Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute

Miss Pasadena JCI

The Miss Pasadena JCI Committee is committed to sponsoring young women who share the mission of PJCI to preserve and promote Japanese and Japanese-American culture and values. Through PJCI’s many programs such as Japanese language school, cultural and martial arts education, youth and senior programs, the Miss Pasadena JCI Committee seeks candidates who will commit themselves to engage in PJCI and Miss Pasadena JCI Committee efforts now and into the future.

Interested in representing the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute and the Miss Pasadena JCI Program in the 2022 Nisei Week Festival and Court? Participating in the Nisei Week Court Program is an experience of a lifetime and participants gain invaluable experience in public speaking, poise, time management, and leadership, and also receive exposure to Japanese cultural arts. Court members attend numerous community events in the Greater Los Angeles area and are invited to travel to Japan, Honolulu, and San Francisco – all while making lifelong relationships with fellow court members.

2022 Miss Pasadena JCI

Lorie Hatsuko Meza

Princess – 2022 Nisei Week Court

Lorie is 23 years old and graduated from Willamette University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science. She is a paralega for a civil litigation law firm. Lorie loves all things Star Wars and Marvel. You can find her on the weekends dressed up as a princess or superhero volunteering at events for underprivileged or ill children. The platform she is supporting this year is Okaeri.

Miss Pasadena JCI hall of fame

Brianne Mari Yasukochi
2021 Nisei Week
First Princess

Dana Fujiko Heatherton
2009 Nisei Week

2018 Nisei Week Miss Tomodachi
Juli Ann Drindak
10th Miss Pasadena JCI

She is a graduate of California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Studies. Next year she will complete her certificate in Communicative Sciences and Disorders in pursuit of becoming a speech and language pathologist in the hospital setting. Currently, she works part time as a childcare provider at Fit4mom Long Beach and as a waitress at Cafe Hiro in Cypress. Juli is also an accomplished violinist and has been playing the violin since kindergarten and was given formal training by Ms.Tammy Tsai until she graduated from high school. For five years, she had the privilege of playing in the first violin section of the Olympia Youth Orchestra (OYO) under the instruction of Dr. Fung Ho. As a member of OYO, she had many riveting opportunities to accompany world renowned artists and groups such as the LA Philharmonic and the rock band, Kansas. After graduating from high school, she concluded her formal study of music, however, she continues to play for her personal enjoyment. In her spare time she also enjoys traveling to different places to experience different outdoor activities. She is supporting Girls on the Run Los Angeles as her platform during her year on the Nisei Week Court.

2017 Nisei Week Princess
Tomi Okuno
9th Miss Pasadena JCI

Tomi Okuno graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration, but was still unsure of what career path to take. Although she grew up in Pasadena, Tomi saw Miss PJCI as a great opportunity to grow deeper roots in her hometown. Living in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, Tomi always noticed how people residing in close proximity can easily grow into separate worlds. During her year on court, she partnered with the Armory Center for the Arts to create and instruct a series of mask-making workshops inspired by Japanese folklore. The workshops were held a few blocks down from the PJCI at The Armory’s La Casita community center, and attracted a variety of participants. Joining the PJCI gave Tomi a deeper appreciation of previous generations’ efforts to establish community gathering opportunities.

Tomi is pursuing a career as an art teacher and currently works as an academic substitute teacher in South Pasadena and San Gabriel. Entering a classroom with a different age group, at a different school, in a different subject each day keeps her on her toes! In her free time, Tomi enjoys painting portraits, eating spicy food, and volunteering in Little Tokyo. She is also involved with her church community at Fellowship Monrovia, where she serves as a volunteer in the Middle School ministry.

2016 Nisei Week Miss Tomodachi
8th Miss Pasadena JCI

Julia Kiyomi Tani is 24 years old and a graduate of the California Maritime Academy with a bachelor’s degree in international business and logistics. She hopes to become a special education teacher or speech pathologist. Tani’s hobbies include playing basketball, volunteering in the community, working with special needs children, and going to Disneyland.

2015 Nisei Week 1st Princess
Veronica Toyomi Ota

7th Miss Pasadena JCI

Veronica attended Pasadena public schools and graduated valedictorian from Marshall Fundamental in 2010. She then attended Tufts University in Boston and received a degree in International Literature and Visual Studies, focusing in Japanese literature and culture.

Veronica credits her family for her early involvement in the Pasadena Japanese-American community. Members of the extended Ota family have owned and operated small businesses in the Pasadena/Altadena area for decades and have also been involved at the First Presbyterian Church of Altadena, Pasadena Buddhist Temple, Pasadena Nikkei Seniors, and PJCI. Thanks to the support of her family and community, Veronica has received many opportunities to grow as a singer, musician, writer, and educator.

After Nisei Week, Veronica took a year-long position as the Choir Director at her alma mater, Marshall. She then set off for a year of teaching in Japan on the JET Program. Now that she’s home, she’s back substitute teaching at Marshall as a middle school math teacher. She is planning to apply to graduate school to pursue a degree that will help her continue in her path as an educator.

