The six young women of the 2021 Nisei Week Court are a remarkable gathering that have formed under unprecedented circumstances. Over the past months, they have been meeting virtually over Zoom and preparing for what this year is called a culmination, not coronation on Aug. 14. During the virtual program, one will be crowned Nisei Week Queen, but together they have already become a unique sisterhood and are energized to assume the mantle of leaders in the Japanese American community.
Michelle Suzuki, queen and court program director, said: “This year we knew that Nisei Week would be different than in years past, and I am grateful to the sponsoring organizations and the Nisei Week board for supporting this year’s unique Queen and Court program. I am impressed that six young women, the 2021 court, wanted to be part of a new experience. They have embraced the unprecedented experience with maturity, inquisitiveness and willingness to learn, grow, and most of all a shared interest in creating a strong NextGen team to support our community. These young women are already so accomplished, and I have seen them develop as individuals and as a group these past few months during training. They are the future leaders of our community and I can’t wait to see all they will accomplish this year together.”
The Rafu Shimpo met with the candidates via Zoom to talk about the ir experiences, the upcoming culmination and their love for Little Tokyo.
RAFU: What has queen candidate training been like?
Candidate 1: Jamie Hasama: For me, training has been awesome. In some ways, a learning opportunity for everyone since this is something that’s never been done before. That’s what makes it exciting! We’re able to learn and grow from things done in the past with the feedback that we’re getting.
Candidate 2: Brianne Yasukochi: I didn’t know what to expect coming into training, it wasn’t in person, and we didn’t know what was gonna happen, but it’s actually been really great. A lot of our teachers have taught us in different ways. For example, our kimono training is more of a cultural experience, rather than putting on the kimono. We’ve all found different ways to get around this virtual thing and it’s been really fun.
Candidate 3: Michelle Murakami: The training has been going a lot better than what I had in my mind. We get along so well, even meeting in person, kind of makes it more fun. We just see each other on the screen. When we get together, we really see our personalities come through. In training, we get to meet people we wouldn’t get to meet in person. Guest speakers have been from all across the U.S., and it’s exciting we have these opportunities.
Candidate 4: Kiyomi Arimitsu Takemoto: Training has been going really great so far, just being able to meet so many people online. We’ve had panels and guest speakers and it’s been really great to have some vulnerable conversations about being Japanese American and what that means to us individually. That’s really helped us connect on another level that wouldn’t come up in a normal conversation. Moving forward, it’s been good to know where people’s strengths are so we can play to that.
Candidate 5: Kendra Motoyasu: We’ve had the opportunity to speak with guest speakers that otherwise would have been tough (for us to connect to). For example, we met with the woman from Texas, Donna Cole, Cole Chemicals. Just being able to hop on a Zoom call with women who are established in their careers and very busy with their schedules, it feels very humbling to hear their experiences and to ask questions and still connect online with them.
Candidate 6: Kiyoko Nakatsui: It’s been such a learning experience. Honestly, it has challenged me in ways I didn’t expect and pushed me in ways that I’ve never been pushed before to self-reflect, to think outside of myself so much, and grow. Having the support of these amazing women around me has been so much fun. And really amazing to see those changes in all of us through this experience and it’s just beginning.
RAFU: Why is Nisei Week so important to continue?
Candidate 1: Jamie Hasama: Nisei Week is important because we gather as a community and it brings people together, especially young leaders like ourselves. It’s extremely important now during pandemic, and forever.
Candidate 2: Brianne Yasukochi: Nisei Week is important, especially in a pandemic, in a crazy time like this. Nisei Week brings such a positive energy throughout the community and it gives us something to look forward to. I know when I was thinking of Nisei Week as a kid, I was so excited to see the activities, especially the gyoza-eating contest, one of my favorites. Even as a community, everybody loves Nisei Week! Even now, it’s been so important to the members here and no one is paid to be here, it’s all volunteers, an important thing for the community as well as the people participating in it.
Candidate 3: Michelle Murakami: Nisei Week is really important during this time. It brings the community together, but I also feel like it showcases the small businesses in Little Tokyo. Even during this really hard time, these places are still open, they still want to serve people and it brings people together literally. It’s a good way to connect with young leaders that really want to get involved and people that want to give advice.
