Miss Japan aims to fight racism

She entered the Miss Universe Japan beauty contest after a mixed-race friend committed suicide. And she endured abuse after winning the crown because of her skin colour.

Far from being put off by the backlash, Miss Ariana Miyamoto resolved to use her new-found fame to help fight racial prejudice - in much the same way British supermodel Naomi Campbell broke down cultural barriers in the fashion industry a generation ago.

"I'm stubborn," said Miss Miyamoto, the daughter of a Japanese mother and black American father, who turned 21 yesterday.

"I was prepared for the criticism. I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt at all. I'm Japanese - I stand up and bow when I answer the phone. But that criticism did give me extra motivation," she told AFP in an interview.

"I didn't feel any added pressure because the reason I took part in the pageant was because of my friend's death. My goal was to raise awareness of racial discrimination," added Miss Miyamoto, who was bullied as a schoolgirl growing up in the port town of Sasebo, near Nagasaki.

"Now I have a great platform to deliver that message as the first black Miss Universe Japan. It's always hard to be the first, so in that respect what Naomi Campbell did was really amazing."

Social media lit up after her victory in March, many critics complaining the title should have gone to what they called a "pure" Japanese, rather than a "haafu" (the Japanese pronunciation of "half", a word used to describe mixed race).

Miss Miyamoto, who turns heads in Japan with her caramel skin and height of 1.73m, admitted she has had to toughen up.


"I used to get bullied as a kid but I've got mentally stronger, to protect myself," said the model, whose first language is Japanese, contorting her nose in mock horror when handed an English menu by a waitress.

"When I was small I stood out and always felt I had to fit in with everyone. I'd try not to bring attention to myself, but now I say what I feel. I do things my own way.

"I want to start a revolution," Miss Miyamoto said with a laugh.

"I can't change things overnight but in 100-200 years there will be very few pure Japanese left, so we have to start changing the way we think."

The hostility she faced sits at odds with a government-sponsored drive to promote the country overseas as "Cool Japan" and entice foreign tourists for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"It's possible that some conservative people might feel Ariana doesn't fit the traditional Japanese image to represent the country," said psychologist Yoko Haruka, a regular on Japanese TV.

"It's just the shock of the news. But she certainly has the chance to be a pioneer, and it's an excellent opportunity for Japan to become more globally aware."

This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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