Photo of the 65th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Heather Omori.
65th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Heather Omori.

Gwen Battad Ishikawa

Kansha (gratitude) and Kokoro (heart) were the themes, respectively, of the 64th and 65th Cherry Blossom festivals, sponsored by the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Heather Kiyomi Omori, who was chosen queen of the 65th Cherry Blossom Festival on March 18 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, explained how she embraces both Japanese values during a recent interview at the Hawaii Hochi offices.

“It’s more just expressing kokoro now with others and kansha, especially, showing my gratitude. I’m grateful for everything that has happened and all the people that I’ve met that help us to perpetuate the Japanese culture. For me, though, kokoro is the balance of my heart, mind and spirit. Because I took aikido since I was 9 years old, I learned to be mindful of things I say and actions that I do, and as a teacher, I model this to my students, as well.

Fifteen contestants competed in this year’s festival. Joining Omori on the court are First Princess and Miss Popularity Kirstie Hiroi Maeshiro-Takiguchi; Princesses Jennifer Keiko Ezaki, Ruth Mariko Taketa and Kelly Ann Keiko Takiguchi and Miss Congeniality Roxanne Napualani Takaesu.

Omori, a 26-year-old gosei, is a graduate of Mililani High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011 and a master’s degree in elementary education in 2013, both from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

She is a third grade teacher at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School on Schofield Barracks and a behavioral interventionist who works with autistic children.

Heather is the daughter of Terence and Bridget Omori. Terence works in maintenance and is a ki aikido instructor who works with veterans and with patients at Kahi Mohala. Bridget works at Title Guaranty. Her brother Tyler, 22, is currently in an air traffic control program in Seattle.

Omori was also the recipient of the Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship. Violet Niimi was the first Cherry Blossom Festival queen in 1953. In 2002, her son, Dr. Scott Oishi, established the academic scholarship in his mother’s memory.

Omori plans to use the scholarship to continue teaching her students about community service. As a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international honor society for women educators, Omori wants to travel to Kochi, Japan, to learn about the Japanese value of education and how it differs from the American value of education, and incorporate what she learns into her classroom.

Part of Omori’s curriculum is to introduce her students to Japanese culture. “My students did origami without realizing it was origami. They just borrowed a book from the library,” she said. She showed them the gyotaku (fish imprinting) shirt she made as a contestant and they celebrated Girls’ Day. She plans to teach them ikebana and bon dance and celebrate Children’s Day next month.

“A lot of my students are military and their parents told me that if I didn’t teach them about the Japanese culture, they wouldn’t even know about it. And some of them were born in Japan because of the military,” she said.


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