Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Contestants

Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Contestants

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Lori Miki Anzai

Parents: Guy and Kathleen Anzai

Lori Anzai

Lori Anzai

High School: Moanalua High School, 2008

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in communicology and minor in Japanese, 2012; University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in nursing, 2014; master’s degree in nursing, anticipated in 2016.

Occupation: Registered Nurse

Hobbies: Traveling, hiking, running, baking desserts and caring for animals.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Throughout my childhood I always remember my parents and grandparents emphasizing the importance of kansha, or gratitude. I came to understand this cultural value not only entails saying the words “thank you,” but it stems from sentiments of deep appreciation toward others. One of my fondest memories with my grandfather is going to Grandpa and Grandma Anzai’s house after school and having “story time.” My grandfather, who loved history, would share many life lessons through this context. Amidst these stories I learned how the Issei, first generation Japanese Americans, set forth to Hawai‘i in the pursuit of opportunity to provide a life filled with stability, education and a hopeful future for generations to come. Despite obstacles Japanese Americans faced during this time frame, their perseverance to carry on evokes a sense of gratitude within me. As a Yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, I have a sense of indebtedness toward the generations before me, for they have paved the way. Through community service I strive to give back to others and express my gratitude toward Hawai‘i, a place I am so grateful to call home. I strive to live a life filled with values such as kansha in my daily interactions and it is with great sincerity I wish to perpetuate this among future generations. My deepest appreciation goes out to those who have been a part of my life, personified by the expression okage sama de, “I am what I am because of you.”

Trisha Kaori Asao

Parents: Duane and Shirley Asao

Trisha Asao

Trisha Asao

High School: John F. Kennedy, La Palma, Calif., 2008

College/Degree/Year: University of California Irvine, bachelor’s degree in mathematics, 2013

Occupation: Marketing and communications administrator

Hobbies: Odori, basketball, volleyball, snowboarding and traveling.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha is the Japanese word for gratitude, but to me, it also means happiness because that is the feeling kansha brings me. It reminds me of everything I’m grateful for, the beautiful things, and people in life. Kansha is something my family taught me the importance of and is something I greatly feel toward them for all the unconditional love, wisdom, and support they have given me. It is what I feel for my amazing friends who are there for me no matter how near or far away I am from them. For my coworkers, who are not just coworkers to me, but my work ohana. It’s what I feel for all the opportunities I have been given, such as being a Cherry Blossom Festival contestant where I can share what I learn about my culture to others and make a difference in the community. It brings a smile to my face when I see others express kansha, and inspires me to do more to spread this wonderful feeling.

Asia Rei Katsura Ayabe

Parents: Ronald and Carol Ayabe

Asia Ayabe

Asia Ayabe

High School: `Iolani School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: Pomona College, bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience, 2015.

Occupation: Research fellow

Hobbies: Swimming, dancing hula and ballet, arts and crafts, and event planning.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha is the realization of okage sama de, that the gifts we receive are not obtained through our own efforts, but are bestowed upon us by the grace of God and the goodness of others. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with a critical heart condition. Facing the uncertain success of a surgical intervention, I was deeply grateful for the love and support I received from family and friends. Since my surgery, I have held a profound appreciation for each new day that is given to me. I am humbled by kansha, because I recognize that the sacrifices made by family, mentors, and even strangers, have blessed me with countless opportunities that can never be repaid. Kansha allows me to find happiness in life’s daily treasures — the comfort of holding my grandmother’s hand as we look for the prettiest apples in the supermarket, the mouthwatering aroma of my father’s shrimp fried rice wafting from the kitchen, or the matchless exhilaration of telling a story through hula. Living a life of kansha requires an open mind and an appreciation for everything that exists. A heart full of kansha will welcome the lessons of each experience, no matter the outcome. It cultivates an attitude of positive change and drives us to give back to the communities that have shaped us.

Crystal Lori Ishikawa

Parent: Walter Ishikawa

Crystal Ishikawa

Crystal Ishikawa

High School: Kalani High School, 2011

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, degree in secondary education, anticipated in 2017.

Occupation: Administrative assistant

Hobbies: Painting, baking, working out and playing with my pup Pacino.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

My grandmother taught me the true meaning of kansha. Each morning she would rise early, cook rice, serve and bow her head toward our hotokesama (alter). I watched her as she closed her eyes and clasped her frail fingers together. “Grandma,” I asked, “why do you do this each morning?” She replied, “Because in order to be happy, we must be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives.” As I’ve grown older I’ve realized the importance of gratitude and appreciation toward others. Sometimes we are so focused on where we have to go and what we have to do, that we forget to live in the present. With all of life’s demands we tend to get sidetracked and forget all of the amazing blessings around us. Saying thank you is not only an act of appreciation but also a way for me to say that I am truly blessed to have you in my life.

