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Tanabata Princess Orihime visits Chuo

Yuko Usui (4th-year student, Faculty of Economics)
Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime 2014

Yuko Usui (4th-year student, Faculty of Economics) of Chuo University was selected as Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime, a famous figure in the Tanabata Festival (Star Festival). She made her debut at the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival that took place for 3 days starting July 4th. Yuko will participate in official city events throughout the year, serving as a friendship ambassador of Hiratsuka City. The Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival is a major event, attracting 1.7 million festivalgoers last year.

Conveying the Tanabata culture overseas

Instead of the nighttime sky, Princess Orihime appeared on the Chuo University Tama Campus. Yuko is a 4th-year student in the Department of International Economics of the Faculty of Economics. She is a young woman with a beautiful smile.

During her 3rd year at Chuo University, Yuko spent one year studying abroad at Impact English College in Melbourne, Australia. During a Japanese festival in Australia, she was surprised how the local residents who were interested in Japanese culture came dressed in their own yukata.

“I could feel their love of Japanese culture,” says Yuko. “It made me really happy.”

Participating as a volunteer at an overseas Japanese festival was an opportunity for Yuko to rediscover Japanese culture.

When selected as Princess Orihime, Yuko revealed the desire to use English which she learned while studying abroad to make Tanabata enjoyable for foreigners in Japan. Now is Yuko’s chance to welcome foreign visitors to Japan, to display the Japanese hospitality found in the spirit of omotenashi.

Adoring a distant, higher presence

3 young women are selected to portray Princess Orihime. This team was created by revising and uniting the past titles of “Ms. Tanabata” and “Runner-up Ms. Tanabata.” As a child born and raised in Ninomiya Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yuko grew up watching Ms. Tanabata. Although Yuko adored Princess Orihime, she seemed like a distant, higher presence.

Yuko was strongly encouraged to someday become Princess Orihime by her mother, who was born and raised in Hiratsuka City. Although the mode of expression is different, Princess Orihime is a top star throughout the region. Yuko was the only one of her family members and relatives who fit the profile of Princess Orihime. As she grew older, the expectations placed upon Yuko increased.

Selection through internet voting

After returning to Japan, Yuko resumed her studies at Chuo University. While at home one day, Yuko was handed a Princess Orihime application form. “Fill it out,” encouraged her mother. This was Yuko’s first time to apply, but it was also her last chance. She completed the application form and made up her mind. “I decided to take on the challenge and mailed the form by myself,” she recalls.

The final selection process has recently changed to voting on the internet. It was the second time that this new format was used. 6 finalists appeared in internet videos. After 13 days of voting via the internet, the top 3 vote-getters were selected to portray Princess Orihime. Yuko asked her friends to vote for her and nervously awaited the results. Ultimately, she finished in the top three with a total of 6,748 votes.

“I never dreamed that I would be a finalist in the competition,” says Yuko. “My selection as Princess Orihime made everyone in my family really happy, especially my mother and grandmother.”

Her grandmother bought many copies of the local newspaper which published an article on Yuko’s selection as Princess Orihime, and handed out the copies to friends and relatives.

Although Hiratsuka City has a population of about 260,000, the Tanabata Festival attracts 1.7 million visitors (as of last year). Approximately 500 unique Tanabata decorations are hung in the city’s central area. The streets of the main festival site are covered in magnificent decorations. The colorful decorations streaming down from heaven are like a fantastic shower. There are also large decorations exceeding more than 10 meters.

A temporary auxiliary ticket gate is established at Hiratsuka Station. The station platform and main streets are covered with throngs of people. Foreign tourists come from Asia, Europe and America. At its peak in 1993, the festival attracted 3.61 million visitors. Offering scenic views of Sagami Bay, the running course between Hiratsuka and Odawara is famous as the 4th stage of the Hakone Ekiden (road relay race) held on New Year’s Day.

The Tanabata Festival is held for 3 days during the hottest part of summer. During the 3 days, Yuko spent the entire day standing to greet visitors. After enduring the 3 days of the festival, she is awaited by a year of service at various official events. Yuko is required to wear a variety of uniforms ranging from yukata and dresses. While serving as Princess Orihime, she is more conscious than ever of maintaining her health.

“I’m confident about my vitality and stamina,” says Yuko.

Yuko was on the basketball team in elementary school and junior high school. At her prefectural high school in Kanagawa, she worked passionately as the manager of the school’s baseball team, which aimed for the Japanese High School Baseball Championship held at Koshien Stadium. At university, Yuko worked as a sports gym instructor. She also spent summer vacation as a lifeguard at Oiso Long Beach near her hometown.

Through her many experiences, Yuko has acquired quick judgment, international communication ability, stamina, life-saving skills and compassion for others. She is fully prepared to portray Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime, the leading role in Hiratsuka City’s Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival.

Without a doubt, this year will be very special for Yuko.

Information on Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime

Tanabata Festival
This festival originated from the Chinese legend of the Weaver and the Cowherd, and was transmitted to Japan as the Star Festival. At first, the festival mainly spread among aristocrats at the Imperial court and urban residents. Initially, it was customary to pray for improving calligraphy skills or fruitful romantic relationships. The Edo shogunate established the Star Festival as an annual function and it became a custom of samurai families. The festival also spread among common citizens gradually. (Reference from Hiratsuka City homepage.)

Requirements to Apply for Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime
(1) Women who reside in Kanagawa Prefecture and are at least 18 years old. Excludes high school students and women selected as Ms. Tanabata or Princess Orihime in the past.
(2) Women who have not been selected as the campaign figure for other cities, towns or villages.
(3) Women who do not have an exclusive contract with talent agencies.
(4) Must be able to participate in the Tanabata Festival and official tourism events of Hiratsuka City for 1 year from the day of selection (average of 25 events per winner). *Next year’s application starts from around February.

Screening
(1) First Screening (Morning): Self-introduction
(2) Second Screening (Afternoon): Q&A session conducted by judges

Offered by:Hakumon Chuo 2014 Summer Issue, No. 237

Yuko Usui (4th-year student, Faculty of Economics)
Yuko Usui was born in Ninomiya Town, Naka County, Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from Chigasaki Hokuryo High School, she entered the Department of International Economics in the Chuo University Faculty of Economics in 2010. During her 3rd year at university, Yuko spent 1 year studying abroad at Impact English College in Melbourne, Australia. Drawing upon that experience, in July 2014, she was selected as Shonan Hiratsuka Princess Orihime, which is a famous figure for the Tanabata Festival. Currently, she is 22 years old and in her 4th year at university.