Kristine Yada, representing Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council, takes her first walk as the 2022 Nisei Week Queen on Saturday at the Aratani Theatre.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Before a cheering audience, Kristine Emiko Yada, 23, who received her masters from Cal State Long Beach in nutrition science, was crowned Nisei Week Queen as the coronation returned after a two-year absence on Saturday afternoon at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.

Yada, the daughter of Frank and Joyce Yada, represents the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council, and is currently completing her supervised practice hours to become a registered dietician.

During her speech, Yada paid tribute to her grandmother, Itsuko Yada, who passed away in June, sharing her five-ingredient recipe for Mexican-Japanese okazu. Yada grew up in the Japanese American community as a member of Orange County Buddhist Church.

“It’s such an honor, I’ve had such loss in the past year with family and COVID we’ve all been very separated,” Yada said. “I’m extremely grateful for my court and really this opportunity for us to get back out in the community and be a part of it.”

Yada praised the other members of the Nisei Week Court.

Yada is embraced by her family, Courtney, Frank, Joyce and Kellie Yada. They are active members of Orange County Buddhist Church.

“It’s so lovely. We’re a very dynamic group and everyone is incredibly smart. Look at our brief resumes— everyone is very educated, knowledgeable and down-to-earth. The time being so special and unique, I think we’re going to really take it by the horns and make a big change,” she said.

Audrey Emi Nakaoka, 25, was named First Princess. She is a graduate of UC Irvine and represents Gardena Evening Optimist.

Maile Tabata Yanguas, 24, was named Miss Tomodachi. She is a graduate of Cal State Fullerton and represents the Japanese Restaurant Association of America.

Also serving on the court are:

Amanda Akiko Hiraishi, 25, representing East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center;

Emily Shigeko Kumagai, 20, representing San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center;

Lorie Hatsuko Meza, 22, representing the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute;

Faith Sumiko Nishimura, 21, representing the Venice Japanese Community Center and Venice-West Los Angeles JACL.

Candidates react as Kristine Yada (far right) is announced as the 2022 Nisei Week Queen. From left are Emily Kumagai, Faith Nishimura, Lorie Meza and Amanda Hiraishi.

The return of the Nisei Week Coronation marked resumption of a tradition that had only been disrupted just once before during World War II.

Nancy Okubo, Nisei Week Foundation co-president, welcomed the audience, many of whom had not returned since the pandemic. In a change from previous years, the coronation was held in the afternoon.

“For some of you this is your first time back to Little Tokyo since 2019. A lot has changed, but not really. It still feels like home and it’s still the welcoming community it has always been,” she said.

Faith Nishimura was named 1st Princess.

Emcees Tamlyn Tomita and Michael C. Palma danced to the stage to the sounds of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and expressed what many felt after a two-year absence.

“How wonderful it is to be back! It is a beautiful kind of celebration to be back together in person,” said Tomita, who led the crowd in a greeting of “Aloha.”

The 2022 Nisei Week Court first appeared on stage in colorful furisode kimono, performing a classical Japanese dance number choreographed by Bando Hidesomi.

In prepared speeches, candidates shared stories of experiences that have shaped their lives.

Kumagai recalled training in Shotokan karate and earning the nickname “White Tiger” for a bold move on the mat.

The title of Miss Tomodachi went to Maile Yanguas.

Nishimura shared how she learned to embrace both her Japanese and Filipina heritage, paying tribute to her mom and enjoying the foods of both cultures.

Meza revealed that she has a “secret identity,” dressing as Marvel heroes or Disney princesses on weekends for children in hospitals and foster care.

Nakaoka talked about struggling and ultimately embracing her identity as a Japanese American as she studied in Japan.

Former Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist Sheldon Reynolds and his band entertained the gathering with classic hits including “Let’s Groove” and “September.”

Designer Tadashi Shoji, who has dressed the members of the Nisei Week Court starting in 1983 with Queen Traci Isawa Ahn, was recognized with a special tribute. Tomita (1984) led a contingent of former queens and princesses who danced on stage in their coronation gowns.

Sheldon Reynolds and Devoted Spirits got the audience on their feet with performances of “September” and other Earth, Wind and Fire classics.

Judges for the coronation were: Laura V. Farber, Yuko Kaifu, Tish Okabe Kato, Hironori Kobayashi, Aaron Takahashi and George Tanaka.

The candidates were introduced wearing formal kimono and performing a traditional Japanese dance.

During the impromptu question section, the candidates were asked, “COVID has changed the way we connect with others, share ideas and create community. What would you do during your reign to ensure our culture and community continue to thrive into the future?”

Technology and social media were a common thread in the answers.

Meza said, “I am so lucky to have interned at the JACCC, been a part of Kizuna, and other JA programs. I would love to share that experience and information about these programs with people across Southern California.”

Designer Tadashi Shoji (right) was honored on stage for his decades of contributions to Nisei Week.

Hirashi answered, “I would love to utilize Zoom or any other communication platform to really connect the older generation with the younger generation, to foster a bridge of communication.”

Yada responded, “Although technology is amazing, now we have the opportunity to connect with each other in person. I would have events such as connecting with young females in this coming year in order to promote their involvement in the Japanese American community.”

The 2022 Nisei Week Court will represent the Japanese American community at various events, starting on Sunday with the Nisei Week Grand Parade.

Family and friends of the candidates filled the Aratani Theatre. From left: Nancy Fujishige Kusagaya, Donna Fujishige and Kellie Yada.

Yada was supported at the coronation by a large contingent of family and friends who traveled from Orange County.

Speaking afterwards, Yada’s sisters, Courtney and Kellie, said they were very proud and nervous for their big sister.

Dad Frank noted that both sides of her family, the Yadas and Fujishiges, were active in farming. The Yadas grew strawberries, cucumbers and flowers in Carlsbad/Vista. The Fujishiges grew primarily strawberries in Anaheim.

“The unique thing for my mom Itsuko was her family immigrated and were held back in Mexico, so Mom grew up in Mexico City. Her first language was Spanish, then Japanese, then English,” Frank said.

Co-emcee Tamlyn Tomita, center, models a Tadashi gown she wore as the 1984 Nisei Week Queen, during an on-stage tribute to the designer. Modeling gowns from their years on the court are (from left) Nikki Kodama (2004), Jordyn Terukina (2017), Juli Yoshinaga (2019) and Jaclyn Tomita (2016).

“She really has grasped the roots of these different traditions that are in our family background and that makes her really unique,” Joyce said.

Yada confessed that community service has been always been a part of her life because of her family’s involvement at OCBC.

“I was born into it and just rolled with it,” she said.

She was looking forward to the Nisei Week Parade and the coming year of events.

“I’ve never been to the parade. This will be the first for me. I’m incredibly excited. I’ve heard many beautiful stories and I’ve seen the court. I’m excited to get out there and to really travel down First Street in a new way,” said Yada.

Note: A shorter version of this story was posted earlier on the Rafu Shimpo website.

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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