BY SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
Rafu Staff Intern
The ondo was demonstrated, the new court presented and the traditional sake barrel broken.
But amid all of the excitement and optimism at Sunday’s Nisei Week opening ceremony, Dana Heatherton felt a tinge of sadness.
“Of course it’s bittersweet,” said the 2009 Nisei Week Queen, who served as the mistress of ceremonies for the afternoon. “But I’ve learned the greatest gift you can give back to the (Nisei Week) Foundation is to pass this gift on to someone else.”
By recognizing the accomplishments of the 2009 Nisei Week Foundation Committee and Court, while welcoming the newcomers for 2010, Sunday’s ceremony was all about transition.
The program started with salutatory addresses from 2010 Nisei Week Foundation President, Hayato Tamura, and Takashi Horie, from the Downtown Regional Committee Japan Business Association, followed by a blessing during the annual purification ceremony.
Colorful dancers then took the stage, as Madame Fujima Kansuma’s dance group demonstrated the 2010 Nisei Week Ondo, accompanied by upbeat music.
“It’s breathtaking,” said 9th District Councilmember Jan Perry of the dance. “It was just really beautiful.”
After acknowledgement of the various city, county and international dignitaries in attendance, the 2009 Nisei Week Court expressed their appreciation for their parents, the 2008 Court, and past Nisei Week Foundation president Terry Hara, among other community leaders, for the support they received throughout their year-long reign.
“This was one of the best experiences of my life,” Heatherton said in her address, adding that the Court attended over 250 community events in three different states. “These ladies have truly impressed me.”
To complete the transition to this year’s festival, the 2010 Nisei Week Queen candidates were announced for the first time.
Arrayed in matching blue dresses with black heels, the seven contenders introduced themselves, their parents and their sponsors in their first public speaking engagement.
The candidates range in age from 21 to 25 and five of the seven women hold degrees from the University of Southern California.
Lani Kume Nishiyama, a 24 year-old graduate from USC, is an aspiring actress and is taking classes at the Wayne Dvorak Acting Studio. She is sponsored by the West Los Angeles JACL and the Venice Japanese Community Center.
Erin Reiko Yokomizo, 23, is a USC alumna and currently works for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the communication and marketing department. She is sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and Coordinating Council.
Lauren Terumi Weber, a 24 year-old graduate of San Diego State University, is currently working as a licensed real estate agent and holds part-time positions at the Loft Hawaiian Restaurant and at Array Systems, a computer IT company. She is sponsored by the Gardena Evening Optimist Club and the Loft Hawaiian Restaurant.
Jamie Joyce Hagiya, 25, is a former point guard on the USC women’s basketball team and graduated in 2007. She now coaches and trains younger players in her own camps and clinics. Hagiya is sponsored by the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute.
Christy Kimiko Sakamoto, 24, is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received both her bachelor and masters’ degrees. Sakamoto currently works at the Japanese American National Museum in the education department and is sponsored by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council.
Kelli Toshiye Teragawa, 24, is an alumna of the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and is currently employed at FIA Insurance Services Inc. She is sponsored by the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.
Brynn Akemi Nakamoto, 21, is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at USC with an interest in broadcast journalism. She is sponsored by the Japanese Restaurant Association of America.
With the coronation only a month away, the candidates participate in trainings three to four times a week, said Michelle Suzuki, Queen and Court program director. During these lessons, the women learn to maintain a professional appearance and improve their confidence and interview skills.
As one who knows the stress and apprehension of the coronation well, Heatherton advised the candidates to “throw themselves into” the experience.
“There will only be one time in your life that you will match with seven other people,” she said, laughing. “Take this opportunity to show what you can do and make this community proud.”
The 70th annual Nisei Week Festival will run from Aug. 14-22. For a calendar of events, visit niseiweek.org.