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.


Shuntaro Ogata 1

Kevin Frates 1Kelli 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.

kimono and setThe 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

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The Suite J-Town explores the Art of Resilience in a site-specific series of Visual Art and Performance events celebrating the history of Japantown in San Francisco. Come and visit the exhibition during the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival!

APRIL 9 – MAY 16, 2015
Gallery & Community Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 1–6pm & by appointment, FREE
Japan Center, East Mall, 22 Peace Plaza, Suite 525
San Francisco, CA 94115


San Francisco artists Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu team up to produce Suite J-town, a multidisciplinary, intercultural, intergenerational, series of events celebrating the 110-year history of San Francisco’s Japantown. They will ignite the soul of a community in transition, amidst a rapidly changing San Francisco landscape. Suite J-Town pays tribute to the 100-plus-year history of Japantown through music, dance, visual art, story, sound collage, video, and a site-specific installation.

“Creative synergy focused with the proper intent, can turn turmoil into transformation. This is the art of resilience”, said Brenda Wong Aoki.

“This exhibition is basically a way for us to illustrate and also show and share and celebrate with everyone else the preciousness of Japantown. So that other people can treasure this. This is a historical neighborhood that has been here for so long”, says artist Eryn Kimura.

Suite J-Town, seeks to deepen and expand community engagement, mentor next generation artists, and celebrate one of San Francisco’s essential historic neighborhoods. Suite J-Town will draw upon the stories of everyday people who are the heart and soul of the community.

The artist also told us what she thinks about our Festival:

“The Cherry Blossom Festival is pretty much the number one event here in Japantown. It’s huge! It’s on two weekends, there is a parade, it’s been here for almost 50 years. This is one of the only festivals where I feel like we are the most visible. It’s so meaningful to even be here. So we can be seen and it’s a celebration!”



Japantown Mandala and Multimedia Arts Installation
April 9 – May 16, 2015
Opening Reception: Thursday April 9, 5-8pm
Gallery & Community Hours: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 1-6pm
Film Series: April 11, 12, 18 & 19 6:30-9pm

What is the soul of a place? The Japantown Mandala is an arts and media installation that visually represents the resilience and beauty of a deeply rooted San Francisco community facing transformation. Nancy Hom created an impermanent interchangeable work of art shaped in concentric circles, in collaboration with community members, that will transform a collection of personal experiences into an integrated whole. The Japantown Mandala, like a single drop of rain will create concentric circles of effervescence that will emanate beyond the artwork itself reaching throughout the community and beyond.

The multimedia arts installation includes visual art, sound, video, and performance, featuring emerging Bay Area artists Marissa Bergmann, Charlene Kelley, Junho Kim, Eryn Kimura, Yuki Maruyama, Elena Nielsen, Celi Tamayo-Lee, Ayana Yonesaka. These artists explore intercultural intersections across space and time, generations, cultures. Kevin King is creating a pagoda sculpture that mirrors the landmark SF Japantown Peace Pagoda, a gift of the City of Osaka in 1968. Audience members are invited to contribute their responses and have them displayed on the pagoda.

Cultures of Resilience
April 25, 2015
4–6 pm
RSVP: (Space is limited)
What are cultures of place? How do we create synergy to revitalize our communities during these times of transformation? Former Poet Laureates of San Francisco devorah major and Janice Mirikitani with writer/storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki share insight into the Afro-Asian cultural dynamic of J-town through storytelling and community dialogue. Kai Kane Aoki Izu and Javonte perform hip hop and rap and share reflections on growing up in the Western Addition neighborhood with arts activist Eryn Kimura.

A Walk Through Time
May 10, 2015
Location: Japan Center Peace Plaza, 1610 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94115
Join us for an interactive adventure through space and time as we explore J-Town history through music, dance and storytelling performances. This site-specific performance in San Francisco Japantown features: Brenda Wong Aoki, Storyteller/Performer; Marina Fukushima, Performer/Dancer; Masaru Koga, Performer/Flute; Moy Eng, Vocalist; Mark Izu, Composer/Bass & sho; Shoko Hikage, Koto; Kenny Endo, Taiko and Ayana Yonesaka, Dancer.

2015 NCCBF Social Media Team Member