Multiracial identity of Miss Universe Japan contestant draws criticism

Miss Universe Japan hopeful of bringing about change in Japan despite facing criticism for being multiracial.

TOKYO, JAPAN (MARCH 12, 2015) (ASSOCIATION OF MISS UNIVERSE JAPAN) – Ariana Miyamoto hadn’t planned on entering a Japanese beauty contest because she thought her multiracial origins meant she couldn’t win.

But she did enter and she won. She was crowned Miss Universe Japan at a pageant on March 12.

Then, to her surprise, her selection set off an internet firestorm.

The daughter of a Japanese woman and an African-American man, she stands out with her bronze skin and 1.73 m (5.7 ft) height. But some on social media argued she didn’t look Japanese enough to represent the nation at a beauty contest.

“That big mouth, that gaudy face. This is Miss Japan?” one social media commenter wrote. Another said she resembled an ant.

Miyamoto is determined to work hard to change that attitude.

She told Reuters that her decision to join the beauty pageant was triggered by the suicide of a multiracial friend.

“I was asked to join the competition in 2014 by an agency in Nagasaki, and although there were other biracial contestants, none of them won, so I declined, thinking I wouldn’t win anyway. But that same year, I had a biracial friend who killed himself, so for him I wanted to change Japan. I got an offer again this year, so I decided to enter,” she said after her work out routine at a Tokyo gym.

Miyamoto, who grew up in the coastal city of Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture, Japan, says she has experienced many instances that made her feel excluded from Japanese society. She still receives English menus in Japan even though she speaks flawless Japanese and has a 5th degree mastery in Japanese calligraphy.

Miyamoto says her critics are vocal and estimates that about 60 percent of people are against her representing Japan in the contest, although many hide behind the anonymity of the internet.

She said that neighbouring Asian nations are more accepting of her.

“I get voices of support from South Korea, and I think, these countries are neighbours but so different in their opinion of me,” she added.

It’s a frustration shared by a growing number of multiracial Japanese, who may look different in an extremely homogeneous nation. Some have won fame in entertainment, but others lack acceptance as the Japanese they feel they are.

On the streets of Tokyo, however, those that Reuters spoke to were not all narrow minded.

“If you’re biracial, then you can’t do anything about it. If you’re registered as Japanese citizen then you should be treated as one. Whether people criticize it or not, I think it’s an individual’s decision to participate in the contest,” said 17-year-old Tsubasa Meguro.

“If someone were to say that biracial people aren’t Japanese, I’d disagree. Even in national sports like soccer, I’m sure there are players who are ethnically foreign registered as Japanese. People still root for them, so I think it’s good if people root for her in the same mentality,” added 35-year-old Tokyo resident Daisuke Hioka.

Miyamoto says she wants to make a difference — especially for the growing number of multi-racial children in Japan.

In 2013, international marriages made up 3.3 percent of the total, government figures show, or four times the 1980 figure. Multi-racial children were 1.9 percent of those all born that year in Japan.