SAN FRANCISCO — The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program officially announces its 2021 candidates: Akiko Jacqueline Bates, Ashlyn Sumiko Hom and Kelly Noelani Eshima.

“Our committee is honored to introduce our candidates for the Queen Program this year,” stated Yuka Walton, one of the chairs of the Queen Program. “These three women have shown exceptional commitment and dedication to our Japanese American community. When last year’s Queen Program was cancelled due to the pandemic, these candidates made the extraordinary decision to continue on and serve the community this year. Akiko, Ashlyn, and Kelly truly exemplify leadership and we look forward to their court year.”

Due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, two other former candidates from the 2020 cohort, Jennifer Kumura and Michelle Lee, were not able to continue with the Queen Program.

“We are in full support of Jennifer and Michelle as they pursue new endeavors and wish them all the best,” said Asaki Osato, one of the tri-chairs of the Queen Program.

The three candidates are running to hold a position as a goodwill ambassador for the Japanese American community of Northern California. Throughout their court year, they will have the opportunity to meet and connect with various organizations and further develop their leadership skills.

The much-anticipated Program Night, where the queen and her court will be crowned, will have a new look this year. In the interest of health and safety for all, the Queen Program Committee has adapted its annual programming into the online sphere and is proud to announce the first-ever Virtual Queen Program Night, which is scheduled for Saturday, April 10, at 6 p.m.

“The Queen Program is intricately tied to the future of our community,” said Maya Hernandez, one of the tri-chairs of the Queen Program. “Despite the pandemic, our committee knew we had to find a way to continue this beloved community tradition and we are excited to share the news about our Virtual Program Night. You will see many familiar elements like the candidate’s speeches, Q&A and odori featuring the beautiful Fujiyasu kimonos. By moving to the virtual space, we look forward to celebrating the future leaders of our community with a wide audience.”

To view the Virtual Queen Program Night, visit for more information. Though registration for the show will not require any fee, donations can be made in order to support the Queen Program and its candidates as they embark on their court year. There will also be a virtual raffle this year, so check the website for more details.

Akiko Bates

Sponsor: Takara Sake USA Inc.

Age: 24

Hometown: Honolulu

Creative Expression: Digital drawing

Education: B.A. history, University of San Francisco

Employment: I work at Hatch, a branding company. Our motto is “We craft brands that move people to affection.” Hatch is well-known specifically for our work on food packaging — designing brands like SmartWater, Smashmellow, Yamamoto Yama Tea, and Noosa.

At Hatch, I am an assistant account manager. While this puts me on the account side of the business, I actively work with designers to not just help foster creative ideas. My primary objective is to interpret the client’s needs into a visual storytelling language. On a day-to-day level, I work in a project management capacity to keep meetings scheduled, organize project timelines, and ensure that we are delivering work to clients on time.

Community Organizations:

– Volunteer tutor for AP Exam prep with Aloha Not Corona (2020)

– Research assistant for professor at University of San Francisco (2018-19)

– Volunteer tutor for Breakthrough SF (2017-18)

– Photographer for Sony Open in Hawaii (2017)

– Asian Studies Student Idea Committee at USF (2016)

– Development intern for East West Center (2017)

Professional Attributes or Goals in Life: My professional goal is to increase visibility for multiracial Asian women in business through leadership roles in both the office and the community.

Hobbies: Singing, oratory, fashion, painting, drawing, cooking, baking

Ashlyn Hom

Sponsor: Benihana

Age: 26

Hometown: San Rafael, Calif.

Creative Expression: Calligraphy

Education: A.S. computer networking and information technology, City College of San Francisco

Employment: I’m a server at Chonmage Restaurant, where I clean, take customers’ orders, bring food to customers, and wash dishes.

I also intern at San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, where I maintain their website.

Community Organizations:

– Project SHINE (2017-19): Was a teaching coach in ESL classes helping immigrants improve their English.

– Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (2017-present): Helped set up cooking equipment for a ramen cooking class and at the Children’s Day Festival by making hachimaki (headbands) for children.

– Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (2017-present): Helped set up tables, chairs and tents, passed out fliers at Sakura 360, and helped bring out equipment.

– City College of San Francisco Judo and Jiu-Jitsu (2018): Kept score and cleaned up at tournaments.

– FAAE (Filipino American Arts Exposition) Pistahan Parade and Festival (2018-present): Helped set up tables and chairs, checked IDs of patrons heading to tavern for alcohol, hung posters at culinary pavilion. Helped curate content for the 2020 virtual festival.

– African American Shakespeare Company (2018-present): Ushered guests to their seats during plays.

Professional Attributes or Goals in Life: I’m aspiring to be a front-end web developer/designer to create websites for all and create a blog educating others about Asian American life, culture, and history.

Hobbies: Video games, TV and movies, exploring San Francisco, trying out food from different cultures, learning Japanese and Chinese, writing, reading horror stories, fish keeping, calligraphy, judo

Kelly Eshima

Sponsor: Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California

Age: 24

Hometown: San Francisco

Creative Expression: Nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance)

Education: B.S. biology, UC Riverside

Employment: I am a first-year law student at UC Hastings College of the Law. My current focus is tax law.

Community Organizations:

– Michiya Hanayagi Japanese Classical Dance Studio, student, 2002-present.

– Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, programs intern through Nikkei Community Internship program, 2016.

– JCCCNC, event volunteer, 2019-present.

– Nihonmachi Little Friends Preschool, substitute teacher, event volunteer, 2018-present.

– Shinzen Goodwill Ambassador Program, goodwill ambassador, 2009.

– Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Ardenettes basketball, 2003-10.

– BCSF, Girl Scouts, 2001-14.

– Gamma Phi Beta International Sorority, collegiate chapter supervisor, 2019-present.

– Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program at UC Hastings, volunteer, 2021-present.

Professional Attributes or Goals in Life: After graduating from law school, my intent is to practice corporate law here in the Bay Area. Also, I plan to stay in San Francisco and step into more leadership roles. I hope to use my deeper understanding of the law and my knowledge to support the community. I believe that furthering my legal career will give me more insight and credibility toward impactful change and will allow me to be an advocate in the community.

Hobbies: Crafting, journaling, baking, working out

The Queen’s Kimono

This furisode (long-sleeved) kimono is made using high-quality chirimen, which was woven in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, and hand-dyed by yuzen craftsmen in Kyoto. The cherry blossom petals are dyed in white and pink, and the patterned part is coated with a special glue and then dyed in black. It is a work of art fitting for a Cherry Blossom Queen.

The accompanying obi is a fukuro-obi from a long-established artisan in Nishijin, Kyoto. Because the kimono has fine cherry blossom petals on a black background, a larger gold fukuro-obi was selected to pair with the furisode.

For the smaller items such as the obiage, obijime, zori, and bag, a red color was selected to complement the black furisode.


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