Ellise Midori Kakazu

Parents: Dean Kakazu and Jane Kaku

Ellise Kakazu

Ellise Kakazu

High School: Lanakila Baptist High School, 2009

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in communication, 2015.

Occupation: Journalist

Hobbies: Crafting a well-written story, working up a sweat in the gym and the mall, and eating healthy meals.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha which means “gratitude” is such an important aspect of life. Without gratitude, the heart would not beat with joy when someone utters the words “thank you” or “I appreciate you.” It is simple gestures that make the greatest difference in someone else’s life. So remember to give someone you love a hug and tell them how grateful you are or flash a smile at a stranger who opens the door for you. Kansha is a way of life, let us all perpetuate it.

Brittney Yasuko Kawahara

Parents: Clyde and Sharon Kawahara

Brittney Kawahara

Brittney Kawahara

High School: Pearl City High School, 2008

College/Degree/Year: Chaminade University of Honolulu, bachelor’s degree in forensic science, 2011

Occupation: Performer at Aulani: A Disney Resort and Spa

Hobbies: Performing arts (dancing, singing, acting), gaming, archery, community service, and helping my mother take care of her animals.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is the core of many interactions between individuals on both personal and professional levels. I believe kansha has two stages: the feeling of deep appreciation that one experiences when another individual helps them in some way, followed by the strong desire to reciprocate. Because of this, one kind act can lead to a chain of events that ultimately develops into strong bonds between people. Collectively, these bonds form the altruistic framework of Japanese society that is so characteristic of the culture. Personally, my parents have instilled the value of kansha in me since I was a child. As a business owner, my father always spoke of the paramount importance of recognizing those who helped him achieve milestones in his company. He acknowledged that without these individuals, he would not have been able to build his business. Meanwhile, my mother continually stressed the importance of showing appreciation to others who supported me, even if it was just sending a simple thank you card. Although I have felt gratitude many times in my life, my experience in the Cherry Blossom Festival has really given me the opportunity to live with the feeling of kansha on a daily basis. So many of my family and friends, both old and new, have formed the solid foundation that carries me through this endeavor, and I am grateful to them for their love and support.

Dylan Katarina Lau

Parents: Duane and Lori Lau

Dylan Lau

Dylan Lau

High School: Punahou School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: International Christian University, degree in communications, 2014.

Occupation: Guest service representative

Hobbies: Singing, learning languages, nail art, playing with my dog Aiden, watching movies and eating hurricane popcorn

“What does kansha mean to you?”

My interpretation of kansha is best embodied by the Japanese art of kintsugi. Literally translated as “to be patched with gold,” kintsugi embraces the beauty of the reinforced pottery. It celebrates perfection in imperfection. During a darker time in my life I battled severe depression and felt broken in many ways. It was a sad and difficult time for everyone around me, but my family and friends never gave up on me. Like in kintsugi, their love and support was the bond that put me back together to fortify a stronger, more confident version of myself. These loved ones reminded me of what’s important and to continue to be grateful and gracious even in the midst of hardship. Through my experiences I gained a better appreciation for the small happy everyday things that make life worth living. Kansha is keeping perspective and our chins up when we feel broken, because those who truly love us will always find us worth fixing. I am no longer ashamed of the cracks that once broke me, but celebrate them as the opportunity for growth. Like in kintsugi there is beauty in being broken, and having gone through it I feel a great sense of kansha to be alive surrounded by the people who love me. I am working on becoming a more kind and understanding individual to show those people my gratitude for all that they have done and continue to do for me; to become a person deserving of their unwavering support.

Kristi Kiyo Murakami

Parents: Roy and Maria Murakami

Kristi Murakami

Kristi Murakami

High School: Mililani High School, 2011

College/Degree/Year: Chaminade University of Honolulu, bachelor’s degree in elementary education, 2015.

