People often ask me why I participated in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival 10 years ago.
It’s never a simple answer.
Truth is, I didn’t grow up wanting to be part of the annual ethnic festival that, for decades, was more like a beauty pageant than the cultural experience it is today.
I had no business running in a beauty pageant — can’t wear high heels, legs scarred up from run-ins with asphalt, swearing problem — and, besides, the festival didn’t allow half-Japanese women like me to participate.
Until 1999, when Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the festival, decided to open it up to multiethnic Japanese-American women. It was a controversial but necessary (at least in my opinion) move, as the festival better reflected the multiethnic community of which it was a part.
Now I had no excuse.
What sold me was the cultural aspect of the festival. As a contestant, you get the opportunity to learn about the Japanese culture in hands-on classes such as ikebana, calligraphy, sushi-making, tea ceremony, kimono-dressing and — my favorite — taiko drumming.
The surprise was, though, that I gained lifelong friends, the kind you know will always support you no matter how ridiculous your ideas are, who know exactly how to make you laugh, and who, when you see them after months, it’s like you just saw them the other day.
That kind of friend.
And not just with my fellow contestants, either. Since volunteering with the festival after my stint on court, I’ve been fortunate enough to make these same strong friendships with other volunteers, who all believes in this festival, too.
The 60th Cherry Blossom Festival is currently seeking applicants — hence, the blog — and if you know a Japanese-American woman between 19 and 26 who’s interested in learning about their culture, gaining professional development and networking experience, and open to making friends for life, tell her to apply. (Application here. The deadline has been extended to Aug. 15.)
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Here’s a sample of what the contestants go through during the six months leading up to Festival Ball:
About the 60th Cherry Blossom Festival
Applicants must have at least 50 percent Japanese ancestry, be between the ages of 19 and 26 years old, single, a U.S. citizen and Hawaii resident. A completed registration form, proof of Japanese ancestry through a birth certificate and a $30 application fee is required.
For more information about the Cherry Blossom Festival, visit www.cbfhawaii.com or email [email protected] Visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cbfhawaii or follow it on Twitter @cbfhi.