Multiracial Miss Universe Japan hopes to change homeland’s thinking on identity



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.”

Miyamoto’s selection last month as Japan’s representative to the Miss Universe contest set off an Internet firestorm, despite a push to welcome foreigners ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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

The carping was not new for Miyamoto, who attended a Japanese public school where children would refuse to touch her because “my color might rub off,” she said. Fed up, she attended a U.S. high school.

But the pull of her birthplace was too strong and she returned, though she said she is handed English menus and otherwise treated like a foreigner every day.

It’s a frustration shared by a small but 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.

In 2013, international marriages made up 3.3 percent of the total, government figures show, or four times the 1980 figure. Mixed-race children constituted 1.9 percent of the total born in 2013.

Miyamoto’s victory was “refreshing,” said Greg Dvorak, a researcher in Asian and Pacific culture and history at Hitotsubashi University, adding that Japan’s reputation as closed to diversity is overblown, despite instances of xenophobia.

“My sense is there is a growing shift among younger generations to accept that people with all faces can speak Japanese and function successfully in Japanese society,” he said. “Whether that will translate into all sorts of appearances being accepted as Japanese remains to be seen.”

Miyamoto hopes to do her part, especially if she wins the Miss Universe title.

“Japan is trying to change itself,” she said. “I’d like to help it change even more.”

  • MoiKnee

    She is so beautiful.

  • Ron NJ

    The fact that you even bothered to comment on her language abilities (“[…] said in perfect Japanese”), despite stating in the immediately preceding paragraph that she was a native, born and raised in Japan, shows that there’s still a lot of thinly veiled prejudice towards anyone who doesn’t fit the image of what it is to be “Japanese”.

    • *ahem* I trust you noted that was written by a non-Japanese reporter working for Reuters?

    • Boey Kwan

      Miyamoto-san has perfect Japanese; she was born and raised in Japan. Obviously the reporter is saying that she is exactly like a completely-Japanese native, as she speaks it the same way, and has ties to Japanese culture, so she should be accepted.

    • Anu

      I spent a year in Japan and met people who were “born and raised in Japan” that actually didn’t speak fluent Japanese (went to international schools, associated themselves with English-speakers, etc.) so I actually didn’t find that line offensive, more of a clarification. Good for her and I support her 100% in this transition Japanese culture is making!

      • R0ninX3ph

        Those people might be born and raised in Japan, but are they born of Japanese speaking parents? Its very different when talking about someone like Ariana Miyamoto whose mother is Japanese and she was raised in Japan. Its a given she speaks Japanese.

      • Anu

        I don’t remember if their parents spoke Japanese, but I know one or both parents were ethnically Japanese. It’s not always a given in these circumstances; I have a cousin in India who has Indian parents speaking Indian languages, but he only speak English.

      • R0ninX3ph

        Well, I guess yes, it is possible, but it is generally the rule that people born and raised in Japan with at least one Japanese parent, will speak Japanese fluently.

        Hell, in my time here I have met “foreigners”* born and raised here that speak fluent Japanese, and they went to international school. So the assumption that a person who identifies as Japanese, with a Japanese mother and grew up in Nagasaki speaks fluent Japanese, isn’t really that strange.

        It is more strange to assume that because she is part foreign, she wouldn’t speak Japanese natively.

        *I dislike referring to them as foreigners, as whilst being ethnically caucasian, their parents were naturalised Japanese citizens and they also held Japanese citizenship, but because of their outward appearance, they were constantly called “foreigners” by the rest of the population of the only country and culture they had ever known.

      • Guest

        True, it is safer to assume that she is culturally Japanese and speaks the language. I don’t think the author meant to be offensive when she wrote “she said in perfect Japanese” though, more to emphasize how Japanese she is. For many people Japan is still thought of as a homogeneous country.

        Japan has a way to go with immigrants of other ethnicities. “half” Japanese are popular in entertainment but aren’t necessarily treated well in everyday life. It’s unfortunate to be referred to as “gaijin” even if you’ve lived there your whole life. I think it’s getting better though, and I think Ariana Miyamoto will help spark a discussion/awareness.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I mean I know what the author was trying to say, but the problem largely stems from the author not realising those same words are often used by Japanese people to make it sound like it is strange that someone born and raised in Japan speaks it fluently.

        The rule should be if someone is born and raised in a country, there shouldnt be shock when they speak the language of that country natively. The people born and raised in a country that DON’T speak the language, are the exception.

        The assumption made often here, is that the exception is the rule, based on the outward appearance of someone. Sure, the author didn’t mean it that way, but I can almost guarantee Ariana Miyamoto has dealt with people assuming she can’t speak Japanese her entire life, from people within the only country she knew until the end of Junior High School.

    • Derek S

      considering that she went to high school in the US, it’s not “prejudiced” to think her Japanese might not be perfect

  • Hendrix

    well good luck to her, she has a huge task in front of her if she wants to change the mindset of what it is to be Japanese. We are talking a culture with deeply entrenched ideas of cultural superiority and ethnocentricity… it will take a few generations before Japan can let go of such an outdated archaic mindset.

    • shanchan

      In fairness, I think most who embark on this sort of journey are largely aware they probably won’t live long enough to see their dream come to fruition. The important thing is that if she can inspire others to take up this baton and carry it after she’s gone, change will come.

  • tisho

    She can’t change anybody or anything. Only change in the education system can lead to social change in Japan. If she wants to change the social development in Japan, she has to push for change in the education system.

    • doninjapan

      So… because she has no impact over the education system she should just shut up?
      What a ridiculous notion!

      Change will only occur if it becomes apparent to the government that the populace wants/needs it to change, and that’s only going to happen if people – including Ariana Miyamoto – speak up. Perceptions changing is absolutely vital. And she’s part of it.

      • tisho

        Read the second half of my comment again. I said if she wants to change the society she has to push for change in the education system, she can speak up but for change in the edu. system. Otherwise just saying how equal we are and how she was mistreated is not going to do anything.

  • Charlie Sommers

    A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman regardless of national origin. Before I retired I had a young female customer who was from Ethiopia. She was the most breathtakingly beautiful woman I ever met. Hang in there Ariana, you are indeed beautiful.

    • Sam

      Ethiopians are very exotic. Think they’re not Africans.

      • Miss-Z

        Ethiopia is one of the many countries found in Africa; so they are African.

      • Sam

        But they, along with Somalis, North Africans, and the like love to think differently.

  • wrle

    “That big mouth, that gaudy face. This is Miss Japan?” These people must have some pretty darn high standards. She is absolutely stunning. Beauty is truly universal.

    • Boey Kwan

      These people are just thinking about the typical emblematic beauty of Japan – graceful, poised, slightly less “gaudy” (for lack of a better word). Basically, they want a Japanese yamato nadeshiko.

      Don’t get me wrong: Miyamoto and her goal are completely respectable, especially for post-modern Japan. She’s exactly what Japan needs.

  • tiffaney

    She is absolutely gorgeous!! I love that she is representing Japan! <3 you go girl!

  • Nicolás Dubois

    Sorry but there are tons of better women here in Japan than her. She looks okay but far from the Miss Universe Japan standards. I feel sorry for Japan.

    • Villainouskind

      Pretty sure theyll live.

    • doninjapan

      Heh… I’m not sure it’s Japan that deserves pity.

    • Foreigner Friendly

      It’d be great if you could be a better man. She’s a beautiful woman and thankfully you’re one of the pageants’ judges. She’ll become a wonderful spokesperson for Japanese women, if she’s allowed to speak.
      It’s funny that I have such strong feeling about this as I’m not Japanese and I don’t enjoy beauty pageants. In fact, I think they are relics from a bygone era when women were expected to be decorative but silent. Oh, hang on! Japan is still like that.

    • R0ninX3ph

      Thanks for confirming my stereotype of the French.

      • Empress Carmella

        it’s not just french that think this, it’s very obvious she is african who can speak japanese not the other way around

        imagine if for miss ireland they had a chinese person representing? where does the ridiculousness end?

      • R0ninX3ph

        She is NOT “African” who can speak Japanese. Her mother is Japanese, she was born and raised in Japan, she is Japanese.

        Why would it be ridiculous if a “chinese person” won for Miss Ireland? You are the one who is being ridiculous. This cultural and ethnic purity crap, is just that, crap.

        I am a white Australian, but I am not of any aboriginal descent, using the “racial purity” argument, anyone not of aboriginal descent in Australia, isn’t Australian. Please, take your racial supremacy and purity ideas back to whatever backward thinking backwater you come from.

  • オスカー

    IMHO I think that the miss universe Japan should represent the majority populous of the nation, which happens to be of a Yamato ancestry. But then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Hanten

      Yamato isn’t a homogeneous group. Just as there is no genetic marker for race, there is no genetic marker for being Yamato. It’s a social construct and a propaganda tool.

      I think she’s gorgeous and a great representative of Japan in a beauty pageant. Pageants aren’t democratic, anyway.

      • Hendrix

        exactly, its a propaganda trip, go back a thousand years or so and it was Ainu in the north and the ryuku kngdom far down south, the Japanese are korean, chinese migrants over a number of centuries… the proof is in their DNA which can be traced back to those very same countries… the idea of ethnic purity is a myth…

    • Jay

      Fortunately, the judges were more enlightened than you are. Your racist-nationalist attitude is the reason this world is so full of hatred, terrorism, and wars. I hope you and your kind will die out and disappear.

    • R0ninX3ph

      Its a good thing she is of a “Yamato” ancestry then isn’t it, given her mother is Japanese. Or, did you want someone who was “pure” Japanese, like a recent argument I had with some other ethnic purist on another article about Ariana Miyamoto?

    • Bernd Bausch

      Look around you when you are in Japan. There are tall people, short people, people with dark skin and fair skin, broad noses, thin noses, round faces, long faces. The racial diversity is rather broad, in my opinion. Japanese have a mix of Pacific, Chinese/Korean and North Asian (Ainu) genes, and it shows.

      But I have heard pretty much the same remark about the new Miss Japan. In the end, the judges decide, not the people.

    • ChbiM

      Since when have beauty queens ever represented the national average?

  • Foreigner Friendly

    Japan’s lucky to have her. The beauty pageant is lucky to have her. She’ll do well.

  • Jay Quintana

    Japan’s probably moving in a glacial pace regard race, but at least the movement’s in the right direction. Twenty years ago, I doubt she would have got the opportunity to represent Japan.

  • Gotterdammerung

    Japan determines citizenship by “jus sanguinis” (by blood), so yes, Ms. Miyamoto is Japanese because her mother is Japanese.

    But I wish all of the westerners commenting on this situation would stop being so outraged or puzzled as to why Japan hasn’t “caught up with the rest of the world”. Japan is 97% Yamato, so of course people are going to raise questions about Miss Japan being 50% Japanese, and some people will be pissed. Japan isn’t the West and they don’t hold the same values as the West. They don’t try to fool themselves into thinking multiculturalism and diversity are necessary for society. If the Japanese people value homogeneity, then that’s their decision.

    If you don’t like it, leave Japan.

    • Jonathan Fields

      “If you don’t like it, you can get out” sounds dumber every time I hear it, so every time it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s pretty amazing, really.

    • Hendrix

      Incredibly stupid comment ” If you don’t like it leave Japan” … there are many people who are married, have kids, have businesses in Japan, so should they just suddenly buy a ticket and never come back just like that? … your ignorance is clear for all to see.. also your comments harbour the deep ignorance of ” Japan is beyond criticism” type of narrative.

    • Toolonggone

      No wonder ever-lasting self-perpetuating homogenous myth doldrums is capturing the gullible like you–regardless of nationality or color of passport.

    • Bernd Bausch

      What if you are Japanese and don’t like it? Leaving is not really an option, is it? Or would you suggest committing suicide, like Miyamoto’s unfortunate friend?

      So far nobody has told my children that they are not Japanese, except that they are sometimes talked to in broken English. My hope is that they will continue to be accepted in their own homeland, even if they don’t look typically Japanese. And my advice to them would be: If you don’t like it, change it.

    • ChbiM

      You speak as if “the Japanese people” all share exactly the same opinion, which I think is rather a racist attitude in itself. There is a great diversity of opinion in Japan, and the whole nation does not share the bigoted hatred of right-wing lunatics and internet trolls who are obsessed with the idea of “pure blood”.

      All of our ancestors originated in Africa, and the world would be a better place if people would remember that. The fact that some zealots are “pissed” about this girl not being single-heritage Japanese has more to do with plain jealousy and outmoded, Victorian ideas of “race” than anything else.

  • Trevor Dare

    Congratulations to Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Universe Japan. Beauty pageants have a good record on diversity.
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=512603485452899&id=457867914230477 But it should also be pointed out that our winner Tomomi Kondo, went to Venezuela and won the word title, showing that Japanese girls can win world titles. Our main 2 Miss Great Britain (running annually since 1945) heats were also culturally diverse; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Greater-London-Great-Britain/434320116642796 (the winner was Sarah Mariko Winterbottom) https://www.facebook.com/MissSouthEastGreatBritain (winner Annabell Newman – Jamaican)
    Miss Great Britain 1996 Anita St Rose was also black.
    But Fashion designers should also use more Japanese models at Tokyo Fashion week.

  • Xavi’

    What is “Japanese” about this female? She is an African that can speak Japanese, all pageants should represent the Nation of its people, this woman does not represent “Japan” as such, she represents a Utopian ideal, egalitarianism, equality and other insidiously harmful conceptions. What she represents is death. Demographic erasure, genocide and the total obliteration of uniqueness and distinction due to globalization. This is the flattening of the world. Interestingly people down-cry Japan for being homogeneous, I wonder then when the majority of the world looks like this, will there be an outburst of homogeneity? I doubt this.

    She in no way represents the historic Nation of a genetically distinct people, as Japanese people have recessive genes and Africans have dominant genes, that is why she looks nothing like a true Japanese person that took millions of years to evolve to their own specific look.

    Most Western Nations are finished due to demographic erasure and there are those encouraging Japan to commit genetic suicide as well?

    • ChbiM

      What a lot of scaremongering nonsense. The proportion of mixed-race people in Japan is fairly small, and there is no chance of mixed-heritage people outnumbering the rest in the foreseeable future. Similarly in Europe, most Europeans marry people of their own nationality, and have children of single heritage.

      If you are so worried about the declining birthrate in Japan, you should ask yourself why Japanese people are having so few children nowadays. The reasons are long working hours, stress, overcrowding, financial worries, lack of childcare, and poor maternity facilities. These are things which nationalists and racists care nothing about, because they are so obsessed with hatred and with scapegoating.

    • R0ninX3ph

      “She in no way represents the historic Nation of a genetically distinct people, as Japanese people have recessive genes and Africans have dominant genes, that is why she looks nothing like a true Japanese person that took millions of years to evolve to their own specific look.”

      This just in! Japanese people evolved over millions of years independent of the rest of humanity!

      You see how ridiculous your statement is? Japan is made of primarily of a people who emigrated from China through Korea. Japanese people are no more special than any other ethnicity on the planet, she has a Japanese mother, and was born and raised in Japan, she is Japanese. Stop with the racial purity, eugenics bullcrap. Please.

    • Bernd Bausch

      “She is an African that can speak Japanese” She is a Japanese that can speak English. I doubt she speaks African languages, but am ready to be surprised.
      “equality… insidiously harmful” The American constitution is insidiously harmful? It may have its weaknesses, but not to that extent, don’t you think?
      “demographic erasure” I’d like to submit that Japan’s population is a mix of North Asian, Chinese/Korean and Pacific (and a few more). Has this mix erased the original genes?
      “finished due to demographic erasure” It would be great if we could erase you, or at least your thinking, but I am not optimistic.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Holy shades of eugenics, Batman! Seem to recall a man with a funny little mustache in the ’30s that thought along those lines.

  • Sean Anderson

    This is a significant low risk step for Japan into a multicultural world. Through Ariana Miyamoto, Japan gets to appear more accepting of difference in the public eye without any deep change that something like a hafu party leader or Prime Minister would perhaps represent (For clarification on “perhaps” see President Obama and state of racism and/or the flexibility of the Republican congress in the U.S.).

    Honestly, Miyamoto’s success depends on how effectively she uses her newfound celebrity status along with (and sometimes versus) how seriously the average Japanese person, the successful business-minded Japanese person, and the average to important Japanese politician takes a hafu whose ultimate success depends in part on how good they look in a swimsuit competition produced by Republican Donald Trump. And of course there is the world’s debate on whether or not beauty pageant winning is actually a positive thing for women as a whole. But, that’s the way things are. And we need to see more of these small low risk victories to lay the ground work for the bigger more meaningful ones in Japan in the future.

    Congratulations, Miyamoto-san. I sincerely hope you win. But if you do, be aware you may very well be the first Miss Universe who needs to focus all her new celebrity status entirely on her home country. It’s not the rest of the universe that needs to accept your success. We are probably all good or great with it. It’s Japan’s heart you need to win. And you’re off to a good, if feminist-debatable, start.

  • jcbinok

    I’ll be pulling for you Ariana. My half-American/half-Japanese daughter just started preschool here in Japan. I’m eager to hear more of your story and will be paying attention to the Miss Universe for the first time in…well, ever.

  • RADM Obvious

    Prepare for some “cultural enrichment” Japan. Looks like you’re next.

