Cherry blossom pageant heralds a new kind of Japanese American girl

By Eleanor Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly

2010 Greater Seattle Japanese Community and Cherry Blossom Queen Kisara Nishimoto (center), First Princess and Miss Tomodachi Racehel Fujimoto (left), Christine Johnston (second from right) and Alicia Watanabe make up the 2010 Cherry Blossom court. (Photos by Eleanor Lee/NWAW)

The Greater Seattle Japanese Community Queen coronation was definitely not the standard bikini and high heels pageant seen on TV. No, attending it was more like being a dinner guest of very exuberant Asian parents trotting out their straight-A, violin-playing, soup-kitchen-volunteering offspring — only with more dancing and speeches.

The Greater Seattle Japanese Community Queen Committee supports young Japanese American women in their pursuit of higher education. It awards scholarships every year through its pageant.

The program, held on May 29 at the Seattle Art Museum, started with a traditional odori dance, with all four contestants, Rachel Fujimoto, Christine Johnston, Kisara Nishimoto, and Alicia Watanabe, in traditional kimonos.

The four contestants await the judges decision.

The competition had several components. Contestants were judged on everything from their speaking ability to their creative expression.

The contestants first discoursed on a topic randomly pulled from a fishbowl. Most of the subjects were standard fare for pageants, such as questions about women’s roles and Japanese American role models.

But Johnston’s topic was Supreme Court Judge Stevens’ retirement. Perhaps none of the contestants would have spoken eloquently on this subject, and Johnston deserves recognition for her efforts.

Later in the evening, the contestants answered more personal questions about family traditions and the merits of assimilation versus preserving cultural identity. Interestingly, all the young ladies spoke in favor of assimilation to a degree, underscoring their ease with living in America.

Kisara Nishimoto dances the Japanese Odori

At 20 percent each, academic records and a pre-pageant interview make up the majority of the final score.

Other categories include community service (15 percent), speaking ability and presence (15 percent), and creative expression/talent (15 percent). For the talent segment, Fujimoto played the harp, Watanabe sang, Johnston played the violin, and Nishimoto performed a salsa dance. The dance was clearly the crowd favorite and won Nishimoto the talent award.

Nishimoto also won the community service award before going on to win the entire competition. Fujimoto was crowned first princess and was also named Miss Tomodachi (congeniality).

Terry Nakano, president of the Queen Committee, served as the master of ceremonies with Monique Perkins, who was crowned queen in 2007. Nakano was an affable host who bantered easily with the contestants.

Perkins choreographed a dance number to “Singin’ in the Rain,” a segment of the program that was purely for entertainment.

Visiting royalty from the Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Northern California courts were in attendance. They had been taken earlier that day to such Seattle attractions as Pike Place Market in, appropriately, very rainy conditions.

The four young ladies who competed this year are all earnest, accomplished, and good-natured — they are a testament to the Japanese American community in Seattle, even as that community becomes more and more loosely defined.

What is notable about the pageant is that, increasingly, contestants are not full-blooded Japanese. Some of the contestants in recent years, on first meeting, would not be immediately recognized as Japanese. What is impressive is how the committee has allowed for the natural diversification of contestants. The young women who participate in this event are not defined by external parameters. Rather, they let their own experiences speak for themselves. What Japanese American is, simply, what Japanese Americans say it is. ♦

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Eleanor Lee can be reached at

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