Monday, March 22, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Lori Murayama

Queen says culture
is a state of mind

Cherry Blossom pageant
accepts multi-ethnic contestants

By Lori Tighe


Cherry Blossom Queen Lori Murayama learned it is best not to go to a Japanese tea ceremony thirsty.

Drinking is not the key; the ceremony itself is, she said. Based in Zen roots, each turn of the bowl, each bow of the body all have a meditative quality of spirituality.

As Murayama learns about her cultural past, she also breaks new ground as queen of the first Cherry Blossom pageant to accept multi-ethnic contestants.

"Anyone can embrace the culture if they go in with an open heart and mind," said the 24-year-old of Honolulu.

The change to allow half-Japanese women into Hawaii's longest-running ethnic festival drew criticism from traditionalists. They see the pageant's purpose of cultural identity thinning with the blood requirements.

"Culture is not a product of your blood but of your desire and interest," said Keith Kamisugi, 48th president of the Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce, the festival's organizer.

"The pageant was behind the times," Kamisugi said. "The community is already extensively multi-ethnic. We should have done this years ago."

But revising the pageant's blood quantum levels from 100 percent to 50 percent Japanese had been defeated twice before in the past decade.

New blood in the Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce passed the vote this year.

"Some say the multi-ethnic change damages the pageant, but I think it enhances it," Kamisugi said. "It gives opportunity to more people of Hawaii to participate in learning about the Japanese culture."

The festival's mission is to educate Hawaii on Japanese tradition. Cherry Blossom contestants take about eight cultural courses including the tea ceremony, ikebana flower arrangement and taiko drums.

Heralding the beat of change, all contestants opened the pageant this year by playing the drums with taiko master Kenny Endo.

Of the 15 contestants, three came from a mixed racial background.

Ethnic looks of the Japanese woman originally launched the pageant 48 years ago. Since Japanese women did not conform to the stereotypical Miss America beauty, the Japanese community began holding the Cherry Blossom to honor their women's beauty.

Murayama said she has learned new things about her cultural past through the festival.

"The biggest thing I learned was its complexity," she said. "I realize there are so many things I have to learn in the future."

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