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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Our Honolulu
Hail to a modest queen

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's not polite to brag, but The Advertiser news staff has never boasted a Cherry Blossom Queen before.

When I came to work the morning after reporter Catherine Toth won the Cherry Blossom contest, a length of newsprint stretched all the way across the newsroom from the door to her desk.

Scrawls on the paper read; RED CARPET, RED CARPET, QUEEN, QUEEN.

Somebody had adorned her computer terminal with a tinfoil crown tilted at a rakish angle.

We all pay homage to our queen in a different way. Sports writer Stephen Tsai said, "She lifts weights, plays tennis and beat Stacy Kaneshiro shooting baskets from half court."

Toth herself remains unflappable and rather pleased with herself for accomplishing something she set out to do.

"I wanted to see how far I could go by being true to myself," she said. "I'm not a typical Japanese girl (she's the second multi-ethnic to win the contest) and I didn't think they were ready for that.

"Part of it was curiosity. I didn't want to regret not doing it. This was my last year to run and this is the third year it's been open to hapas."

Preparing for the contest was no financial hardship because the Japanese Junior Chamber provided everything. But the time and effort involved took a big slice out of her life.

"The culture classes began in December for the contest in March," she explained. "At the beginning, it was two or three times a week, then three or four times.

"We did taiko (drumming) a lot, learned how to walk in a kimono and practiced our speeches. The J.C.s really prepared us, which made it not seem like a pageant, more like a graduation.

"I had never taken taiko before. We learned about our genealogy and the tea ceremony. You can't possibly learn everything in one class but you gain an appreciation of it."

She said she was the only journalist in a group that included a number of students, a teacher, a woman who works in guest relations at a hotel and one whose family owns a beauty salon.

To write her stories at the newspaper, Toth interviews people.

"I like profiles," she said. "You never run out of material. It's interesting because I can glimpse into someone's life and share it. That's very special."

However, she found being on the other end of the interview, at the contest judging, disconcerting because she isn't used to talking about herself.

Her favorite part of the pageant was taiko drumming in unison. Toth said a kimono was carefully chosen for each contestant to match things like skin type, personality and height.

The new queen said walking in a kimono forces you to be graceful.

"I accomplished what I set out to do," Toth said. "I was myself, there was a lot of bonding and I did my best to keep the group together. That's my first and last contest. I don't really like the publicity."

Correction: Catherine Toth is the second Cherry Blossom queen of multi-ethnic background, the first with a non-Japanese surname. Incorrect information appeared in a previous version of this column.