Occupation: Elementary education teacher

Hobbies: Spending quality time with family and friends, growing and strengthening my relationship with God, serving others, running and watching my favorite shows on Netflix.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha is a single word filled with so much meaning. Kansha is something no one should have to ask for. It is something you feel so strongly inside that you emulate that gratitude onto people for everything you are grateful for. I have a very blessed life and I grew up being taught how important it is to live life being grateful. My grandparents, Milton and Lily Murakami, and my parents, Roy and Maria Murakami, have allowed me to really see what kansha looks like through their actions of showing gratitude towards others every day. The biggest lesson I learned when I lost my grandpa, was to be thankful for everything I have, be grateful for people I have in my life in every single moment and show appreciation towards others in every single moment. You never know when you will lose the opportunity to show your gratitude and thankfulness to those in your life. I am far from perfect and sometimes I fail to show my gratitude; however, kansha is a part of who I am. With that, I do my best to find gratitude in every aspect of my life and I am reminded to express it towards the people and things I am grateful for. It is one thing to have gratitude within you, but I believe what gives kansha its full meaning is when you take that gratitude you have inside and show it to the people and things you are thankful for.

Tarynn Mika Nago

Parents: Terrance and Jean Nago

Tarynn Nago

Tarynn Nago

High School: Waiakea High School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, degree in communications, 2014

Occupation: Integrated Marketing Assistant

Hobbies: Body building, shopping, nutrition and cooking.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha, to me, demonstrates the heartfelt gratitude of accomplishments and adversities that may come my way throughout life’s journey. As a little girl, I was taught by my parents to always say, “Please and thank you.” Now as a young woman, I am learning to be grateful for the everyday blessings, whether they are big or small, as well as in my most challenging and difficult circumstances. Being mindful of kansha in everything is a necessary key component to unlock one’s inner happiness and to appreciate life’s wonderful mysteries and lessons. I truly believe that having a consistent attitude of kansha will guide me in the right direction in all situations, ultimately carving out a resilient character with inner strength and beauty.

Aimee Kai Nelson

Parents: John and
Yoshiko Nelson

Aimee Nelson

Aimee Nelson

High School: Kapolei High School, 2009

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in marketing and entrepreneurship, 2013.

Occupation: Marketing assistant

Hobbies: Participating in theatrical productions, singing, playing tennis and traveling the world.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha means to be appreciative towards those who have shown us kindness or have made a difference in our lives. Kansha to me is also about being grateful for the many opportunities throughout life that have shaped who I am today. I am grateful for my study abroad and travel experiences, having been able to engage in different cultures and discover new things about myself. I am grateful for having obtained leadership roles in my college years, which have provided me with the confidence and skills to strive in my career. But most of all, I appreciate my family for always being supportive and encouraging me to do my best. When I take the time to reflect on these moments and all that I am grateful for, I realize how privileged I truly am. I believe the key to leading a happy and meaningful life is through kansha.

Alexis Sayuri Okihara

Parents: Darren and Mavis Okihara

Alexis Okihara

Alexis Okihara

High School: Henry J. Kaiser High School, 2009

College/Degree/Year: University of Oregon, bachelor’s degree in educational foundations with a minor in biology, 2013; Chaminade University of Honolulu, master’s degree in educational leadership, 2015

Occupation: Teacher

Hobbies: Soccer, coaching, surfing, hiking and meeting new people.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha, being truly grateful, is one of the most important guiding values in my life. I am thankful that my Japanese heritage, my loving family, my great friends and my health are solid foundations in my life. I am grateful to call Hawai‘i my home as it has provided many opportunities for me to experience the traditions and values from many cultures. This diversity has helped me to realize that most cultures in Hawai‘i appreciate many of the same values; love, respect, perseverance, compassion and a genuine sense of gratefulness. I feel fortunate that I have been able to experience these values everyday and it has motivated me to become a teacher so that I may do my part to embed these values in the future generations. In times of difficulty and success, I have found that the humble act of being grateful has brought strength and resolve while having to handle these situations. Being grateful for the people and opportunities in my life helps to keep me centered in an ever-changing world. Kansha is commonly expressed verbally by simply saying “thank you,” but when embraced as a foundational value it can help acknowledge the strengths and talents within people and their communities. Any action that honors this sense of appreciation will encourage acceptance and perpetuate stronger relationships between our cultural communities.

Kelly Miyoko Ono

Parents: Brian and Corinne Ono

Kelly Miyoko Ono

Kelly Miyoko Ono

High School: Pearl City High School, 2007

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in communicology and psychology, 2012; University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, post baccalaureate certification in special education, 2015.

