A Princess Dream Come True

Our court from 1991. I am second from left on the bottom row. This was taken about a month before our Nisei Week Pageant and Queen selection.

Over two decades ago, my first seemingly dreamy and unattainable goal was to be involved in a yearly Japanese-American festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week, which was established back in 1934.  Aside from a period of seven years between 1942 and 1948, during which World War II raged and carried a solid and jarring impact on the Japanese-American community, the Nisei Week festival has continued to run throughout the decades.

As a child, I remember seeing the Nisei Week Queen and court each year, and it became a dream of mine to be selected as a court member when I got older. However, I got sidetracked by life and didn’t bother to enter the  competition for the local queen selection until the year I turned 25.  I was stunned when I was chosen as the Queen of my community center (the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, or SFVJACC) for that year.

Once I was selected, I spent the next three months in regular meetings with the queens from the other eight participating communities, meetings in which we would practice all the routines for the beauty pageant which would mark the beginning of that year’s Nisei Week. We competed in that pageant for over 1,000 audience members in a 3 hour event, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was happy with being a Nisei Week Princess. We rode on floats, visited businesses, and fostered good will throughout the Japanese-American community.

August 16, 2015: Nisei Week Queen and Court on the float of Nisei Week Japanese Festival Parade at Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles.

When we were on stage, on parade floats, and on visitations, we would wear our sashes, a definite marker which identified us all as queen and court.  On some occasions, we would wear our crowns, and were either clad in matching dresses, or in kimono.

Queen?  Princess?  I guess so, at least in pageant terms!

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The White Dove

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My mother’s family believes very strongly that departed spirits return to the physical world in winged form. This belief was handed down to me, and is so deeply ingrained that I am always keenly aware of the presence of birds and insects I encounter when a loved one has recently passed away.

When my favorite aunt passed away last December, I didn’t feel her energy around me at all. This was in stark contrast to when my dear friend Rob Willhite passed away in April of 2014. Right after Rob died, he hovered around my meditation table and my bed, and left coins on my bed, bathroom counter, desk chair, and car seat. His energy was heavy, palpable.

I began to accept the possibility that I wasn’t as spiritually connected with my aunt as I had always thought. I traveled to Oahu the third week of January and spent the days leading up to my aunty’s funeral getting reacquainted with the island. I still felt no connection with my aunt’s spirit.

The day of the funeral arrived with a vengeance, spewing rain and strong winds which were the exact opposite of the balmy, sunny days which led up to it. The funeral service was odd, and seeing my aunt’s embalmed corpse was alarming to me. It was definitely an empty vessel.

For the first time ever, I served as a pallbearer. As we carried the casket out to the hearse, the rain began to fall again. By the time the funeral procession had arrived at the cemetery, the rain was steady, and the winds were so fierce that it threw a few of the folding chairs at the site into the air.

During the burial ceremony, the priest stood in front of the casket, with his back to the interment site which awaited my aunt’s body. While he spoke, the winds whipped furiously, pushing the rain into us and rendering the protection of the tent we were sitting under completely useless. One particularly assertive gust of wind hit, and I looked up despite risking getting a face full of rain. As soon as I glanced up, a single white dove flew up from the exact position where my aunt’s final resting place would be, made a sweeping arc behind the priest, and flew up into the sky. That was the sign I was looking for. Aunty was there.

The next evening I returned to Los Angeles, and because I was battling a wicked case of bronchitis, I chose to sleep on the sofa downstairs so that I wouldn’t wake anyone upstairs. By some miracle I actually got a decent night’s sleep that night. When I woke up the next morning, I put my left foot down onto the floor, and noticed a single white feather right next to my foot. Another sign.

That feather is now in a pouch with a mala my friend Rob gave me.