The Cherry Blossom Festival Quietly Crowns Queen and Court in Honolulu

The 68th festival ball went virtual this year, still dedicated to perpetuating Japanese culture, even in the time of COVID-19.
cherry blossom festival
From left, princess Kelsey Uyeda, first princess and Miss Popularity Sophia Teruya, Queen and Miss Congeniality Jewel Mahoe, princess Lauren Holt and princess Alyssa Nakamoto.
Photos: Courtesy of the Cherry Blossom Festival


Honolulu’s Cherry Blossom Festival Ball still honored young women dedicated to preserving Japanese culture this year, but in 2020 the mission was accomplished with little public fanfare.


Each year, young women in Honolulu sign up for seven months of cultural and professional development classes, public appearances and multiple interviews. It all usually culminates in the Cherry Blossom Festival where, in front of an audience, contestants dress in beautiful evening gowns and kimono and answer questions before the queen, princesses and court are crowned.


SEE ALSO: Hawai‘i Ethnic Pageants Are More Than Just Beauty Contests

cherry blossom festival


This year, instead of in a Waikīkī ballroom, the pandemic-year winners were announced on June 28 at what sponsors described as “a safe and secure location in coherence with CDC guidelines.”


Top honors went to Queen Jewel Kahiwalani Miyuki Mahoe, who also took the title of Miss Congeniality; First Princess and Miss Popularity went to Sophia Aiko Teruya; and the princesses are: Lauren Elizabeth Holt, Alyssa Mika Nakamoto, Kelsey Toshie Uyeda. Mahoe, who is from Honolulu, works as a preschool special education teacher.


SEE ALSO: Why the Cherry Blossom Festival’s Ancestry Requirement Change Still Matters

cherry blossom festival


The 15 contestants took classes in Japanese business etiquette, tea ceremony, calligraphy, taiko, aikido, ikebana, public speaking and interview training. Their scores are based on performances in preliminary activities, judges' interviews and the festival ball. When this year’s group began their journey in January, few of us probably had heard the word coronavirus. Now, the court’s usually busy public schedule has been reduced to very few appearances. It is not the first change for the festival that has evolved along with other ethnic island pageants over a long history, with some controversy over ancestry and even surnames of those participating.


SEE ALSO: Hālau, Artisans and Hula Community Still Dealing With Merrie Monarch Cancellation

cherry blossom festival


Of course, I’m always more interested because my friend and colleague, the irrepressible Catherine Toth Fox, won the title nearly two decades ago when we both worked at The Honolulu Advertiser. She’s a journalist, surfer, traveler, eater, cook and probably one of the last people you’d ever think would wear a sash and heels on stage. 


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman