By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA, Rafu Contributor
From triathlete to fashion designer, Emily Michi Iijima Folick carries many titles, but on Saturday night, she added one more — Nisei Week Queen.
The evening commenced with a cheery “Tadaima!” from Rev. Mark Nakagawa, the 2012 Nisei Week Foundation president. This year marked the homecoming of the Nisei Week coronation to the Aratani/Japan America Theatre after refurbishments pushed last year’s ceremony to the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.
After the curtain was raised, all seven candidates appeared in kimono to sing “Gaman.” The song comes from the new Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which is set during the Japanese American internment and stars George Takei. (The show will open next month at The Old Globe in San Diego.)
The candidates then shared personal stories with the audience, ranging from game-winning shots during playoff games to the lessons of odori.
During her turn, Folick displayed humor, compassion and maturity as she described her training regimen for triathlons benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
She started her speech by declaring that she hated to run, yet changed her views after she joined a training team filled with cancer survivors.
“I thought if I could fund-raise … I will do my part in fighting for them,” said Folick.
The new queen is sponsored by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council. She graduated from UC Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in business economics and from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising with a degree in fashion design. She works for the Lunada Bay Swimwear Corporation.
Continuing with tradition, former Nisei Week Queen and actress Tamlyn Tomita served as the mistress of ceremonies. The role of master of ceremonies was temporarily filled by actor Rodney Kageyama while ABC7 anchor David Ono attended the Broadcast Emmy Awards.
The pair shared playful, humorous exchanges, with Tomita singing announcements and Kageyama making his appearance in black shorts with a suit jacket.
Around 8 p.m., Ono made a fashionably late appearance, carrying two Emmys in his arms. He playfully rated Kageyama’s performance — first a 0 and then a 10 — and explained that his awards came from “Witness: American Heroes,” his documentary on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The documentary would go on to win one more award that evening after Ono left the ceremony, for a total of three Emmys.
While the candidates prepared for the next portion of the evening, improv group Cold Tofu performed a parody skit called “Mr. Nisei Week.” The comedy routine, which showed three men competing for the coveted title, elicited loud laughter and cheers from the audience.
The queen candidates then swapped their traditional kimono for sparkly tank tops and black leggings with silver heels as they danced to a techno number. With neon lights, smoke and a deep bass beat, the women strutted their stuff and performed a routine dubbed “fierce” by Tomita.
Toward the end of the evening, the candidates came out in white, ruffled evening gowns designed by Tadashi for the question-and-answer portion.
After asking each candidate playful questions about their preference between Olympic swimming star Nathan Adrian and Ono himself, the emcees asked the women how they would share the JA community with the people they would meet during their reign.
Folick took only a quick second before stepping forward to answer.
“It is important to be unified not only with the JA community, but with the other cultural communities in our area,” she said. “We need to educate other people about our community and remember that we are not only Japanese, but that we are also American.”
In watching their daughter’s coronation, parents Jeffrey Folick and Namy Iijima Folick said they felt nothing but happiness for their formerly shy child.
“(Nisei Week) has been a really positive experience for her,” Namy Iijima Folick said.
“I’m just really happy for her,” added her father.
For a woman who comes from a tradition of royalty — Folick’s brother’s girlfriend was a former Nisei Week Queen and the very first Nisei Week Queen was also part of her family — the actual coronation was surreal.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Folick said. “It’s an honor. The JA community gave me so much, and I hope I can make them proud.”
The title of First Princess went to Crystal Akie Hanano, who is sponsored by the West Los Angeles JACL and Venice Japanese Community Center. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in psychobiology and works at Kaiser Permanente as a support coordinator in the Population Care Management Department.
Kaitlynn Chiye Sakurai was named Miss Tomodachi (Congeniality). Sponsored by the Gardena Evening Optimists and The Loft Hawaiian Restaurant, she graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in kinesiology and works as a physical therapy aide.
Also serving on the 2012 court are:
Lauren Mieko Tanaka Arii, sponsored by San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and Coordinating Council. She is majoring in journalism with an emphasis in broadcasting at CSU Northridge.
Marci Saori Asao, sponsored by the Japanese Restaurant Association of America. She graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in economics and a minor in education, and works as a program leader at THINK Together.
Erika Hayami Fisher, sponsored by the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute. She graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in urban studies with an emphasis in community development and a double minor in Japanese and psychology. She works as an administrative assistant for Unidesigns.
Sarah Michelle Fujimoto, sponsored by East San Gabriel Japanese Community Center. She graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in nursing and works for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District as a school nurse.