61st Cherry Blossom Festival Announces New Queen and Court

The 61st Cherry Blossom Festival court (from left to right): Miss Popularity Ashley Higa, Princess Misha Maletta, First Princess Lori Higashi, Queen Crystine Ito, Princess Kellene Sasano, Princess Leila Mitsunaga, and Miss Congeniality Eryn Kawamoto. Photo by Sean Nakamura.

This evening, the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Cherry Blossom Festival crowned the new 61st Cherry Blossom Queen and Court at its annual Festival Ball and coronation ceremony at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. For the 15 Queen Contestants, Festival Ball is the culmination of seven months of cultural and professional development classes that include Japanese history and business etiquette, bon dance, aikido, taiko, speech and pageant training, and more.

Queen, First Princess and three Princesses are selected by a panel of esteemed judges for their dedication to perpetuating Japanese culture, commitment to education and passion for community service. Princesses are listed in alphabetical order. Miss Popularity is awarded to the Queen Contestant who has accumulated the most points by raised funds used to support the perpetuation of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Miss Congeniality is awarded to the Queen Contestant who has been selected by her peers as exemplifying the spirit of friendship.

Proudly presenting the 61st Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and Court:

Queen: Crystine Hisae Ito
Crystine is a 2007 graduate of Kapa‘a High School. She is the daughter of Carol Ann and Carlton Ito. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a Minor in American Studies in 2011 from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and currently works as a legislative aide in the Hawaii State Legislature House of Representatives.

1st Princess: Lori Hiroko Higashi
Princess: Kellene Noenoelani Sasano
Princess: Misha Nicole Yurie Maletta
Princess: Leila Tomoyo Mitsunaga
Miss Popularity: Ashley Michiko Higa
Miss Congeniality: Eryn Akemi Kawamoto

This year's theme, Laulima, is a tribute to the legacy of the Festival and its many volunteers, sponsors, donors, contestants, families, and supporters. Without "many hands working together," these 61 years of awareness, education, and preservation of the Japanese culture in Hawaii could not have been possible.

Highlights of the evening included:

  • Taiko Performance – Contestants performed a taiko sequence choreographed and instructed by world-acclaimed musician Kenny Endo, and accompanied by members of the Taiko Center of the Pacific.
  • Western Phase – Contestants delivered one-minute speeches in evening gowns from Casablanca Bridal & Formals.
  • Eastern Phase – Contestants answered one impromptu question while wearing authentic furisode kimono flown in from Japan specifically for this event by Watabe Wedding Hawaii.

Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship

Tonight, the recipient of the Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship was also named. Established in 2002 by Dr. Scott Oishi in memory of his mother, the very first Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and a career educator, this $5,000 award is designated for the continued education of one Queen Contestant. The recipient was selected on the basis of her educational excellence, essay submission, and community service involvement.

Violet Niimi Oishi Scholarship Recipient: Leila Tomoyo Mitsunaga

Leila is a 2006 graduate of Iolani School and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2010 from Willamette University. She will be attending Argosy University in the fall, where she will be studying to become a clinical psychologist and pursue her dream to help children with mental health problems.