The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i’s ‘Ohana Festival on Jan. 10 marked the kick-off of the 64th Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival is a project of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s theme is kansha, the Japanese word for gratitude and thanks. It was chosen to honor those who help to perpetuate Japanese culture and heritage in Hawai‘i. “Kansha reflects our appreciation for our sponsors, donors, cultural instructors, community supporters, family and friends,” said the festival’s general co-chair, Kara Iwasaki.

The 15 queen contestants are Lori Miki Anzai, Trisha Kaori Asao, Asia Rei Katsura Ayabe, Crystal Lori Ishikawa, Ellise Midori Kakazu, Brittney Yasuko Kawahara, Dylan Katarina Lau, Kristi Kiyo Murakami, Tarynn Mika Nago, Aimee Kai Nelson, Alexis Sayuri Okihara, Kelly Miyoko Ono, Rya Ming-Jun Mie Sekimoto, Ritsuko Sarah Tomari and Amanda Yayoi Youth.

The contestants have spent the last few months preparing for the festival, taking a series of cultural and personal development classes, including taiko drumming, tea ceremony, Japanese business etiquette and public speaking. They will also participate in various public appearances and community service events around the island. The contestants will make two more public appearances — on Saturday, Feb. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. at Windward Mall, and Saturday, Feb. 27, from 3 to 4 p.m. at Ala Moana Center Stage. Other festival activities include a golf tournament on Friday, Feb. 26, at the Hawaii Prince Golf Course and a contestant reception on Saturday, March 5, at 5 p.m. at Rumours Nightclub in the Ala Moana Hotel.

The 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival will culminate with the queen contest and coronation on Saturday, March 26, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. The contestants will deliver personal speeches while dressed in evening gowns. They will also answer impromptu questions while dressed in a furisode kimono. At the end of the night, the 64th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and Court will be crowned.

Applications are also now being accepted for the 2017 Cherry Blossom Festival. Applicants must be at least 50 percent of Japanese ancestry, a United States citizen and a Hawai‘i resident, among other requirements. Beginning with the 2017 festival, the age limit is being raised from 26 to 28 years old.

“Nowadays, young women are often pursuing higher education, and may consider participating in the Cherry Blossom Festival after they accomplish that goal,” said festival co-chair and past queen Desiree (Yamamoto) Uyeda. “Raising the age limit allows these women to also experience the wonderful opportunities our Festival has to offer.


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