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2017 NorCal Cherry Blossom Queen Candidates Announced

The 2017 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Candidates in San Francisco’s Japan Center. Front row, from left: Kellie Rachel Ouye, Kelli Keiko Fujinaga, Jacquelyn Kimiko Chew, Ayame Yoshizawa. Back row, from left: Sydney Kikue Paderna, Hilary Kiyomi Ego. (David Yu Photography)

SAN FRANCISCO — The six candidates for the 50th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program were announced on March 12. They are:

• Ayame Yoshizawa, 19, of San Francisco. Creative expression: Nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance). Eucation: B.A. in cinema, City College of San Francisco. Sponsor: Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco.

• Sydney Kikue Paderna, 24, of Oakland. Creative expression: Koto. Eduation: B.A. in sports psychology, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Sponsor: Friends of the Golden Gate Optimist Club.

• Jacquelyn Kimiko Chew, 26, of Buena Park. Creative expression: Nihon buyo. Education: M.S. in marketing analytics, Northwestern University. Sponsor: Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California.

• Hilary Kiyomi Ego, 25, of San Francisco. Creative expression: Spoken word. Education: M.S. in water resources management and environmental studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Sponsor: Benihana.

• Kelli Keiko Fujinaga, 22, of Foster City. Creative expression: Hula. Education: B.S. in marketing, Santa Clara University. Sponsor: Nihonmachi Street Fair.

• Kellie Rachel Ouye, 26, of El Cerrito. Creative expression: Geriatric advocacy. Education: B.S. in zoology, Washington State University. Sponsor: Takara Sake USA Inc.

One of the candidates will succeed Samantha Beth Tsukiji as queen and another will succeed Marisa Sum as first princess.

Coronation Night will take place on Saturday, April 8, at the Kabuki Cinemas, Post Street between Fillmore and Webster in San Francisco Japantown. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.; program begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets: $35. For tickets, visit

Candidates will showcase their speech, interview, and creative expression, as judges select them to represent the community. This tradition has become one of the main events during the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (April 8-9 and 15-16 this year).

Over the course of a year, the court will volunteer with local community events and organizations, building a foundation for life-long involvement in the community. They will travel to sister festivals in Los Angeles and Hawaii. The queen will also have the opportunity to travel to Japan. Through public speaking, networking, and community service, the court will develop professional and leadership skills. Japanese American culture and history education are also an essential part of this program. For many, this will be the only opportunity in their lifetime to wear a traditional furisode kimono.

After their year is over, many court members continue to serve the Japanese American community as members of Cherry Blossom Alumnae, one of the program’s corporate sponsors.

In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Cherry Blossom Alumnae is searching for former court members from 1968 through 2003. Anyone with information is asked to get in touch through

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