Chrysanthemum Festival queen crowned, founders honored

The court of the 64th Chrysanthemum Festival included Princess Renee Matsuda (from left) and escort Tyler John Cup Choy, Queen Alexa Nagai and escort Ian Martins, and Princess Jennea Nagura and escort Austin Phillips. Nagamine Photo Studio photo

The coronation of the queen of the 64th Chrysanthemum Festival shared the spotlight with a tribute to the event’s founders Dec. 3 at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku.

The queen is Alexa Nagai, 17, of Wailuku, a senior at Baldwin High School and the daughter of Gary and Stephanie Nagai.

The princesses are:

• Renee Matsuda, 16, of Kahului, a junior at Maui High School and the daughter of Eric and Annette Matsuda.

• Jennea Nagura, 16, of Pukalani, a junior at King Kekaulike High School and the daughter of Rick and Kristen Nagura.

The queen is the contestant who raises the most money through ticket sales and donations for festival sponsor Maui’s Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans. Contestants represent the MSDNV and the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center at various events throughout the year.

Founders honored

The festival was created as the Chrysanthemum Ball, a ballroom-dance affair, by the Maui AJA Veterans Inc. as a way to fund its community service in areas such as youth sports and scholarships. The veterans club was formed as soldiers returned from Europe and the Asia-Pacific areas after World War II.

AJA stands for Americans of Japanese ancestry. Most of the soldiers were nisei, or the second generation of Japanese-Americans.

In 2007, the event name was changed to Chrysanthemum Festival to reflect its focus on Japanese culture.

In 2008 — with the core group of veterans becoming older and less able to do projects such as the festival — Maui AJA Veterans turned over the event to the MSDNV.

Proceeds fund scholarships and MSDNV’s historical preservation projects, which are done with the NVMC.

Earlier this year, Maui AJA Veterans Inc. disbanded. Its contributions over the decades were the subject of a display presented at the 2016 Chrysanthemum Festival.

“Throughout almost 70 years of their existence, the Maui AJA Veterans club worked diligently to keep alive the memory of their buddies who did not make it back from battle,” said MSDNV President Leonard Oka in his message during the evening’s program.

Oka noted how the AJA veterans and the MSDNV had collaborated in recent years to stage the festival and to present scholarships to students of all ethnicities. He promised the veterans that their organization would remain in the title of the scholarship program.

Last year, $1,000 scholarships were awarded to 10 graduates of high schools on Maui.

Essay contest

Japanese cultural values and their effect on the AJAs who fought in World War II are key elements of an essay contest for the festival contestants and their escorts. This year’s winners were Queen Alexa in the girls category and Tyler John Cup Choy, who escorted Princess Renee, in the boys category.

This year’s essay topic was “giri,” which refers to moral obligation, repayment of kindness with kindness or reciprocal gift-giving. Doing good for someone, with a sense of duty, is considered “giri.”

Essays addressed each writer’s understanding of the concept of “giri,” how “giri” played a role in the lives of nisei men as they entered and fought in World War II, and how “giri” could be a useful value to adopt in the writer’s life.

Cash prizes were awarded to the entrants.

Coronation, performance

The feature of the annual event is the coronation and the court’s traditional ballroom dance performance. The contestants and their escorts attended weekly sessions with ballroom dance instructors Jeffrey and Lydia Dela Cruz to prepare for the performance.

In addition to boys essay winner Cup Choy, the escorts were Ian Martins, with Queen Alexa; and Austin Phillips, with Princess Jennea.

The festival also offers exhibits, demonstrations, entertainment and dinner.

Entertainment at the 2016 festival included a yosakoi dance routine by Akari Ueoka in honor of the 2016 court.

Other performances included classical Japanese dances by students of Matsu Dai Mitsu Yae and karaoke singers George Shimada and Yumi Takedatsu.

The festival opened with odori dancing, which attendees could participate in.

Cultural activities included the Rev. Shinkai Murakami of Wailuku Hongwanji Mission demonstrating calligraphy, the Mokichi Okada Association presenting mini-flower arrangements, and Japanese games provided by the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui.

MSDNV co-sponsored the 2016 event with the County of Maui.