Tomorrow, the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce’s 70th Cherry Blossom Festival Ball will be held at the Sheraton Waikiki. A new Queen will be crowned with a new court to reign in 2022-2023. I caught up with the outgoing 69th CBF Queen, Miss Popularity and Miss Congeniality Brianne Kehau Yamada. She is the first to win a triple title in the history of the festival. Yamada is half-Japanese, half-Okinawan and works as an engineer at Hawaiian Electric.

The 69th Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and Court. From left: Princess Shelly Imamura, Princess Motomi Otsubo, Queen, Miss Popularity and Miss Congeniality Brianne Yamada, First Princess Taylor Onaga, Princess Taylor Tashiro. (Photos courtesy of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce)

JC: What was your most memorable experience from your reigning year?

BY: While it hasn’t happened quite yet, I anticipate the 70th Cherry Blossom Festival Ball being a night to remember. I look forward to reminiscing and sharing about the full and successful year as Queen. I look forward to seeing the 70th Queen contestants on stage and welcoming the 70th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen. 

I was able to participate in a filming by Go For Broke Education Center for their Evening of Aloha Virtual Gala. There, I met individuals who dedicated their lives to preserving and perpetuating the heroic story of our Nisei soldiers. Never really understanding this story growing up, it touched me and left me with a deep and lasting sense of gratitude for the generations before us. Their sacrifice and integrity have shaped our world today to allow us so many unique opportunities such as being a part of the Cherry Blossom Festival. It gave me a different perspective on life where I now carry the lessons of  kansha (gratitude) and okage sama de (thanks to you) with me each day. 

The girls connect with the land by harvesting kalo in the lo‘i. From left: Brianne Yamada, Motomi Otsubo, Krista Ann Lee and Kira Moriguchi.

JC: What were the most fun moments of your 2021-2022 reign?

BY: This year was filled with so many everlasting moments. A highlight of the year was spending time with my fellow court members during the car rides to and from our various events. During the carpooling sessions we made so many memories together: we laughed, we sang, we reflected on how deeply grateful we feel to participate in this unique opportunity. 

Our goodwill trip to Kaua‘i was definitely one to remember. It was the first time for some traveling off-island since the start of [the] COVID[-19 pandemic]. This trip was the culmination of community service, bonding as sisters, many laughs, and ono local food! It was nostalgic to travel back to a place that I would visit every summer to spend time with my grandparents. Extending our reach and service beyond the island of O‘ahu warmed my heart.

JC: What was the biggest take away from this experience?

BY: Any moment can be turned into an opportunity. Our court’s experience was definitely different from the typical year but we kept a positive outlook and embraced each opportunity as something special. We held each other up in times of uncertainty and grew closer as a court.

As our last service project of the year, we hosted an event to bridge the generations of the festival to the current contestants. We went through dozens of iterations to find something that prioritized health and safety while showcasing the unique sisterhood by inviting past contestants from the 15th and 18th Cherry Blossom Festival. Together we called our event “Tadaima Sisterhood Moai (Okinawan term for social get-together).”

JC: How has this experience changed you? 

BY: My Queen experience has made me more flexible and resilient while helping me build upon my self-confidence. Being that my year began amid the pandemic we had to be extra creative and think outside of the box. It was very important that we stayed safe, but also made sure to fulfill our goals of service and cultural perpetuation.

JC: How did this experience affect your relationships?

BY: This experience deepened my relationship with my family and friends. Seeing family, especially my grandparents at events throughout the year was bittersweet and my reminder to smile at the moments I was most nervous. My grandma made sure to consistently quietly whisper in my ear, “Ganbatte ne.”

JC: How does this experience affect your career?

BY: This experience pushed me to hone in on the skill of time management. To work on elevating my career, preparing for events and attending events I had to keep my schedule organized and calendar up to date at all times.

JC: Tell me about the community work you and your court did?

BY: Almost every week we were out in the community hosting our own service projects or assisting organizations throughout O‘ahu. We had a blast participating in a drive-by andagi (Okinawan donuts) sale, a cleanup at the Ehime Maru Memorial, hosting a Halloween candy drive-thru and even getting down and dirty in the lo‘i and at multiple beach clean-ups. As a court, we were very passionate about finding ways to give back to the community. To name a few events, we organized a blood drive, built a can sculpture with donated canned foods, hosted an origami workshop for seniors, and visited a court member’s alma mater to speak to high school students. Our hearts were so full after each community service event and served as a reminder as to how a simple act of kindness can have an everlasting impact. 

Brianne with grandma Lois Haruko Kobashigawa, mother Marcia Yamada and niece Brooke Nitahara.

JC: What are you looking forward to doing after you pass your crown and scepter to the new 70th CBF Queen?

BY: Being able to watch the next queen as she leads her court to continue the Cherry Blossom Festival legacy. I am certain that whoever will be the next queen will represent our Japanese American community with grace and integrity.

JC: What advice do you have for the next reigning queen and court?

BY: Spend time bonding as a court early on in the year. Forming a connection with these ladies is important to be able to support each other not only through the responsibilities to the festival but as sisters to balance work, family and other parts of life. Your one year on court will fly by before you know it so take many pictures along the way. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so take the time to reflect on ways you’d like to grow and lean on each other to become the best version of yourself.

JC: Any last words?

BY: I am so grateful to my family and friends who have supported me through this amazing experience. I would like to extend my most heartfelt appreciation to gracious and longtime supporters of the HJJCC Cherry Blossom Festival. I look forward to supporting the festival and seeing it grow and prosper for decades to come. 

The HJJCC Cherry Blossom Festival began in 1953 and is one of the longest, continually running ethnic festival in the State of Hawai‘i. The purpose of the festival is to perpetuate Japanese culture in Hawai‘i, and to enrich the lives of young women of Japanese ancestry.

Queen contestants are given the opportunity to learn about their Japanese heritage, improve their poise and public speaking and develop leadership skills through numerous cultural and training classes.

For more information about the Cherry Blossom Festival, visit the website cbfhawaii.com.

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