The 2016 Cherry Blossom Court was introduced to the public on April 10 in San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza. From left: Princess Nicole Harada, Princess Breana Inoshita, Princess Kyla Kajioka, Queen Samantha Tsukiji, First Princess Marisa Sum, Princess Jan Cash, Princess Kona Kawai (Photo by David Yu)

SAN FRANCISCO — Samantha Beth Tsukiji was crowned at the 49th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program, held April 9 at the Sundance Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Tsukiji, who turns 27 on April 20, is sponsored by the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco. A native of San Jose and daughter of Ben and Sharon Tsukiji, she graduated from UC Santa Barbara as a sociology major with a minor in exercise and sports studies. Her goal is to get her master’s degree in sports management.

A Golden State Warriors fan who enjoys playing basketball, she chose basketball for her creative expression on stage. She hopes to someday fund a basketball program for underprivileged children.

Tsukiji was crowned by 2015 Queen Kelli Asako Sum.

The title of First Princess went to Marisa Sum, 26, sponsored by the Golden Gate Optimist Club of San Francisco. A native of Castro Valley and daughter of Stephen Vincent Jr. and Kathleen Michiko Sum, she received a bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition from UC Davis and is attending Life Chiropractic College West. Her goal is to increase access to holistic health for underserved populations and to educate communities on nutrition and whole bod connectedness.

Her creative expression on stage was Japanese classical dance. She also enjoys hula, ballet, hip-hop, ballroom, freestyle and Tahitian dance.

Sum was crowned by 2015 First Princess Nina Marie Myers.

Samantha Tsukiji was applauded by her fellow candidates when she was named this year’s Cherry Blossom Queen on April 9 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema. (Photo by William Lee)

The 2016 Cherry Blossom Court — the largest in 15 years with seven members — also includes:

Princess Kona Melissa Kawai, 20, sponsored by MatsuiHide. A native of Japan and an international business major at San Francisco State University, she hopes to serve as a bridge between the U.S. and Japan in the business field. Her creative expression on stage was koto.

Princess Nicole Kiyomi Harada, 23, sponsored by Nikkei Traditions of San Jose. A native of Mountain View, she has a BA in business economics from UC Irvine and hopes to help the spirit of Japantown thrive for future generations. Her creative expression on stage was taiko.

Princess Kyla Kajioka, 23, sponsored by Takara Sake USA Inc. A native of Mountain View, she has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from San Jose State University. She hopes to pursue a career in the professional sports field and earn her MBA. Her creative expression on stage was dance.

Princess Jan Mitsuko Cash, 24, sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California. A native of Pleasanton with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University, she hopes to translate a novel, write a novel and create an app. Her creative talent on stage was origami.

Princess Breana Mayumi Inoshita, 20, sponsored by Benihana. A native of Sacramento with bachelor’s degrees in Asian American studies and community regional development from UC Davis, she hopes to become a lawyer specializing in civil rights law or environmental law. Her creative expression on stage was Japanese classical dance.

Samantha Tsukiji’s on-stage talent during the program was basketball. (Photo by Kahn Yamada)

The outgoing court also included Princesses Karine Brenda Worley and Taylor Keiko-Lehua Davis. The 2015 Miss Tomodachi Award was given to Davis by her fellow court members for exemplifying friendship and congeniality throughout the 2015 court’s tenure.

The program, which included a dance number featuring all seven candidates, was emceed by broadcast journalists Jana Katsuyama of KTVU and David Louie of ABC7. During an unrehearsed segment, the emcees interviewed the candidates on stage. Special guests included Consul General Jun Yamada.

The coronation was held on the first day of the four-day Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. The following day on the Peace Plaza Stage in Japantown, the 2016 Cherry Blossom Court was introduced to the public by emcee George Yamasaki.

The festival concluded on April 17 with the Grand Parade, which went from City Hall to Japantown. The Cherry Blossom Court was joined by their fellow queens and princesses from Los Angeles (Nisei Week) and Honolulu.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program is dedicated to mentoring young women so they may develop the service and leadership skills in addition to creating community connections necessary to promote not just stronger individuals, but also a stronger community. Court members volunteer with various local community events and organizations as well as going on goodwill tours to Los Angeles, Hawaii, Washington and Japan, including Japan’s sister city of Osaka, over the course of a year.

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