A new generation of leaders vying for queen


WHO WILL BE QUEEN? — (Clockwise from top left): Emily “Emi” Wagner, Samantha Teshima, Hannah KC Mukai, Kylie Tamura and Maya Isaka. photo by Mark Shigenaga

WHO WILL BE QUEEN? — (Clockwise from top left): Emily “Emi” Wagner, Samantha Teshima, Hannah KC Mukai, Kylie Tamura and Maya Isaka. photo by
Mark Shigenaga

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program presented its 2023 queen candidates during its virtual preview press conference March 15 over Zoom. The program, a highlight of the city’s annual cherry blossom festival, will take place April 8 at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason. The candidates are: Samantha Michiko Teshima, Maya Isaka, Emily “Emi” Wagner, Kylie Katsuko Tamura and Hannah KC Mukai.

Samantha Michiko Teshima
Samantha Michiko Teshima, 26, is a Gosei from Danville, Calif. She attended the University of California, Davis, receiving a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and a minor in professional writing. She obtained her doctor of pharmacy from the University of Pacific. She is currently in her first year of postgraduate training at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center.

Teshima said that while both her parents are pharmacists and California has ethnically and racially diverse people working in the industry, she noted that most pharmacists in higher positions of power in the United States are white and male. She said she hopes to make the profession more diverse.

As a fifth-generation Japanese American, Teshima also spoke about her connections to her Japanese American heritage.

“Although I didn’t directly experience (Japanese American incarceration), I am very grateful for the stories that my grandmother was able to share with me about her experiences in the camp. And even more importantly, when my great grandmother was still alive, I was old enough to understand what she was telling me when she told me all her stories, the hardships we faced,” Teshima said.

Teshima will perform the “First Arabesque” by Claude Debussy on the piano for her creative expression.

She is sponsored by Flagstar Bank, N.A.

Maya Isaka
Maya Isaka, 23, is a Shin-Nisei from San Jose. Her father is Japanese from Saitama Prefecture while her mother is Vietnamese. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with degrees in business economics and psychology. She is a project coordinator at Intuitive, where she facilitates medical device usability studies to get product feedback. She hopes to make medical treatment more accessible to all people.

Isaka’s parents and extended family also work in the medical field, teaching her the intricacies of medical care and the challenges some people face getting the care they need.

“I was really blessed to grow up around different care and be able to just have my hand guided through where to go, … even where to park and how to navigate the different type of insurance,” she said. “And so a goal for me would not just to create treatments, such as an easy to use medical device or a pill that can help treat, but also an easier system to navigate.”

Isaka will perform a cover of “In My Life” by the Beatles on the ‘ukulele, originally arranged by Jake Shimabukuro, for her creative expression. Isaka said she has been unable to forget the piece since her father took Isaka and her family to see Shimabukuro play in Saratoga, Calif. in 2012.

She is sponsored by the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.

Emily “Emi” Wagner
Emily “Emi” Wagner, 19, is a Shin-Nisei from Hayward, Calif. Her mother hails from Saitama Prefecture and her father is white. She is pursuing a degree in molecular cell biology at San Francisco State University. She also works part-time at Amakara Sushi.

Wagner said she was influenced by her mother’s cultural background and enjoys cooking vegan shojin ryori, a style of cooking monks eat in Japan. Wagner, who became a vegan three years ago, said the plant-based cuisine has helped her, since Japanese cuisine often incorporates fish or meat.

“The ingredients that are most popularly used are like natto, tofu, or konnyaku, miso, which are easy to get,” she said. “I like cooking shojin ryori because I think it makes being vegan as a Japanese American a lot easier.”

Wagner said she also grew up going to eLoha Gakko, where she learned Japanese and has fond memories of sports day and mochitsuki events. She said she later volunteered at Sakura Gakuen to “give back” to the community for the experience she had at eLoha.

Wagner will show off her photography as her creative expression. She enjoys taking photos both digitally and with film.

She is sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California.

Kylie Katsuko Tamura
Kylie Katsuko Tamura, 25, is a fifth-generation Gosei from Concord, Calif. She attended the University of Oregon and majored in economics. She is a team lead at Vaco, where she manages seven people in content localization and project management.

Tamura, sponsored by the Concord Buddhist Sunday School, said she always looks forward to the annual summer festival the organization holds.

“There’s a lot of prep and construction that happens and I really look forward to it every year, even though it’s a lot of work,” she said. “They’re long hours, right after work, too. But it’s a lot of fun, and you get to see a lot of people that you don’t get to see the rest of the year who just come out to help out for that.”

Tamura said events like the summer festival helps bring new people into the community and helps bring new people into organizations.

She plans to perform BTS’ “Permission to Dance” in American Sign Language. “Over the past couple of years, especially during the peak of the pandemic, I realized the importance of non-verbal communication, so since then, I’ve been learning sign language and trying to get better so that I can better communicate with those around me.”

Hannah KC Mukai
Hannah KC Mukai, 23, is a Yonsei from Fresno, Calif. She attended the University of California, Berkeley and majored in sociology. She currently works as an assistant director of parent and family philanthropy at UC Berkeley.

Mukai is a Yonsei from her father’s side and a second-generation Chinese American on her mother’s side.

“I take pride in both of these identities. With my Yonsei side, … the Issei, the Nisei and Sansei have come before me, and I very much stand on the shoulders of them, and all the work they did to establish such a strong community in America,” she said. “I also understand that it’s my responsibility to take on that responsibility now, and continue the community that they have worked so hard to build.”

Mukai is active in Japanese American organizations including Tsuru for Solidarity and Japanese American Citizens League. She said she joined the organizations because Japanese Americans have built the moral standing to advocate for others after going through the wartime incarceration themselves and winning redress from the American government.

For her creative expression, Mukai will play “Merry Go Round of Life” by Joe Hisaishi from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” on the cello.

She is sponsored by Takara Sake USA, Inc.

New Venue
While the queen program has previously been held at the AMC Kabuki 8 in San Francisco’s Japantown, this year, it moves about two miles north of the ethnic enclave, to San Francisco’s Fort Mason.

“We cherish the decades that we have held program night at the Kabuki Theater. We’re also excited for the new opportunity to host it at the Cowell Theater this year,” Maya Hernandez, co-chair of the Queen Program, told the Nichi Bei News. “In the future, we will continue to assess whether to keep it at the new venue or bring it back to Japantown.”

The queen program will be held April 8 at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco. Doors open at 5 p.m. The program starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 general admission and can be purchased online at http://www.nccbfqueenprogram.org/events/ (online processing fee applies).

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