“GIRLS BE AMBITIOUS” INITIATIVE

On Tuesday, March 8, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and the US based OIST Foundation, launched an initiative called “Girls Be Ambitious” to encourage Okinawan girls to pursue a career in science.

In a recent press release, the “Girls Be Ambitious” initiative hopes to empower a generation of girls in science by creating an education ecosystem that fosters young women’s interest in and access to science education. The goal is to ultimately encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and see the concept resonate throughout Japan and around the globe.

Okinawan high school students with OIST staff member during the first SHIMA: Okinawa-Hawaii STEM Education Collaborative workshop, held in July 2021. (Photo courtesy of OIST)

Though its name is a nod to the “Boys Be Ambitious” phrase that’s known throughout Japan — made by Dr. William Smith Clark, a foreign advisor to help create Sapporo Agricultural College (present day Hokkaido University), “Girls Be Ambitious” has been granted a trademark to use the phrase and help serve as a way to empower a generation — specifically young girls — through education and science.

“There are 45% of university undergraduate students in any programs in Japan [who] are women … which is really fantastic,” said Misaki Takabayashi, vice dean of graduate school at OIST, during the press conference. “When it comes to [science, technology, engineering and math] of any program within Japan, only 27.8% are women. Lastly only 19.7% of women are within STEM graduate level programs in Japan.”

Many factors go into these low percentages, said Takabayashi. When adding up gender disparities, Japan falls into the 120 place out of 156 countries in terms of having women within the field of STEM careers. “We are missing out on the creativity, productivity, and advancement of knowledge if we do not include all of the population,” continued Takabayashi. “For example the World Economic Forum has estimated that achieving economic gender disparity could add $550 billion to Japan’s GDP.”

According to statistics collected by Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry in 2016, Takabayashi pointed out on a powerpoint screen behind her, when children decide to choose a STEM career or academics, they are in primary and middle school and tapers off once they get to high school and college. Therefore, she concludes, it is vital to catch students’ interest, especially young girls, when they are in the early stages of their education and not during the time they reach graduate school.

Several projects at OIST are currently in the works to help empower participation in STEM by girls and young women:

  • A high school science workshop, HiSci Lab, will engage female high school students in science experiences as well as sharing of personal journeys by professional female scientists.
  • The SHIMA program funded by OIST and the U.S. Consulate General of Naha, and individual donors from the Worldwide Uchinanchu Business Network in Hawai‘i, will partner with other institutions to engage Okinawan high school students to explore island sustainability through an SDG lens, which includes gender equality.
  • A new partnership between OIST and SKY Labo (a STEM education Japanese non-profit organization) funded by the United States-Japan Foundation, will integrate OIST PhD students as “near-peers” to joining female high school participants from Okinawa and wider Japan at hands-on design-thinking workshops.
  • The recently launched 50:50 campaign led by OIST’s graduate school is taking a multi-pronged approach to achieve equal gender representation across the spectrum in OIST’s student population at admissions, retention and graduation stages.

“Girls Be Ambitious” is made possible from the initial support of the Matsuro and Tsuruko Nakasone Endowment Fund, which was established from the OIST Foundation with donations valuing $100,000. Matsuro and Tsuruko Nakasone moved from Okinawa to Hawai‘i in the early 1900s where they married, worked and supported their families both in Okinawa and Hawai‘i. They eventually sent all six of their children to college — five of them within STEM fields and one in accounting. After they passed, their son Bob Nakasone established the fund at the OIST Foundation to honor his parents’ commitment to education and their Okinawan heritage by providing support for Okinawan youth and Okinawa’s future. Through the generous support from the Nakasone family and other individuals from Hawai‘i, OIST and the OIST Foundation continue to seek support from other individuals, philanthropies and corporations to grow the “Girls Be Ambitious” initiative.

“For my parents they believed in the spirit of yuimaru,” said Bob Nakasone from a Zoom call at the end of the press conference, who explained that the term means the spirit of helping people in times of need. “Education was also very important to them. In order to honor my parents, I’m following in their footsteps, which is why I’m supporting OIST, which is for the future of Japan, for the world, and also for Okinawa.”

For more information on how to help support the “Girls Be Ambitious” initiative, go to oist.jp or oistfoundation.org.  

