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OCBC’s Kristine Yada Crowned Nisei Week Queen

Kristine Emiko Yada, who was crowned Nisei Week Queen before an Aug. 13 cheering crowd at the Aratani Theater in Los Angeles, has deep and extensive ties as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist with the Orange County Buddhist Church.


Yada, 23, and her family are dedicated members of OCBC.


In addition, Lorie Meza, 23, a princess on this year’s Court, and her family, are members of the Pasadena Buddhist Temple.


Brianne Yasukochi, 27, served as first princess on the 2021 Court. Both her father’s and mother’s families have strong historical connections with the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and Vista Buddhist Temple, respectively.


“Being Jodo Shinshu allows you to process the Nisei Week experience a lot differently,” Yada said. “I always have a deep gratitude of interdependence and the underlying value of the Nisei Week experience.”


The pageant, held in conjunction with the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, marked the resumption of a tradition that had only been disrupted just once before – during World War II because of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans. The coronation event had been suspended because of the pandemic.

The Queen and Court Program help provide leadership development, cultural enrichment, and opportunities to make lifelong connections.

Yada, the daughter of Frank and Joyce Yada, represents the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council, and is completing her supervised practice hours to become a registered dietician. She received her master’s degree from Cal State Long Beach in nutrition science.


During her speech, Yada paid tribute to her grandmother, Itsuko Yada, who passed away in June, and shared her grandmother’s five-ingredient recipe for Mexican-Japanese okazu.

“It’s such an honor,” Yada said. “I’ve had such loss in the past year with family and COVID — we’ve all been very separated. I’m extremely grateful for my court and really this opportunity for us to get back out in the community and be a part of it.”

Meza represented the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute and Yasukochi represented the Pasadena JCI last year.


Yada, Meza and Yasukochi all spoke about taking part in temple programs and their appreciation for spiritual growth.


Yada attended Dharma School at OCBC and participated in the Dharma Wheel Club, a social group for elementary schoolchildren. She later served as a Dharma School teacher’s assistant.


In middle school, Yada served as Co-President of Sangha Teens. In Jr. YBA, she served as the Religious Chairperson at the chapter and Southern District levels. In addition, Yada participated in OCBC’s taiko, Girl Scouts and basketball programs. She also participated in Youth Advocacy Committee, YAC 10.


Meza began attending the Pasadena Buddhist Temple at age 2.


“Myself and five others my age went through the Dharma School, Sangha Teens and Jr. YBA programs together,” Meza recalled. “We are a very tight knit group and I see them during the holidays. There are definitely some big pros for being part of a very small temple.”

This year, Meza became a member of the Pasadena BWA.


Yasukochi shared similar reflections of her involvement with the temple.


“My mother and her family were very active at Nishi (Los Angeles Betsuin),” she said. “Therefore, she wanted us (my siblings and I) to be involved and have the same great experience that she did.”


Yasukochi’s mother, Norene, drove her children from the family’s home in Carlsbad, located in north San Diego County, to Nishi every weekend to participate in Girl Scouts, play in the Asian League Basketball and attend Sunday service and Dharma School.


“I was lucky to join programs such as Jr. YBA, LABCC, volunteering for O Bon and Saishin Dojo,” Yasukochi added.


The Yasukochis are longtime farmers in north San Diego County and the family belongs to the Vista Buddhist Temple.


“My mother and father met each other during one of the Jr. YBA events,” Yasukochi said. “With that in mind, having a big family around the San Diego area, they were all a part of Vista temple. Therefore, a lot of our family social gatherings growing up were at Vista Buddhist Temple as well as the farm supporting events such as Obon.”


During the impromptu question section of the pageant, the candidates were asked, “COVID has changed the way we connect with others, share ideas and create community. What would you do during your reign to ensure our culture and community continue to thrive into the future?”


Meza said, “I am so lucky to have interned at the JACCC, been a part of Kizuna, and other JA programs. I would love to share that experience and information about these programs with people across Southern California.”


