Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Cindy Nakagawa
Cindy Nakagawa


Parents: Ivan and Joyce Nakagawa

High School: Waiakea High School (Big Island), 2009

College/Degree: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, education, 2014.

Occupation: Elementary school teacher at President Abraham Lincoln Elementary School.

What or Who Inspires You?

“A teacher is someone who inspires and motivates children. But as a teacher, my students inspire me.  Time and time again they have shown me that, regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, culture or religion, everyone should be treated with compassion.  With innocent eyes my students see the world without prejudice and disparity; together, we learn to persevere through adversity and promote tolerance by discussing real-world problems that help to challenge their perspectives and strengthen their resolve to be accepting of everyone, regardless of differences. My students are the reason I am optimistic for our future because they exemplify kindness and acceptance. Every day they inspire me to not only be a great teacher, but to be a better human being. Because of them I work tirelessly to spread their empathetic perspective and compassion to future classes, in the hopes that our future will be just as harmonious.”

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Joy Nakahara
Joy Nakahara


Parents: Jon and Violenda Nakahara
High School: Roosevelt High School, 2009
College/Degree: Hawaii Pacific University, bachelor’s degree in biology – human and health sciences and Asian studies, 2013.
Occupation: Emergency Medical Technician

What or who inspires you?

“One ‘character’ who has inspired me in my childhood and continues to inspire me to inspire others is a girl named Sakura Kinomoto, the 10-year-old heroine in a Japanese comic series titled ‘Cardcaptor Sakura.’ Through her adventures, she taught me to see the world through unclouded eyes and get to know people for their personality and character. Sakura was a positive individual who always looked at the brighter side of life despite her hardships and she has been my role model since I was 10 years old. Now in my adulthood, Sakura continues to serve as my role model as I now act as a role model to others in order to inspire a perpetuation of positivity and open thinking that was introduced to me through her and her adventures.”

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Mika Nakashige
Mika Nakashige


Parents: Michael and Lea Nakashige
High School: Berkshire School (Massachusetts), 2009

College/Degree: Williams College (Massachusetts), bachelor’s degree with honors in chemistry, 2013; University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, Ph.D. in Chemistry, anticipated in 2019.

Occupation: Doctoral candidate; research assistant and teaching assistant.

What or who inspires you?

“My inspiration stems from what I can bring to other people. Everyday I strive to give my family members the joy that they have given me all of these years through their love and sacrifices. As an educator, the influx of information that my students absorb in a class becomes the tools they need for their eventual careers. As a researcher, I am in constant pursuit to curate novel ideas and approaches toward viable solutions: a cure, an unveiled truth, or an unanticipated purpose. I hope that through my research experiences in natural products, drug synthesis, green chemistry and catalysis that I can make a positive impact on humanity and the environment. Whether it is my family, my students, or humanity as a whole, I will always aspire to contribute towards making a better world for those I love as well as everyone around me. “

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Jordie Ocenar
Jordie Ocenar


Parent: Judy Watanabe

High School: Pearl City High School, 2008

College/Degree: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in plant and environmental protection sciences, 2012; master’s degree in entomology, 2015.

Occupation: Pest control technician.

What or who inspires you?

“My mom is my inspiration. As an educator, she helps young adults develop post-secondary education plans. As a volunteer, she is eager to engage with the community. As a friend, she is ready for any adventure. Despite constantly juggling all of these roles, my mom has always made time to be my biggest supporter, even as a single parent. Her sacrifices and support have provided me with unique opportunities and success in life. My mom’s absolute confidence in my perseverance has led me to become who I am today — okage sama de. Thanks to her perpetual encouragement, I have remained resilient through difficult times in my life. Additionally, she has inspired me to overcome obstacles, to strive for excellence, and to enjoy life to its fullest. Many facets of my mom’s character inspire me, but none so much as her steadfast belief in me.”

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Ariel Stenek
Ariel Stenek


Parents: Cindy Kodani-Stenek and Larry Stenek

High School: Kalani High School, 2008

College/Degree: University of San Francisco, bachelor’s degree in international studies; Queen Mary University of London, master’s degree in international relations, 2017.

Occupation: Post-graduate student

What or who inspires you?

“I am inspired by courageous acts in the service of human rights and equality. At the core of my values I believe that every person should be treated with respect and decency, and am encouraged by gestures big and small that serve this goal; whether its taking a second out of one’s day to express kindness to a stranger, or committing one’s life and work to fighting injustice. Recently I have been inspired by the work of Hawai‘i’s Attorney General, Doug Chin, whose unwavering resolve for open borders and the right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless of race or nationality have shown the 50th state to be a champion of American values.”

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Rhianna Taniguchi
Rhianna Taniguchi


Parents: Renee Hamatake and Rian Taniguchi

High School: Hawaii Baptist Academy, 2009

College/Degree: Oregon State University, bachelor’s degree in psychological sciences, 2013; certificate of digital marketing from University of Vermont, certificate in designing for social innovation and leadership from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace.

Occupation: Account manager at iQ 360, Inc.

What or who inspires you?

“Hearing the stories of underdogs who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve success for themselves and their community inspires me and gives me courage to pursue my dreams. My grandfather achieved the highest rank as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, despite living in a time where discrimination against Japanese Americans was prevalent. When I enlisted in the Army National Guard, it was the pride in my grandfather’s ability to transcend the limits he faced that gave me strength. My grandfather’s legacy is not wealth, but character. His gaman is an enduring gift to my family and allows us to face any challenge with confidence and pride. My grandfather’s life inspires me to be bold and to believe in myself, no matter the odds.”

Photo of 66th Cherry Blossom Festival Contestant, Kristen Yamamoto
Kristen Yamamoto


Parents: Jan Takara & Wes Yamamoto

High School: Punahou School, 2009

College/Degree: Pacific University (Oregon), bachelor’s degree in English, concentration in creative writing, 2013; University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, master’s degree in educational administration with a concentration in higher education, 2017.

Occupation: Special programs coordinator at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa

Who or what inspires you?

“I am a proud yonsei Japanese American woman born and raised on O‘ahu. The generations before me are my main source of inspiration. Their focus on higher education as a stepping-stone to success serves as a daily reminder to continue to instill those values in future generations.

My great grandparents sailed here from Kumamoto and worked on the Kaua‘i sugar plantations in hopes of building a better future. Both my grandfathers represented their Japanese American blood with pride as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. My father’s father used his Government Issue Bill to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and became the first college graduate in our family. UH Mänoa is also where I currently work, and where I will be completing my Master’s degree. My great grandparents, grandparents, and parents inspired my pursuit of higher education and my passion for helping others achieve the same.”


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