By Joie Nishimoto
A University of Hawai’i at Manoa graduate is using her communications degree to spread aloha across the world.
Nicole “Nix” Kinney, 26, was crowned one of three princesses at this year’s Honolulu Cherry Blossom Festival Ball, which took place in March. Kinney, who graduated last spring with her bachelor’s degree in communication, just came back from a two-week trip to Japan.
“It was a lot more than what I expected,” Kinney said. “It solidified the (experience of Cherry Blossom) and I learned about where I came from. It was very fulfilling.”
Kinney and the other six members of the Cherry Blossom court — Queen Erin Morimoto; First Princess Edrea Katsunuma; princesses Kinney,
Tomomi Ida and Cari Tasoe; Miss Congeniality Heather Smith; and Miss Popularity Nakakura — traveled to various parts of Japan and met with sponsors, did community service and even met real Japanese royalty.
“We were invited to Princess (Akishino)’s house in Tokyo,” Kinney said. “I was nervous, but it was the most awe-inspiring moment. After I shook her hand, I started crying. It was such an honor and she was humble and well-educated.”
The court also traveled to Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Kinney described the trip as “very structured,” because the events as well as activities on days off were prepared in advanced. In Kobe, the court met with its sister chapter and court. From the trip as a whole, Kinney said she developed relationships not only with the Hawai’i court, but with the Cherry Blossom courts in Japan and on the Mainland.
Lauren Kawana, a 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival contestant, was not crowned at her pageant, but she said she went through a similar experience.
“Looking back on it, even after a year has gone by, we still get together,” Kawana said. “That says a lot.”
Allie Yoshida, another 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival contestant, showed her support for last year’s court at events and at this year’s pageant.
“Meeting other contestants is one of the best parts of the Cherry Blossom Festival,” Yoshida said.
In Hiroshima, Kinney said the court made 1,000 paper cranes and visited Sadako’s memorial, in honor of a girl who famously made 1,000 paper cranes following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
On their few days off, Kinney said the court chose to do volunteer work instead. She said a free day in Osaka was spent in Fukushima, where they volunteered at shelters.
“We saw the area (affected by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake),” she said. “There’s often a misconception that the areas are just fallen apart, but the Japanese people have cleaned it up.”
She said there currently are about 100 houses still standing or have been built.
“If you look closely (at the ground), you can still see the foundations of the houses (that got washed away),” she said.
The shelters they visited were small and cramped, she said, but not dirty. At the shelters, they taught crafts, performed hula and talked to people. She said that she and the court feel that the visit to Fukushima gave more purpose to the journey in Japan as a whole.
Since 1949, the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce has been promoting Japanese culture in Hawai’i. The festival, which began as an educational and entertainment event, hosted kabuki dramas, radio personality shows, fashion shows, doll making, ikebana, food and painting. In its 59-year run, the Honolulu Cherry Blossom Festival has evolved, hosting a variety of educational classes and the highly-anticipated pageant.
In order to participate, women are required to be a Hawaii and U.S. citizen, however, the most important requirement is that they be at least 50 percent Japanese. The applications for next year’s Cherry Blossom Festival have already passed, but for more information, go to http://www.cbfhawaii.com/.
Kinney said her communications education was very helpful in preparation for Cherry Blossom.
“Journalism and PR gave me confidence in speaking,” she said. “I know how to ask the right questions and uncover a story so every time I volunteer, I’m able to extract worthwhile information and stories. I’m a cultural liaison; I’m representing my culture and I can do that professionally and with integrity.”
Since returning from Japan, the court has also visited its sister chapters in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Fransisco. Although they’re back at home, the girls are still participating in events. They will be setting up and cheering on runners at this year’s Honolulu Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 9.
Kinney, a former videographer and writer at the Kapi’o Newspress at Kapi’olani Community College, created and starred in several videos for KCC.