Bringing Chōwa to Our Community

Jodie Chiemi Ching

Before she was crowned the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamer of Commerce’s 70th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen on Saturday, March 19 at the Sheraton Waikiki, Shari Michiko Nishijima — a California-born Gosei — wrote in her contestant profile “… I embrace chōwa by focusing on the anchors that ground me. That is fostering meaningful connections, advocating for positive change and learning new perspectives. These anchors guide me and bring purpose and balance to my life.”

The 69th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Brianne Yamada (left) hands her scepter to Shari Nishijima, the 70th CBF Queen. (Photo by Jodie Ching)

Perhaps her sense of community is what motivated her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Currently, Nishijima is a program manager at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. Before JCCH, she worked as a legislative office manager at the State Capitol.

Nishijima was raised by her Japanese father, Rick and Filipino mother Cindy in the Bay Area of California with her two older sisters Michele and Rachel. Her ancestral prefecture is Kumamoto, Japan. The whole family flew into Honolulu to witness Nishijima’s coronation and, according to her, was the smallest and loudest group at the CBF ball.

The “Friendship Circle” is a tradition at the CBF ball where the contestants lock arms as the official court is being announced. They anxiously await in hopes that their names will be called. (Photos courtesy of HJJCC)

When asked about the festival experience, Nishijima said that she cherished making new friends and bonding with the other contestants. She also experienced growth of character through public speaking and nurturing her confidence. 

“Being a young manager has been challenging,” said Nishijima about her experience working as a former legislative manager at the State Capitol. She felt the Cherry Blossom experience was an opportunity to grow her leadership skills. Integrating her legislative experience with newfound skills aligned with her purpose of “fostering meaningful connections and advocating for positive change,” perfect for the new ambassador of Japanese culture who will now represent Hawai‘i.

Nishijima also spoke about her appreciation for how culture is celebrated in Hawai‘i. The contestants bonded through many Japanese cultural activities including taiko with Kenny Endo’s Taiko Center of the Pacific and hanafuda taught by the Hanafuda Hawaii Style club, which were Nakajima’s favorites. Through taiko, she learned how to connect with others through music and hanafuda was a great way to engage multiple generations. And, for the first time in two years, the CBF court was able to travel to San Francisco to attend the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. They enjoyed bonding with sister-courts from the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and Nissei Week while visiting the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. 

On the evening of the festival ball, moments before the 70th Cherry Blossom Festival court was announced, the contestants got into the traditional “Friendship Circle” backstage. Emcee for the night, Justin Cruz, reported the happy tears and how the girls were in a tight circle locking their kimono-clad arms together with one another. Some had their eyes closed, others had huge smiles while they reminded themselves to just breathe. 

One-by-one, as the names of the court were announced, girls would leave to take their place on stage. The final result: Queen Shari Michiko Nishijima; First Princess Maile Makamae Kawasaki; Princess and Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship awardee Jordyn Yukino Valdez; Princess Taeler Kalohilani Akana; Miss Congeniality Ashley Rae Masako Nabeshima; and Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Yasuko Manin.

The 70th Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom Festival Ball was kicked off with a taiko-style roll call of the contestants.

Queen Nishijima’s vision for a harmonious community makes her an ideal representative for Japanese in Hawai‘i. In her contestant profile she wrote, “As a community, it’s important to focus on the common goals that unite us. Building a network of people with different perspectives, talents and experiences while strengthening our bonds with each other is paramount to achieving collective harmony.”


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