The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival hosted its annual Queen Program last Saturday at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema in San Francisco Japantown. Four participants were judged on their speech, in which they described their core values and specific bonds to the Japanese culture, a personal interview with judges, a previously submitted essay and an interview with the event emcees.
Kelli Asako Sum (photo on the left), a 22-year old San Jose State University student, was crowned as the 2015 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen that night. Sponsored by Benihana, she will represent the festival and the Northern California Japanese American community throughout the year. Nina Marie Myers was declared First Princess. The Tomodachi Award wasn’t granted to the candidates this time. The congeniality title will be announced at the end of the court year after the candidates get to know each other and go through the journey together. Taylor Keiko-Lehua Davis and Karine Brenda Worley will have a chance to receive this award.
Kelli Asako Sum is a fourth-generation Japanese American. Her mother, whom she lost at the age of 14, was once the Cherry Blossom court member. Inspired by her, Sum decided to continue the tradition that returns her to her roots, and participate in the program. During a creative expression segment – a video presentation – the queens had an opportunity to showcase their passions and interests. Sum expressed her love for koto. It is a rare traditional musical instrument that, according to Kelli, not even everyone in Japan have seen or heard. The koto’s delicate sounds help Sum get in touch with her culture.
Sum received a beautifully ornate and patterned furisode kimono and set of essential accessories courtesy of Fujiyasu Kimono Company, a tradition that began in 1973. Thanks to Japan Airlines, she will also travel to Japan as a representative of the Northern California Nikkei community. Together with the court, she will serve as a cultural ambassador: visit many places around the country and attend numerous events.
The 2015 Cherry Blossom Queen along with her court will appear at the Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade this Sunday, April 19th. The parade starts at 1pm at the Civic Center and ends on Post and Fillmore streets in Japantown. You can learn more about the program and its candidates HERE. Please RSVP on the Facebook event page to stay tuned to all the parade updates.
by Halyna Yakubovich
NCCBF Social Media Guest Blogger