people in kimono on a stage
From left, Miss Congeniality Danielle Emi Au, Princess Taeler Kealohilani Akana, Princess Tamlyn Mika Sasaki, Queen Shari Michiko Nishijima, First Princess Maile Makamae Kawasaki, Princess Jordyn Yukino Valdez and Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Yasuko Manin (Photo courtesy: Cherry Blossom Festival Hawaii)

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Social Sciences alumna is the 70th Cherry Blossom Festival queen. Shari Michiko Nishijima, a 2019 graduate in political science and communications, was crowned at the festival’s annual ball on March 19.

person in a kimono smiling at the camera
Shari Michiko Nishijima

“It was completely surreal,” Nishijima said. “I was surrounded by 13 incredible women who have supported me throughout this journey and inspire me with their bravery and eloquence, so to be selected as the queen for the 70th Cherry Blossom Festival was an incredible honor.”

The festival ball capped off several months of cultural and professional development classes, including instruction in taiko (Japanese percussion), tea ceremony, Japanese cuisine, Japanese business etiquette and public speaking. Nishijima and the other contestants also participated in several public appearances.

“I’m really going to remember all of the classes and the ability to connect with my culture on a deeper level,” Nishijima said. “I also think that the bonds I was able to create with these women will carry me throughout the rest of my life.”

Joining Nishijima on the court are First Princess Maile Makamae Kawasaki, Princesses Taeler Kealohilani Akana, Tamlyn Mika Sasaki and Jordyn Yukino Valdez, Miss Congeniality Danielle Emi Au and Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Yasuko Manin.

  • Sasaki is currently a medical student at the John A. Burns School of Medicine after earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Au earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UH Mānoa’s College of Engineering in 2018.
  • Manin earned her bachelor’s degree of business administration in accounting and management information systems from UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business in 2019.

The theme of this year’s festival was chōwa (a reminder to live and work in harmony). The event was hosted by the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce. Visit the Cherry Blossom Festival website for more information.

More about Nishijima

Nishijima is originally from Pleasanton, California and came to Hawaiʻi to attend UH Mānoa, where her older sister also attended and graduated. She wanted to be close to family while also experiencing living in a new place.

Aside from her academic work at UH Mānoa, Nishijima served as vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America UH Mānoa chapter and was a color guard member in the UH “Rainbow Warrior” Marching Band. Nishijima also worked as a student publications assistant in the Shidler College of Business and interned at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol for two legislative sessions. Immediately after graduation, Nishijima worked as a full-time legislative office manager at the state Capitol and now works as a program manager for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi.

“I really credit my time at UH Mānoa for helping me build a sense of community and networking to be able to call Hawaiʻi my home now,” Nishijima said. “Studying political science in Hawaiʻi has made me realize how much community means to me, and being able to work in state government and wanting to make Hawaiʻi a better place for all is really what inspired me to stay here and to continue that into the Cherry Blossom Festival—supporting Hawaiʻi’s Japanese American community.”

Nishijima’s active involvement at UH Mānoa is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki