Chrysanthemum Festival queen crowned

The 2017 Chrysanthemum Festival Court and their escorts are: Princess Kristi Echiverri and Kawika Fernandez (from left), Princess Jaelynn Nobriga and Logan Cabanilla-Aricayos, Queen Paige Maki Nagahama and Kai Iinuma Nakaaki, Princess Makaylen Tadeo and John Williamson and Princess Sokha Furumoto and Caleb Perreira. -- Nagamine Photo Studio photo

Paige Maki Nagahama, 17, of Wailuku was crowned the queen of the 65th Chrysanthemum Festival on Dec. 2 at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. A senior at Seabury Hall, she is the daughter of Paula Diep and Hank Rapoza.

The princesses are:

• Jaelynn Nobriga, 17, of Kahului, a senior at Kamehameha Schools Maui and the daughter of James “Jay” Nobriga and Wendy Nobriga.

• Makaylen Tadeo, 16, a junior at King Kekaulike High School and the daughter of Bobbie-Jo Moniz-Tadeo and Ricardo Tadeo Jr.

• Kristi Echiverri, 17, of Kahului, a senior at Maui High School and the daughter of Laura and Lucky Echiverri.

Paige Maki Nagahama was crowned the queen of the 65th Chrysanthemum Festival on Dec. 2 at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. -- Photo courtesy of Diep-Rapoza family

• Sokha Furumoto, 16, of Haiku, a junior at St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School and the daughter of Laurie and Wesley Furumoto.

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.

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. 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.

The next year — 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. Maui AJA Veterans Inc. disbanded in 2016.

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

Essay contest

Japanese cultural values and their effect on the AJAs who fought in World War II are key elements of an annual essay contest for the festival contestants and their escorts. This year’s winners were Princess Jaelynn in the girls category and Kai Iinuma Nakaaki, who escorted Queen Paige, in the boys category.

This year’s essay topic was “shikata ga nai,” which refers to acceptance of fate and circumstances that cannot be helped.

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

Cash prizes were awarded to the entrants.

In the MSDNV president’s message at the festival, Leonard Oka noted that the research that contestants and escorts do for the essays, and that the girls do in preparing their solicitation letters, can help them gain “knowledge and appreciation for the accomplishments of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 1399th Engineering Battalion (the Japanese-American military unit that served in Hawaii during the war) and the Military Intelligence Service.”

Oka and Gary Nakama chaired the Chrysanthemum Festival committee.

Event traditions

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 Nakaaki, the escorts were Logan Cabanilla-Aricayos (Princess Jaelynn), Kawika Fernandez (Princess Kristi), Caleb Perreira (Princess Sokha) and John Williamson (Princess Makaylen).

Each contestant also has a boy to hold a chochin (Japanese lantern) to light her path as she makes her entrance at the festival, and a flower girl who presents a bouquet after the coronation.

This year, these children received a copy of the manga “Journey of Heroes: the Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team,” which was written by Stacey Hayashi and illustrated by Damon Wong.

The books were donated by Kyle Watanabe, the former historical preservation and education program coordinator for the NVMC. He hopes the gift will spark interest in the children to learn about the nisei soldiers.

The chochin holders were Trey Akin, Jake Corden-DeCoite, Nathan Domingo, Davin Giron and Kili Ting. The flower girls were Loli Butcher, Kami Echiverri, Amber Minobe-Nacua, Mahinatea Nobriga and Oto Wada.

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

Entertainment included classical Japanese dances by students of Matsu Dai Mitsu Yae and karaoke singers Wendee Kokubun 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, Japanese games provided by the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui and an activity table by the King Kekaulike High School Japanese Club.

The NVMC had an informational table.

MSDNV co-sponsored the 2017 event with the County of Maui.