Looking at the costumes being paraded on stage, you would have thought Rio de Janeiro's famous Carnival had come to Japan.
Adorned with masks, feathers, and an assortment of elaborate headdress - some of which were the size of a small child - the 74 contestants of the 54th Miss International beauty pageant showed off their national costumes on Nov 4 in Tokyo as they vied for the title.
Singapore was represented too, with Miss Vanessa Sim, 25, strutting the stage in a fuchsia gown and a Peranakan-inspired headdress. Miss Elfin Pertiwi Rappa from Indonesia won Best National Costume.
But when it came to the finals, which were held on Tuesday, it was Puerto Rican bombshell Valerie Hernandez Matias who made the biggest impression with the judges, earning her the crown.
She told AFP that she hopes to pay back her country's education system for the opportunities it afforded her, after crediting teachers with helping her overcome learning difficulties as a child.
The 21-year-old said in an interview, eyes dried and make-up restored after her emotional win at the event: "I suffered from attention deficit disorder but I managed to beat my condition, thanks to the help I received from my teachers and people around me."
"Sadly, that type of help is declining nowadays," she said after a knockout victory over Mexican Vianey Vazquez, considered by many as the favourite to win.
Runner-up Zuleika Suarez, 20, of Colombia took away the Miss Best Dresser award for her plunging, sequin-lined evening wear, which drew gasps from the audience, and earned her a pearl necklace from sponsors.
Thailand's Punika Kulsoontornrut valiantly forced a smile as her abundant charms and calls for world peace only brought her third place.
This article was first published on November 14, 2014.
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