Kristen Nemoto Jay
I remember going to my first Cherry Blossom Festival when I was 14 years old. My mother and I were invited by our family friend whose daughter was competing for the 46th Cherry Blossom Queen title. I remember the beautiful kimonos that the women wore on stage. I remember how poised they looked and walked, as if they were each floating on a cloud. I envied the way they could speak so eloquently on cue, so sure of who they were, what they stood for and the values they upheld. What made the event even more exciting is that our family friend’s daughter won the coveted Queen title! What especially stuck out in my mind is that she took a really long time coming out behind the black curtains to accept her role as I later learned that all of the Queen contestants gathered around, hugged her and cried just as much as she did when the announcement was made. That type of sisterhood and bond was moving to learn about and witness after the event as well when a mound of lei covered her and streaks of black mascara lined all of the women’s faces when it was picture time. It’s a loving memory that I hold to this day.
Fast forward a quarter of a century later and not much has changed in the way the Cherry Blossom Festival Queen contestants present themselves with overall humility and respect for themselves, each other, their community and upbringing. What I appreciate most of all when reading the biographies of this year’s 71st Cherry Blossom Festival Queen contestants is the fact that each of these accomplished women have authentic answers in response to their individual experiences. You’ll find no “world peace” answers from any of them as they each bring a significant perspective to the table; especially when it comes to learning how they may be of better service to themselves and those around them.
We dedicate this issue to the 71st Cherry Blossom Festival Queen contestants, their friends and families who supported them throughout their journey and the community that surrounds them to help continue this time-honored tradition of grace and beauty.