwill tour.

The program presented the 2017 Miss Tomodachi Award to Princess Kellie Rachel Ouye for best exemplifying friendship and congeniality during the previous court’s reign. The program also recognized outgoing Queen Jacquelyn Kimiko Chew and First Princess Hilary Kiyomi Ego with the Klara Ma Women’s Leadership and Service Award for their exemplary volunteerism throughout the previous year. Both court members said they plan to continue dedicating time to the Japanese American community after their reign ends.

Chew said she would continue to use her talent in traditional Japanese dance and Ego said she would continue on to serve on the Queen Program Committee.

2018 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Court. photo by William Lee

Queen Tachiki
“Learning to step out of my comfort zone and to be an advocate for myself, has made a huge difference in shaping my life and my career,” Tachiki, 25, said during the evening. “I want to encourage everyone to continually take risks outside of your comfort zones and never let fear keep you from doing something new,” she said, hoping to inspire others as a court member.

The Yonsei has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of California, Los Angeles and works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During her creative expression, Tachiki dedicated her candidacy to her late grandmother through a spoken word performance.

“I took the job in Washington, D.C. I was nervous of my path and you said to me this would be good and you had no doubt that I would be successful and you were happy,” she said. “…You were always my symbol of strength and resilience and I knew you wanted me to put on a brave face to feel close to you.”

Tachiki’s family flew up from Orange County to see her at the program. Lisa Tachiki, her sister, said it meant a lot for the new queen to dedicate her candidacy to their grandmother. “This is a really nice way to celebrate our grandma,” her elder sister said. “I think it was surprising for us that Nikki signed up for this and decided to dedicate it to our grandma because she passed this last year.”

Tachiki, in her capacity as queen, will travel to Japan as a goodwill ambassador. She received this year’s full furisode kimono set donated by the Fujiyasu Kimono Company of Tokyo. She is sponsored by Nihonmachi Street Fair.

Mixed Race First Princess
Hernandez, 26, was born in Japan and is of Japanese and Mexican descent. Because of her experiences living all over the world and being mixed race, Hernandez said she hopes to raise the issue of diversity while serving on the court. During her onstage interview, she said the biggest challenge facing Japanese Americans today is the issue of inclusion and diversity.

“I definitely think inclusion and education about being Japanese American and being half-Japanese and representing Japanese American communities is very important, and it’s a conversation I would love to have among the community here and around the country,” she said during her on-stage interview.

For her creative expression, Hernandez presented a series of floral arrangements she had previously created. While she does not specifically work in an ikebana style, Hernandez said she uses her training done in Japan as a way to fuse both her Western and Eastern cultural influences. Hernandez has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Johns Hopkins University and currently works in clinical research. She is sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California.

The Court
Matsuno, a 24-year-old Yonsei, from San Jose, said she was inspired to work in health care after she lost her grandfather to heart disease. “I have been pursuing medicine to not only take care of people around me, but to keep our stories alive,” she said. “Because when he passed away, so did my opportunity to learn more about his childhood and life experiences in Hawai‘i.” Matsuno performed the theme from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” on the cello. Matsuno has played the cello since middle school. She is sponsored by the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco

Kawawaki, a 23-year-old Gosei who is from Millbrae, Calif., said she grew up envying friends who spoke another language fluently or were more well versed in their ancestral culture. She began learning more about her roots in Japan by participating in the Japanese American Citizens League’s Kakehashi Program last year when she visited Japan as a cultural ambassador. Kawawaki performed a karate kata for her creative expression. The brown belt in Shotokan Karate, who was sponsored by Benihana, has been practicing since she was four years old.
Sakurai, a 24-year-old Shin Issei from San Jose, focused on her passion for empowering women in the work place. “I … realized, being a Japanese-born citizen raised in the United States, I should stay true to my cultural values, yet express my opinions in a confident yet respectful manner.” Sakurai, who was sponsored by Takara Sake USA, Inc., has been dancing since fourth grade. She performed a modern dance that embodied her personality for her creative expression.

With their first of many festivals and events completed, the 2018 cherry blossom queen court embarks upon a busy year of volunteerism and personal growth.

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