A Queen and a Princess

With my mom a couple of months after being selected as SFVJACC Queen.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that one of her dreams was for me to be in a Japanese American beauty pageant which was closely tied to a week-long festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week. The first Nisei Week celebration took place in 1934, and a year later, the queen pageant was added. With the exception of the years during which World War II took place, the Nisei Week Festival has taken place yearly. I knew how much my mother wanted me to participate in Nisei Week, but since I wasn’t that interested in vying for a queen title and being in a pageant, I tucked the idea of pursuing such a goal in the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it.

Shortly after I turned 18, I decided to contact the Japanese-American community center close to where I lived and inquired about the pageant, only to be told that the age requirements for queen candidates were changed to 19 to 25. The following year, I inquired again, but the area’s queen selection had already been made at that time. After that, I simply forgot about the Nisei Week queen selection. Then the year that I turned 25, I figured that I had one final chance to see if I could win a queen title and advance to the Nisei Week pageant. So I submitted my candidate profile and waited for the queen selection day to approach, while also keeping my plans completely hidden from my mom. I thought that if I wasn’t selected as the San Fernando Valley queen, I wouldn’t say anything to my mother, so as to spare her any disappointment.

While at the queen selection event, I noticed that I was up against only one other candidate, but that candidate had competed for the queen title for two consecutive years previously, and since she was also 25 years old, the event was her final chance at being selected as queen. I made an assumption that since the judges were familiar with the other candidate, she would most likely be chosen as their queen.

We were assessed on our physical appearance and poise, were asked impromptu questions while standing on a small stage, and were interviewed individually by every single judge. When it was time to announce the 1991 San Fernando Valley Japanese Community Center Queen, who would then go on to compete at the Nisei Week pageant with 8 other regional queens, I prepared myself to hear the other candidate’s name, so it was a complete surprise when I heard my name called. Next thing I knew, the judges and guests were congratulating me, and the former queen placed a bouquet of tulips in my arms. When I arrived home, I called my mom to tell her the news, and she was incredibly proud and thrilled.

At Mayor Tom Bradley’s office with fellow Nisei Week Princess and WLAJACC Queen Alice Akahoshi

Over the next three months, I went to pageant practice 3 days per week, attended events with the rest of the court, and was primed and polished for business visitations and parades. It was like attending Japanese-American charm school, and I was grateful for the experience. I wore a tiara to many events, and also wore a sash whenever clad in kimono or in the matching outfits the court was expected to wear during events and visitations. We performed in front of 1,200 guests during the pageant, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was a Nisei Week Princess, still held the Queen title for my region, and became part of an incredible community.

My Top Ten Favorite Moments

I recently thought about what my ten favorite moments in my life have been, and I decided to compile a list. I was astonished to see that eight of the ten moments occurred while I was traveling, and six of them involved water. Every single one of these moments is special and sacred to me, and full of meaning. I’ve made sure to list them in chronological order. I will add ten blog posts in the future which will discuss each of these magic moments.

Aegean Sea

The night I gazed at stars in Yosemite

Japanese-American beauty pageant win

Medical School graduation

Swimming with dolphins in Kihei, Maui

Winning IFBB Pro status at Team Universe

Budapest at 7 pm

Mornings in Maldives

My last night in Porto

Chaweng Noi Beach

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!