When Ariana Miyamoto was crowned Miss Universe Japan in 2015, and therefore Japan’s representative in the Miss Universe pageant of that same year, she caused a loud stir in the country and a storm of controversy in social media. Born of a Japanese mother and an African-American father, she was hailed as a sure sign of changing attitudes towards race in Japan, but at the same time was criticized by more traditional-minded Japanese for “not looking Japanese enough”. Despite the unkind reception, she persevered and reached the top 15 contestants that year.
Now another hafu, or mixed-race Japanese, is elevated to the same pedestal and forum of opinion as Ariana was a year ago. Priyanka Yoshikawa, whose father is from India but was herself born in Tokyo, was crowned the 2016 Miss World Japan just this Tuesday September 6, and as such will represent her country in the Miss World 2016 pageant, as reported by the India Times.
Quite fittingly, Yoshikawa cited Ariana Miyamoto as her inspiration for joining the pageant and credited her with the victory. In an interview Yoshikawa remarked, "Before Ariana, haafu girls couldn't represent Japan. That's what I thought too. Ariana encouraged me a lot by showing me and all mixed girls the way.”
As before, critics were up in arms over Yoshikawa being chosen, insisting that only “pure” Japanese women should have been allowed to participate, much less win. To quote one upset complainer:"What's the point of holding a pageant like this now? Zero national characteristics."
Such statements bring out the dichotomy between official policy and centuries-long tradition regarding biracial peoples in Japan, one of the least-racially diverse countries in the world. The idea that Japanese should only marry Japanese and the stigma of relationships with foreigners, both account for hafu making up only 2% of the total population.
Priyanka is having none of that. "We are Japanese," she tells Agence France-Presse. "Yes, my dad is Indian and I'm proud of it, I'm proud that I have Indian in me. But that doesn't mean I'm not Japanese."
Thankfully she has gotten a wide base of support from her father’s homeland in India. One Twitter poster even pointed out how an ancient Indian, the Buddha himself, has “made it big in Japan”, being a major religion in the country alongside Shinto. The rest of the Indian reactions to Yoshikawa’s travails amount to a collective “Get over it” towards Japan.
Priyanka Yoshikawa has lived in Japan, the US and India. She is fluent in Japanese and English, an avid kick-boxer and also carries a license from India as a duly-qualified elephant trainer. She hopes that her victory could further turn Japanese perceptions of hafu even more for the better.
The Miss World 2016 pageant will be held in Washington DC this December.
Photo Credit to Wall Street Journal