Candidate 4: Kiyomi Arimitsu Takemoto: Nisei Week is very important, not only during a pandemic time like this, but just in general to help promote the Japanese and Japanese American heritage and culture. So, by getting everyone together, especially as population is expanding in different ways, I think it’s very important to pass down that culture and heritage for the next generation, to keep growing, and keeping our culture alive.
Candidate 5: Kendra Motoyasu: I feel like Nisei Week is important because it is such a foundational bridge for the Southern California Japanese American community but also for other communities. I’ve gotten messages from some of the NorCal girls and it’s been so sweet having that connection. Even within Los Angeles or Orange County com¬munities, me, being personally a part of my sponsor’s legacy is so important and I feel so honored to be part of that sisterhood. Then larger than that, to be part of the Nisei Week sisterhood. To see the Queen’s Court and be a part of that. It’s so special, that feeling of belonging, that’s reason enough for this to hopefully go on forever.
Candidate 6: Kiyoko Nakasui: Nisei Week is important because there aren’t really communities that have something like it. It’s special, it’s something we can take a lot of pride in, especially after what the Japanese American community went through during WWII. You’ve really seen the population distance itself from our heritage and from where we came from. Nisei Week is always a good reminder, the end of summer festivities, that we are proud of what we’ve been through, we’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of where we’re headed.
RAFU: What do you like to do in Little Tokyo?
Candidate 1: Jamie Hasama: love going to JANM. My grandpa was a volunteer until he was in his 90s. He also donated a lot of money to the museum. My whole family’s names are on the glass, which is really cool! It’s really special to see his legacy there, it’s really meaningful and I know a lot of the girls feel the same. That was a huge reason we joined Nisei Week, to honor the legacy that our families have left us. He’s the best, I miss him (Jack Icy Hasama) every day.
Candidate 2: Brianne Yasukochi: Definitely go to eat! I grew up in Little Tokyo, eating there all the time. Definitely one of the favorites is Fugetsu-Do. Mr. Brian (Kito) taught us how to make mochi and stuff. He’s really awesome! I love going through there and seeing how all the restaurants have changed. It’s hard because one of my favorites was Oiwake. So nostalgic as you walk through Little Tokyo, you see all the restaurants, your past favorites and current ones.
Candidate 3: Michelle Murakami ：I also like to eat. My favorite definitely has to be Café Dulce, I’m a big caffeine girl. I love getting my matcha lattes there. I also like going to Bunka-Do. Irene (Simonian) is a family friend of my mom’s and it’s really interesting to see that she took over something that her parents did, and now we’re seeing the preservation of generations of businesses that were there before.
Candidate 4: Kiyomi Arimitsu Takemoto ；Also love to eat in Little Tokyo. My family’s favorite restaurant is Kouraku, been going ever since I could chew on noodles. Definitely a favorite! Also a few others that were mentioned. It’s a very nostalgic place to be. I grew up playing basketball at Nishi Hongwanji for the Wanjettes. And my mother has been working in Little Tokyo for J. Morey. It’s just so nostalgic being able to see familiar faces when you visit Little Tokyo and all the great food that is there!
Candidate 5: Kendra Motoyasu； I love to take my friends who might not be JA, younger kids, there. Took some of my younger friends from college. I was involved in UCLA NSU (Nikkei Student Union) and we would love taking the freshmen into LT and giving them the tour, especially showing them ripples in the cement in sidewalks explaining the history of Little Tokyo. I love walking the streets of LT to literally see the history laid out before us. And to see that moment of “wow” in their eyes, it’s such a special moment! I love walking around and feeling the history. Love Kouraku, so cozy and just hits home, very, very good comfort food. Feeds my soul!
Candidate 6: Kiyoko Nakasu：My favorite place to eat is Marugame Monzo. I actually don’t eat udon unless I’m there. It’s the only place I eat udon. If not, I usually get soba. It’s amazing. Before the pandemic I worked in Glendale with my best friend, and I don’t want to tell you how many times we went there, it’s embarrassing!
I love going to LT, it is a meeting spot for my cousin that I’m the closest to who lives in Ontario. Nice little places we can go to. She’s hapa and not connected to our culture very much. Ever since we’ve been going there, it’s been really fun to bond over our Japanese American heritage, and it’s fun teaching her about the food and reading the menu and when she says, “Are you sure I’ll like eating this?” It’s an opportunity for our family to meet and bond.