2014 Nisei Week Queen
Tori Nishinaka-Leon
6th Miss Pasadena JCI

She was born on October 19, 1989 to Bernie and Vicky Leon. Her brother, Bernard, currently an LAPD officer, was born two years later. Tori comes from a large extended family with two grandmothers, seventeen aunts and uncles, and eighteen cousins.

Tori attended Franklin High School and became the captain of the Golf Team. She attended Occidental College, where she received a full-ride academic scholarship. While attending Oxy, she played golf for the men’s team then formed the women’s team. She is currently inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame for her tournament record and because she paved the way to women succeeding her as she was the first female golfer to play for the college. She is currently a third-year optometry student at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona. Tori has always had a passion for giving back to the community, which has carried over to her optometry career. She has traveled internationally as well as throughout Los Angeles providing free eye examinations and glasses in coordination with Care Harbor and Lion’s Club Friends in Sight. These organizations ensure that not a single person is turned away. Their ocular health is fully evaluated and if they need glasses, they will get them at no cost. She still currently works at the optometry practice of Dr. Matthew Matsuzaki on weekends in Pasadena. In her final year of schooling, she is looking forward to her clinic rotation schedule that is taking her all across the United States.

2013 Nisei Week 1st Princess
Ashley Mieko Honma
5th Miss Pasadena JCI

She currently lives in New York City with her boyfriend, Robb, and their six-month-old Dachshund mix puppy, Meli, who they adopted from a local rescue at the end of July. Since serving as a member of the court, Ashley has worked in marketing for various beauty companies and is now Social Media Community Manager for Indie Lee & Co., a clean, nontoxic skincare line that recently launched in Sephora and Nordstrom. She is responsible for creating and executing all social media strategy, managing influencer relations, and assisting with public relations and brand communications. In her free time, she enjoys taking boxing + kickboxing classes, cooking, exploring the city with Robb and Meli, and visiting her family back home in Orange County when possible. Ashley is looking forward to becoming involved with the Japanese American Association of New York.

2012 Nisei Week Princess
Erika Hayami (Fisher) Pitcher
4th Miss Pasadena JCI

She graduated from UC Irvine with a BA in Urban Studies and an active volunteer in the JA community, most notably with the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program and the Buddy Program formed by the Japanese Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges and alumni of the Rising Stars program.

Since 2012… Erika married her high school sweetheart, Tommy, in 2016 and they live together with their cockapoo, Teddy, in their home in Santa Ana. She has been working at UC Irvine for nearly 5 years in development and now as the Community Outreach Manager for the Department of Pediatrics. In her role, she establishes relationships with various community organizations and seeks opportunities for her department to participate in health fairs and community events throughout the year as well as manage websites, social media, and alumni relations for the residency program. She has continued to be involved with the Miss Pasadena JCI Committee and is currently serving as Secretary. A crazy travel bug has taken her to the UK, France, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Maui, Utah, Japan, and Mexico in this past year with plans to visit Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in the Spring! She also enjoys practicing yoga and is training for her first half marathon early next year.

2011 Nisei Week Queen
Erika Mariko Olsen
3rd Miss Pasadena JCI

She grew up taking voice lessons with the late Sue Okabe and Lisa Joe and majored in Vocal Performance at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music. Since college she has sung with the Grateful Crane Ensemble, Los Akatombros, and performed at various events such as the Emperor of Japan’s birthday celebration and JACN at Dodgers Stadium.

Always a lover of games, she decided not to pursue music full-time after all to instead join the video game industry as a producer. She worked at Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, for the last 4 years. Though her core job was team leadership and product development on the merchandise team, she would also lend her voice to the audio team to help with the creation of new music.

Last July, she left Riot Games and moved to the Bay Area where she now works at Google on Project Stream. She’s very excited about the future of technology and secretly hopes the next Miss Pasadena JCI is a tech and gaming nerd too!

2010 Nisei Week Miss Tomodachi
Jamie Hagiya
2nd Miss Pasadena JCI

Jamie Hagiya grew up in Torrance, where she was a standout player on the South High School basketball team and received a scholarship to the University of Southern California. There she was a two-time team captain and led her team to two NCAA tournaments, had 4th all-time in career assists and 2nd all-time in career three-point field goals. After graduating from USC with a degree in Communication, Jamie played professional basketball in Greece and Spain. During the off season, she started her own youth basketball camps and clinics, Hagiya Basketball. In 2010 she temporarily traded in her basketball shoes for a crown and heels as she represented the PJCI for Nisei Week being crowned Miss Tomodachi. After Nisei Week came a turning point of Jamie’s athletic career when she tried out for the WNBA, but did not make the team. Jamie then decided to redirect her focus, energy and efforts toward a second passion: CrossFit. Currently, Jamie is a competitive CrossFit athlete and co-owner/coach at Torrance Training Lab. She is a six-time CrossFit Regional competitor and two-time CrossFit Games Athlete. She also started her own clothing company called “Left Coast Vibes Co.” At the gym, Jamie and her coaching staff work hard to ensure that members are achieving their fitness and health goals, while creating and upholding a tight-knit community. As a fitness enthusiast and advocate for body positivity, she hopes to inspire others to be comfortable in their own skin, go after their dreams, and know that anything is possible.