65th CBF Queen Heather Omori presents the scepter to new queen Melanie Carrié.
65th CBF Queen Heather Omori presents the scepter to new queen Melanie Carrié.

66th CBF Queen Brings an International Perspective to Her New Role

Gwen Battad Ishikawa

Melanie Camille Michiko Carrié, the newly crowned Cherry Blossom Festival queen, has lived in places others have only dreamed of — and in less than a quarter of a century!

Carrié was born in Antwerp, Belgium, to her Japanese American mother from Pearl City, Denyse Inouye Carrié, and her French father, Michel Carrié.

Her father’s work as a chemical engineer took the family, which includes her younger siblings — sister Nadia and brother Matthew — to locations such as Beijing; Edinburgh, Scotland; Paris; Cincinnati and Poughkeepsie, NY. But Hawai‘i had never been her home until September 2016 when she settled here to help care for her ailing maternal grandfather, Richard Inouye.

“After he had passed and we were going through his things to plan for the funeral, I realized how much I hadn’t learned about his past,” she said.

That was all the inspiration Carrié needed to apply to become a queen contestant in the Cherry Blossom Festival. “To learn more about my mother’s side of the family and things that I wasn’t able to learn while he (grandfather) was alive was very important to me,” she added.

On March 17, Carrié was crowned the 66th Cherry Blossom Festival queen at the Festival Ball, which was held at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Upon hearing her name, Carrié said she was stunned, as was her family.

“I didn’t anticipate it, so it took a couple days to process, everyone I’d be representing. I’m grateful and looking forward to everything we’re going to be doing this year,” she said.

Rounding out the court are First Princess Mika Lyn Nakashige; Princesses Chelsea Momoka Briggs, Kaydi Azure Hashima and Kylie Kimie Hisatake; Miss Popularity Shelby Keiko Wai‘oluikamälie Meador and Miss Congeniality Karly Misako Kanehiro.

Colette Mira Masunaga was selected to receive the Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship. Dr. Scott Oishi, MD, established the scholarship in honor of his mother, Violet Niimi Oishi, the first Cherry Blossom Festival queen.

Carrié said she hopes to continue advancing the image of what a modern Japanese American woman can be. “I know that all of us as contestants were very strong and independent, as well, and I think that’s an important message to continue to put forward.”

The Cherry Blossom Festival is a project of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce. The contestants were introduced in January at the ‘Ohana Festival. In the months prior to their public introduction, they learned about Japanese culture through classes such as aikidö, bon odori, calligraphy, gyotaku (fish imprinting), ikebana, kimono, tea ceremony and various cooking classes. They also took classes in Japanese history, Japanese business etiquette, public speaking and festival preparation.

The Japanese cultural classes were a totally new experience for the 24-year-old yonsei.

“Because we moved around so much from country to country every three or four years, we grew up in cultures that weren’t our own, so we kind of got a global view of everything. We would come back to Hawai‘i regularly, so it was more the local culture that we learned the most about. Being very international in our upbringing, it was hard to just focus on one aspect, because the Japanese communities where we lived were either small or didn’t exist,” she said.

A classically trained pianist since age 6, Carrié said she especially enjoyed learning taiko drumming. “Because I am a musician, to be able to practice that through this cultural lens was really, really interesting,” she said.

She was also intrigued by gyotaku printing.

“The way our instructor (Naoki Hayashi-Sensei) spoke about it was showing a lot of respect to the process . . . you have to catch the fish yourself, you print it yourself and you eat it, so it didn’t go to waste. That whole cycle of start to finish and just trying to do the most you can with a life that was given to you, whether it was for art or nourishment, was such an interesting way to look at it.

“It really makes you think about everything else you do in your life, whether you put that much thought or that much intent into it.”

Carrié graduated from the Western Academy of Beijing, a high school in China, and earned a bachelor’s degree with merit in politics and social anthropology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Her long-term future goals include pursuing a graduate program in foreign affairs and working for the CIA or working for the United Nations in a diplomatic role.

“I would like to go back to school, but there’s a lot that you can learn from life experience, as well,” she said. She is currently a Realtor-As-
sociate and broker’s transaction manager at Vesta Hawaii Real Estate.

Of all the places that she has lived, Carrié says Hawai‘i is where she feels most comfortable and where she feels she fits in the most.

“Hawai‘i is the only place I’ve lived where people aren’t wondering, ‘Oh, you look so Asian, but you’re half-white, or you look so white, but you’re half-Asian.’ There is such a mixed culture here, so people are very accepting of that sort of thing.

“It’s very different to live in a place where everyone knows each other and where everyone is very supportive of the entire community. And so, to be a part of that has been a really great experience.”

A philosophy that Carrié embraces wholeheartedly is known in Japanese as kaizen, or “continuous improvement.”

“Whether it’s 1 percent or 100 percent, every step you take towards something you want or something you want to achieve is incredibly valued and very important. When you look at Japan’s history, [to see] just how far they’ve come considering everything that’s happened in the international arena is so impressive and it makes you feel proud. When I’ve thought about everything I’ve tried to achieve or in all the things that I’ve been successful in doing, I wonder if it’s because of my heritage and the values that have been instilled in me, or because of something else. To see that reflection both in Japan’s history, in my family and in myself has been really nice.”

Carrié’s main hope for her experience as Cherry Blossom Festival queen is to learn more about how people communicate with each other.

“One of the things I’ll learn about the most is the dynamics between communicating with people who are very entrenched in the Japanese culture. . . . [E]very word, every phrase is very deliberate, and I think to be able to understand interpersonal communication in that way is going to be something that can be used and transferred to other parts of life.”

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