The 2019 Cherry Blossom Court (from left): Princess Nami Katie Saito, Princess Elena Harumi Nielsen, Princess Stephanie Reiko Gee, First Princess NaOmi Leilani Furukawa, Queen Yuki Nishimura. (Photo by Mark Shigenaga)

SAN FRANCISCO — Given the evolving situation around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program will not be moving forward with selecting a 2020 Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and Court.

The 2020 candidates will be pursuing candidacy in 2021.

The festival co-chairs and Queen Program Committee are most eager to give the candidates the opportunity to fully experience the festival and their court year in 2021.

“Our candidates have a deep commitment to being involved in the community. We are looking forward to the candidates volunteering at a wide variety of community events during their court year,” said Yuka Walton and Asaki Osato, Queen Program co-chairs.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program looks forward to joining the community for the 2021 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

2019 Queen’s Farewell by Yuki Nishimura

On behalf of the 2019 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Court, I would like to welcome each and every one of you to the virtual 2020 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

I have come to love this annual homage to the Japanese American heritage with demonstrations of odori to taiko to ikebana; it showcases the diversity of our arts and celebrates our vibrant cultural identity. Over these next two weekends, I hope that you enjoy the online features of cultural performances, arts and crafts area, and various presentations.

When I reflect back on this past year, I cannot help but to start with my court sisters –NaOmi, who is the definition of hard-work and perseverance; Stephanie, who has dedicated two decades of her life to odori and will always be there to help you when you need her; Nami, who despite being the youngest one on our court, always keeps us honest with each other; and Elena, who continually motivates those around her by her sincerity and passion for Japantown.

These fellow leaders showed me the strength in working together as a group and the importance of asking for help when you need it the most. Whatever we could have achieved individually, we were able to accomplish far greater with our teamwork and bonding throughout this year of service. I trust and respect NaOmi, Stephanie, Nami, and Elena and cannot thank them enough. It has truly been an honor serving with these women.

By volunteering this past year through this program, I also feel that I found a place in the Japanese American community that I identify with and can contribute to. I immigrated to this country when I was five years old and my understanding of this community was limited to the few matsuri that my family and I would attend and the naginata (Japanese martial art) performances I had at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. By joining this program, I was immersed in what felt like a year-long celebration of this shared Japanese-American culture.

Nami and I participated in our first-ever Obon festivals last summer. Stephanie, NaOmi, and Elena used their expertise, but mostly patience, to teach the two of us how to dance properly and though we were bumping into each other for the duration of the dances, it easily became one of my best summer memories.

We also had the rare opportunity to celebrate Wakamatsu Farm’s 150th anniversary of the first Japanese colony in the United States, where we were able to learn and appreciate our community’s earliest ancestors.

We celebrated our friendship with our sister courts through goodwill visits to L.A. and Hawaii and had the opportunity to thank Fujiyasu Kimono Company for their years of generous donations of beautifully handcrafted kimonos. All of this allowed us to experience the Japanese American community here and beyond Northern California.

Through this program, I also met and spoke with inspirational leaders who dedicated the majority of their lives to invigorating the community and learned of the Japanese American history that is not told in the folds of textbooks, but, rather, grasped in the oral histories of the veterans, survivors, and community members.

The 2019 court with their sponsors and Queen Committee members.

NaOmi, Stephanie, and Elena also shared their family histories, which were deeply rooted in Japanese internment history. Hearing these personal narratives, I have begun to appreciate the resilience and diversity of our community. I know that this experience would not have been possible without this program, and I believe the Queen Program is special precisely because it brings together women of varying backgrounds so that we learn and grow from each other and from our community.

On behalf of our court, I would like to truly thank our sponsors, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, Takara Sake USA Incorporated, Nihonmachi Street Fair, Nikkei Lions Club, and Benihana. We could not have had any of these experiences without the generosity of these sponsors. We would also like to thank our Queen Program Committee for supporting us throughout our year, and to all of our community members who welcomed us and taught us so much.

It has been an honor serving the community this past year, and we look forward to continuing to contribute to the Japanese American community and to supporting the next group of women leaders from our program.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *