Ariana Miyamoto hadn't planned to enter a Japanese beauty contest because she figured her multiracial origins meant she couldn't win. Then a close multiracial friend committed suicide.

So Miyamoto, the daughter of a Japanese woman and an African-American man, whose bronze skin and height of 173 cm are unusual in Japan, where she was born and raised, took part in the pageant and won, becoming Miss Universe Japan.

"I thought that, for my friend's sake, if there was something I could do to change Japan, I should," Miyamoto, 20, a dual Japanese and U.S. national, said in perfect Japanese. "He always felt unaccepted by Japanese . . . and that made him unable to accept himself."