    • Bernd Bausch

      Go Japan! A little more international exposure will do the country good. Why not a beauty queen who also has American roots besides her Japanese ones?

      “looks like you’re next” It’s about time.

      Or did you mean something else?

  • Tom Killilea

    Congratulations to Miyamoto-san on growing up so well grounded and winning the ability to Japan in the Miss Universe contest. As the father of another mixed race Japanese daughter, I love seeing stories of their success.

    One thing not mentioned, next year (or two) she will no longer be able to have dual citizenship – Japan won’t allow it. The potential loss to Japan of the children of mixed marriages seems completely wasteful for a nation that is slowly shrinking and could make use of the talents and experiences of individuals with intimate ties to Japan and other countries. I don’t know about Miyamoto-san, but my daughter is likely to choose US citizenship since the only option Japan allows is either/or; US doesn’t like dual nationality, but it is not illegal.

  • waz up

    she looks like mix of white and black! one of those caribbean girlz! lol. most (if not all) of mixed asian with blacks tend come out without asian side lmao. she’s very beautiful but i don’t see no asian side in her. not at all!!!

  • Mike

    Oh please, stop thinking you can transcend genes and reality with your social constructivist gargon. I can decide that gravity is a social construct and doesn’t exist and that humans can actually fly but that still won’t save me if I jump off a cliff. Black people are radically distant in genetic makeup to Asians than Asian people are to each other. If you like the current Miss Japan fine but that doesn’t mean that ‘Japanese people don’t exist.’ Leftist scientists like Stephen Jay Gould deliberately misrepresent data in order to promote this stuff.

    • Hanten

      Who said “Japanese people don’t exist’? Not me.
      Ask any geneticist, they’ll tell you there is no genetic maker for race.
      Japan is not now and never truly has been a racially pure nation. There aren’t any racially pure nations anywhere in the world. To insist that Japan is racially, culturally or socio-economically homogeneous would be naive. If you’ve got a week free, I suggest you look into what defines a race and how that definition can be manipulated for propaganda purposes. You might realize how much of the cool-aid you’ve been drinking.
      Ariana Miyamoto is Japanese enough for the beauty pageant judges and that’s good enough for me.
      As for social constructivism, you could probably do with a better understanding of that as well as genetics.

    • Minxy Minamoto

      Next you’ll be saying gender has no social basis.
      She’s a great Miss Japan, though I doubt you could do better, I’d love to see you try.

  • オスカー

    森あきし, USA the country (not the geographical location) has never been a homogeneous country, archeological findings shows that there was even Caucasians in northern America prior to the presences of the Mongoloid race.

    One country is based upon multiculturalism (63% are White, 13.1% are Black, 6.3% are Asians, 16.9% Hispanic), albeit separation was percent during its earlier days, whilst the other country (Japan) has always been majorly a homogeneous country.

    Genetic makeup of the USA: Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroid.
    Genetic makeup of Japan: Mongoloid (the introduction of both Caucasians and Negroids are so recent and miniscule so I don’t include them).
    [Video in regards to races: https://youtu.be/jeb09GS7ids?t=31m35s%5D

    Answer: No, I don’t think that Miss Universe USA should be only white, USA is a mix of all races (it always has been), so miss Universe USA can be either Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroid, or a mix of them.
    I apply this to all Multi-ethnical countries such as Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and so on.
    (image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Ethnic_diversity.jpg )

    Cultures are ethnocentric in nature, but that can change with indoctrination. (Which you can read about in Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s book “Ethnic conflict and Indoctrination – Altruism and Identity in Evolutionary Perspective” ( http://www.amazon.com/Ethnic-Conflict-Indoctrination-Evolutionary-Perspectives/dp/1571817662 ))

    Japan has always been a homogeneous country (only recently after WW2 opening its borders for other ethnic groups, “Multi-ethnic Japan” by John Lie is a good book on the later periods in Japan), I’m talking about 内地 now, excluding its neighboring islands with Okinawans and the Ainu in Hokkaido (the Ainu wasn’t previously only found in Hokkaido, I know) being separate from the 和人/大和民族 , where it’s inhabitants has always been primarily Mongoloid in their genetic makeup

    So the 和人 was isolated on their Island (mainland Japan), meaning there wasn’t any introduction of other genetic makeup from other ethnic groups, which makes the 和人 different, to both the Ainu in the north, Koreans in the west and Okinawans in the south.