THE 70TH CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL CROWNS A NEW QUEEN

While “Chōwa – a reminder to live and work in harmony” was the official theme of the 2022 Hawaii Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom Festival, “Happy Tears” was the unspoken theme of the first in-person ball since the 67th ball held in 2019. On Saturday evening, March 19, even with attendees required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the last 48 hours, the Sheraton Waikiki ballroom was filled with about 680 guests. Before the program and during the breaks, attendees walked around greeting one another with a lot of Long-time-no-sees and It’s-so-good-to-see-yous — the aloha was strong. 

“It’s nice to be out,” said Justin Cruz, KHON2’s weather anchor and co-emcee to Corday (Nagaishi) Feagins. Feagins is the executive secretary to the Pacific Air Forces Chief of Staff at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and has been volunteering for the HJJCC Cherry Blossom Festival for over 20 years. 

The audience was introduced to the 14 queen contestants — Tamlyn Mika Sasaki, Michelle Chie Tsuda, Jordyn Yukino Valdez, Tari-Lynn Yasuko Manin, Ashley Rae Masako Nabeshima, Taylor Asami Pagaragan, Danielly Emi Au, Taeler Kealohilani Akana, Elizabeth Leigh Sickles, Crystal Yaeko Fujiwara, Melody Shin Higa, Shari Michiko Nishijima, Annika Kimiyo Nozaki and Maile Makamae Kawasaki — in their opening taiko performance. The energetic roll call let the audience put names to the contestants’ faces to the beat. 

The Taiko Center of the Pacific’s performance was next making the celebration more festive with their signature dynamic style as the audience immersed themselves in the don-don-kara-kara-don-don soundwaves.

Welcome speeches from dignitaries including Gov. David Ige, Mayor Rick Blangiardi (via video), the Consul General of Japan Yutaka Aoki, 72nd President of HJJCC Kari Kiyota and 70th Cherry Blossom Festival General Co-chairs Kirstie Maeshiro-Takiguchi and Ruth Taketa.

This year’s festival ball judges — who had the toughest job in the room— were Margery Bronster, partner of Bronster Fujichaku Robbins; David Cianelli, general manager of Pearlridge Center; Janice Ikeda, executive director at Vibrant Hawai‘i; Lisa (Nakahodo) Kawamura, 32nd Cherry Blossom Festival Queen; Ka‘iu Kimura, executive director of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i; Steven Sullivan, regional vice president of Operations at Hawaii, Parallel Capital Partners; and Eric Yamamoto, principal broker/co-owner at Refined Real Estate. 

The 70th Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom queen and court: (from left) Miss Congeniality Danielle Au, Princess Taeler Akana, Princess Tamlyn Sasaki, Queen Shari Nishijima, First Princess Maile Kawasaki, Princess Jordyn Valdez, Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Manin.

The Western and Eastern Phases were breathtaking. For the Western Phase, the contestants showed their sass in flowing cadmium green gowns — a color expressing nature, harmony, balance and youth — fitting for this year’s chöwa theme. They strutted and danced their way across the stage to pop music including those by the popular BTS. 

The Eastern Phase followed dinner service and featured furisode (swining sleeve) kimono — a style of kimono with long sleeves and vibrant colors. The contestants’ walk was accompanied by live koto music provided by Darin Miyashiro. The emcees’ poetic descriptions of the colorful nature-inspired scenes on each kimono were told in English and Japanese. With the koto in the background, it was like a scene straight out of an NHK documentary. Already, emcee Justin Cruz reported happy tears backstage and that he was personally moved nearly to tears himself.  

The 69th Cherry Blossom Festival queen and court stood on stage to say farewell and prepared to pass their crowns to the new court. The 69th CBF Queen, Miss Congeniality and Miss Popularity Brianne Yamada stood at the podium with her court — Princess Shelly Imamura, Princess Motomi Otsubo, First Princess Taylor Onaga and Princess Taylor Tashiro — at her side. Yamada began her speech. More happy tears. She thanked her family for “loving me” and thanked her mentors and supporters. Yamada expressed her deep love for her court addressing each member for their friendship and the bond they have created together. More waterworks. 

Finally, it was time to announce the 70th Cherry Blossom queen and court. Some attendees could be seen checking their notes to see if they guessed this year’s honorees correctly.     

The results: The 70th 2021-2022 Cherry Blossom Festival court are Queen Shari Michiko Nishijima; First Princess Maile Makmae Kawasaki, Princess and Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship awardee Tamlyn Mika Sasaki, Princess Jordyn Yukino Valdez, Princess Taeler Kalohilani Akana, Miss congeniality Ashley Rae Masako Nabeshima and Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Yasuko Manin.

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