Gwen Battad Ishikawa

The 63rd Cherry Blossom Festival came to a close on March 22 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, when the new queen and court were announced at the Festival Ball.

The festival, sponsored by the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce, featured 13 queen contestants who underwent numerous self-development and culture classes such as aikidö, bon odori, calligraphy, gyotaku (fish printing), ikebana flower arrangement, Hawai‘i’s Japanese history, kimono dressing, manjü-making, origami, sushi-making, taiko and tea ceremony.

The woman who impressed the judges the most based on preliminary activities as a contestant; Festival Ball (self-composed speech, impromptu question, poise/grace, confidence, speaking ability and personality) and an interview with the judges was Kimberly Kimiko Takata, who was selected the new queen.

Rounding out her court are First Princess and Miss Congeniality Rosalei Teruko Chinen; Princesses Jessica Naomi Kaleikaimana Kaneshiro, Celina Kiyomi Quach and Kyla Miyuki Teramoto; and Miss Popularity Heather Rie Miura. Miura was also named the recipient of the Violet Niimi Scholarship. The $5,000 educational scholarship was presented by Dr. Scott Oishi in memory of his mother, Violet Niimi, who was the first Cherry Blossom Festival queen.

Within a week of being named queen, Takata visited the Hawaii Hochi offices to talk about her experiences as a contestant and her plans for her year-long reign.

One thing Takata knows for certain is that she wants to work with Project Dana as part of the court’s community service projects. Project Dana, which was started by the late Shimeji Kanazawa and Rose Nakamura at the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission, is based on the Buddhist precept of “selfless giving.” The now-interfaith program provides elders and the disabled with simple caregiving help, such a light shopping and housekeeping, telephone calls and visitations and more.

Takata, who traces her ancestral roots to Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, said she decided to become a Cherry Blossom Festival queen contestant to learn more about her Japanese heritage.

Prior to joining the festival, her involvement in Japanese culture focused mainly on family traditions. “My maternal grandmother was very traditional. She spoke Japanese at home and cooked lots of Japanese food, but that was about it.

“My family really didn’t have a deep connection to the Japanese community, so that’s why I decided to join the Cherry Blossom Festival. I realized when I went away to college that part of my identity was very unique and special, and that’s definitely why I want to continue to know my Japanese heritage.”

From a very young age, Kimberly said her maternal grandmother , the late Yoshiko Tsumura, encouraged her to join the festival, although she didn’t understand why. Friends who were past contestants shared their experiences with her. And, age-wise, the clock was ticking — the cut-off age for queen contestants is age 26 by March 31.

“It was just going to college and coming home and thinking about how I was going to connect back with the community here,” she said that sparked her decision to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival. “I decided to do it, and I was completely surprised at what the experience ended up being, so I’m really glad I ended up doing it,” she said.

Takata said the festival was more than she expected in terms of the classes and the opportunities she and her fellow contestants were given. “I thought it was going to just be like taking a Japanese class, but really, the experience itself was a complete journey.”

She said one of the more interesting classes was the Hawai‘i’s Japanese history class conducted by Dr. Dennis Ogawa, professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. “I learned about Asian studies in high school, but it was from a different perspective. My paternal grandfather [the late Michio Takata] was in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company F, and I didn’t get to talk much to him about his experience so I didn’t have a personal understanding of that,” she said.

The 25-year-old yonsei is the daughter of Garret Takata, a loan officer with Central Pacific Bank, and Ann Takata, a second grade teacher at Pearl Harbor elementary school. She has one sister, Caralyn. Takata graduated from Punahou School and received a bachelor’s degree in public health and a certificate in medical humanities from Oregon State University. She earned a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in social and behavioral health sciences from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. She currently works at HMSA as a business analyst in its health systems development department.

Since one of the goals of the Cherry Blossom Festival is for young women to learn about Japanese culture, I asked the new queen if she felt she got a sense of what it mean to be Japanese American in Hawai‘i.

“We only had one class in each type of activity. It was limited in that I don’t think we had the opportunity to get really deep, but what I think is that it gave me an appreciation for what’s out there and it taught me the expanse of what the Japanese culture is.

“For most of the contestants, that appreciation is what gets us excited about continuing the journey on our own and in our own lives. And, in a lot of cases, especially for me, I went home and talked to my parents about it because there’s a lot they never experienced, either. [What we learned] is a great starting point, but I don’t think that it’s meant to be a journey, all encompassing, in and of itself,” she said.

“I’m at a point where the first half of my life was learning and gaining new experiences, but now I’m transitioning to where I want to pass knowledge on. For now, I’ll continue to learn and connect with people who can teach me what I can give back and ways I can do that,” she said.


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