Yada responded, “Although technology is amazing, now we have the opportunity to connect with each other in person. I would have events such as connecting with young females in this coming year in order to promote their involvement in the Japanese American community.”

When asked to relate the pageant’s impromptu question in a spiritual context, Yada and Meza agreed that the pandemic has made it difficult for their Sanghas to meet.


“Over the past few years, we have been forced to explore what technology has to offer in terms of utilizing the opportunities,” Yada said. “It is just not the same. You can listen or watch a Dharma message on YouTube or being streamed, but it is not the same as being in the Hondo, listening to the whole Sangha chanting.


“To be able to utilize technology resources in the future is fine, but it serves as a reminder to appreciate having the ability to go to the temple and attend a service. Or if you are at home being able to light incense and watching the video to create that environment,” Yada added.

She remembers the theme “Five Senses” while attending the week-long LABCC Youth Camp.


“The ‘Five Senses’ is the physical and interaction part on how you engage in things daily,” she said. “The pandemic gave me a reminder of the little things that you may not always appreciate with the Dharma and Sangha. “


Meza added: “When it comes to creating more connection within the Jodo Shinshu community, COVID has made it difficult for the older people to be involved with temple.

“At Pasadena, we have really tried to make services more accessible via Zoom and livestream,” she said. “We livestreamed O Bon. As we go back to in-person events, the quality that I hold for Jodo Shinshu is having gratefulness of going back to events and seeing community members. Everyone is so happy to return in-person and for being grateful and mindful of these moments.


“Bon Odori felt very different this year because of the amount of time we spent being away from each other,” Meza said.


Fortunately, technology has allowed OCBC and PBT, as well as other temples and churches throughout the BCA, to share the Dharma remotely. Now, both OCBC and PBT are beginning to meet in-person.


The 2022 Nisei Week Court will represent the Japanese American community at various events throughout the one-year reign. It began with the Nisei Week Grand Parade.

Yada was supported at the coronation by a large contingent of family and friends who traveled from Orange County.


Speaking afterward, Yada’s sisters, Courtney and Kellie, said they were very proud and nervous for their big sister.


Yada’s father, Frank, noted that both sides of her family, the Yadas and Fujishiges, were active in farming. The Yadas grew strawberries, cucumbers and flowers in Carlsbad and Vista. The Fujishiges grew primarily strawberries in Anaheim.


“The unique thing for my mom Itsuko was that her family immigrated and were held back in Mexico, so mom grew up in Mexico City. Her first language was Spanish, then Japanese, then English,” Frank Yada said.


“She (Kristine) really has grasped the roots of these different traditions that are in our family background and that makes her really unique,” Joyce Yada said.


Yada said community service has always been a part of her life because of her family’s involvement at OCBC.


“I was born into it and just rolled with it,” she said.


She was looking forward to the Nisei Week Parade and the coming year of events.

“I’ve never been to the parade. This will be the first for me. I’m incredibly excited. I’ve heard many beautiful stories and I’ve seen the court. I’m excited to get out there and to really travel down First Street in a new way,” Yada said.


The Nisei Week experience offers a connection of community with Japanese American history, culture and religion. During the festival, the candidates visited the Japanese American National Museum and Go For Broke Museum to learn about the history.

“It was a good reminder that when you enter different stages of your life, whether it’s looking back at Japanese history or Buddhism, the messages are the same, but your experience in how you see it changes, and I think it is easy to forget,” Yada said.


Other members of the 2022 Court who join Yada and Meza include: Audrey Nakaoka, 25, who was named First Princess, representing Gardena Evening Optimist; Maile Yanguas, 24, who was named Miss Tomodachi, representing Japanese Restaurant Association of America; . Akiko Hiraishi, 25, representing East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center; Emily Kumagai, 20, representing San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center; and Faith Nishimura, 21, representing Venice Japanese Community Center and Venice-West Los Angeles JACL.


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