Occupation: Special Education Teacher

Hobbies: Outdoor activities, arts and craft projects, testing and building new food recipes and spending time with close friends and family.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

You know you are getting older when you start to appreciate how your parents raised you. I remember growing up and brushing off my parents’ advice, like any normal teenager, only to make mistakes soon there after. These days, more than ever, I am putting the pieces together and realizing how much of an influence their parenting has on me as I move on through adulthood. Kansha, to me, means showing appreciation for efforts and support sent your way. Appreciation should be shown for not only the grand, but the miniscule gestures and actions someone chooses to do for you. As I get older, I am learning how to show gratitude in appreciation for the choices my parents have made to support me throughout my childhood. I may not have always agreed to the choices, or willingly gone with them, but now I am realizing I would not be where I am today without them. From the values and morals they have instilled in me, to the continuous support I still receive, I owe the largest amount of gratitude to my parents.

Rya Ming-Jun Mie Sekimoto

Parents: Ken and Eva Fong Sekimoto

Rya Ming-Jun Mie Sekimoto

Rya Ming-Jun Mie Sekimoto

High School: University Laboratory School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in marketing, management and international business, 2014

Occupation: Wedding and event coordinator

Hobbies: Hiking, yoga, photography, exploring new places and being a “foodie.”

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Two years ago, I decorated mason jars and stuffed them with a notepad and other small gifts to give to my closest friends. In the card accompanying the present, I asked my friends to use the notepad to write down all the significant things that happened to them starting on January 1 and place each note in the jar throughout the year. The purpose of this gift was to have them read all the notes at the end of the year on December 31 and reminisce the wonderful memories they created. To me, kansha means being grateful for every day that is given to us. We should appreciate the momentous occasions in our lives, the good and the bad, because they shape us to become who we are today. We should also be grateful for the people who are part of these life experiences, and help us along the journey. In all the endeavors I’ve chosen to pursue, my friends and family have always been extremely supportive and encouraging. I could not be more thankful to have these incredible people by my side.

Ritsuko Sarah Tomari

Parents: Mitsuhiro and Monica Tomari

Ritsuko Tomari

Ritsuko Tomari

High School: Pearl City High School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, bachelor’s degree in business with a focus in marketing, 2014

Occupation: Guest service agent and marketing assistant

Hobbies: Traveling to new places, singing, playing with my dogs, hiking and Netflix marathons.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Of all of the values and traditions I have learned, I truly believe that kansha has played a tremendous role in providing me with numerous positive and humbling experiences. The translation of the word kansha is “thanks or gratitude.” Kansha has taught me the importance of exemplifying core values such as humility, perseverance, respect and harmony. Kansha has also contributed towards shaping both my perspective and outlook on life. From a young age, my parents instilled many practical values and emphasized the significance of practicing kansha. Whether it be something as simple as writing a thank you card for a gift or adjusting my perspective on life, they ensured that I never forget to count my blessings. Through the practice of kansha, I have learned to search for the good in even the most unpleasant situations. Following my parents’ example of transforming negatives into positives and appreciating the simple things in life has helped me to bounce back from adversity. Their self-sacrificing love and example reminds me of the importance of emulating kansha. Kansha continues to inspire and motivate my desire to help others and to make positive contributions in our community. Through this year’s festival, my goal is to actively exhibit kansha in the hopes that I can influence positive change and become a role model for those in our community.

Amanda Yayoi Youth

Parents: Michael and Mia Youth

Amanda Youth

Amanda Youth

High School: ‘Iolani School, 2010

College/Degree/Year: University of Oregon, bachelor’s degree in family and human services, 2014; University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, master’s degree in social work, anticipated in 2016.

Occupation: Student

Hobbies: Baking, gardening, crafting, volunteering and playing volleyball.

“What does kansha mean to you?”

Kansha means acknowledging I’ve been blessed with good things in my life and being thankful for the people, places, and opportunities I’ve received. My Bachan emphasized the importance of saying thank you. But, it’s more than just saying “thank you;” she emphasized expressing kansha is personal. It can be as simple as a handwritten “thank you” note sent after an event to acknowledge someone’s kindness. She would say, “always be grateful for what you have and show gratitude when someone helps you.” Kansha is more than realizing I’m blessed; it’s looking past the difficulties of life and still knowing I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also about thanking those who have supported me on my journey. I’m thankful for my family, friends, teachers, mentors and those I’ve crossed paths with who have enriched my life. Having kansha for every aspect of life allows me to put the rough times into perspective and never forget the struggles and hardship of those who came before me in hopes of paving new paths for myself.

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