The 65th Cherry Blossom Festival Court at the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima with their senbazuru (1,000 paper cranes). Queen Heather Omori is third from right.
The 65th Cherry Blossom Festival Court at the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima with their senbazuru (1,000 paper cranes). Queen Heather Omori is third from right.

65th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Heather Omori Reflects on the Past Year

Gwen Battad Ishikawa

As any Cherry Blossom Festival queen will tell you, their year as queen was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a whirlwind one at that.

It’s been nearly a year since Heather Kiyomi Omori was crowned the 65th Cherry Blossom Festival queen. On March 17, she will pass on her sash and scepter to next year’s queen.

“It’s been amazing,” she says of her experience. “When they say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime journey, it really is, and it goes by so fast.”

Joining Omori on her journey were five other women — First Princess and Miss Popularity Kirstie Maeshiro-Takiguchi; Princesses Jennifer Ezaki, Ruth Taketa and Kelly Ann Takiguchi; and Miss Congeniality Roxanne Takaesu.

Together with their advisors and their families, the Hawai‘i contingent traveled to Japan on a goodwill tour to meet with their sister Jaycee chapters and festival sponsor-organizations. They also participated in the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco and in Nisei Week in Los Angeles.

In Japan, the Hawai‘i delegation visited with sister-cities chapters in Köbe, Kurashiki, Kojima, Tamashima and Odawara. They also met with sponsors Watabe Wedding, Fujiyasu Kimono Company, Japan Airlines and JTB.

The climax of their Japan trip was meeting Princess Mako, who invited them for tea and fellowship. Princess Mako is the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko and the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.

“She was willing to answer any questions we had about herself or Japan. Meeting her was the cherry on top of my trip,” Omori said.

In Kurashiki, Omori and First Princess Kirstie Maeshiro-Takiguchi homestayed with the Matsumoto family, who had two young children.

“Homestay was so much fun. I’ve never been in a home in Japan. I was expecting an old, traditional Japanese home, but the family just bought the home, so it was modern.” Omori said that although Kirstie spoke Japanese, not knowing the language was not a barrier. “There’s lot of technology, like Google translate, and we still found a lot of things that we could relate to. I’m a teacher, so with the kids . . . I love Ja-
panese kids. They’re so cute. And even though they’re kolohe (Hawaiian language for “rascal”), you just want to hug them,” she said with an infectious laugh.

While in Japan, the Hawai‘i group made a point of experiencing and participating in activities for which the location was known. For example, in Odawara, they visited Odawara Castle and dressed up in samurai, princess and ninja costumes for one of the side exhibits, and in Owakudani, they made sure to try the black egg.

A relatively new craze in Tökyö is MariCAR, where people dress up as characters from Mario Kart and drive through the streets in custom-made go-karts.

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