Migration & Japan's Half-Black Miss Universe Contestant

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/21/2015 11:41:00 AM
Beauty contest winner Ariana Miyamoto--the face of a modernizing Japan.
Time for a weekend feature: a few days ago, Ariana Miyamoto from Nagasaki prefecture won the Miss Universe Japan beauty contest. As the winner, she will represent Japan at the Miss Universe competition early next year. What does this have to with IPE, you ask? You see, Ariana Miyamoto is half-black, and being of "mixed" descent is a big thing in a famously homogeneous society. For the first time ever, from Madam Noire:
On March 8, Ariana Miyamoto made history by becoming the first Afro Asian to be crowned Miss Japan. And she’ll move on to represent the country in the Miss Universe pageant. And while her victory is being celebrated by some, others aren’t particularly happy about it. Because outwardly, with a Japanese mother and an African American father, she doesn’t fit the typical mode of a Japanese woman.
The notion of "multiculturalism" does not really resonate yet in Japan, but times may be a-changin'. That said, there have to be more positive role models such as Miyamoto-san to change prevailing and quite frankly pervasive attitudes that she is not really "Japanese" based merely on appearance (physiognomy):
And several Japanese people are taking issue with that because, according to the Washington Post, a half Japanese woman, called “haafu” in the culture, does not adequately represent the country, known as one of the most homogeneous places on Earth. Though Miyamoto may look differently from her competition, the 20-year-old native of Sasebo in Nagasaki says that her soul is replete with Japaneseness. The model, who has an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy, had to defend herself when she met with the Japanese media after she received her crown.
Madam Noire makes a good point that it's easy to criticize the Japanese for being racist, but even in the US, the frequent "American" beauty ideal is not that flexible, either. That said, it bears remembering that she did win the competition. Moreover, it may set up a national dialogue about what it really means to be Japanese:
But not everyone is against her representing the nation. Some feel like her selection represents a change in attitude in the country. Megumi Nishikura, who directed a film about mixed people in Japan, says this represents “a huge step forward in expanding the definition of what it means to be Japanese: “The controversy that has erupted over her selection is a great opportunity for us Japanese to examine how far we have come from our self-perpetuated myth of homogeneity while at the same time it shows us how much further we have to go.”

Another Japanese woman, Emi Foulk, studying Japanese history at UCLA said that the idea of criticizing a beauty contestant for not looking average is absurd. The whole point is that she’s supposed to be extraordinary. The very notion that it’s a beauty pageant means that she won’t be an average looking woman.

I think this is such an interesting story. It would be very easy to dismiss this as racism plain and simple. And I’m sure there are some people who are truly in their feelings about Miss Japan being a Black woman. But is this comparable to the way we feel when lighter skinned women are constantly chosen to represent us in the media, on runways and in beauty campaigns? Y’all know the outrage some felt at Zoe Saldana being cast as Nina Simone. It’s comparable to the way some Mexicans felt when the Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez was cast as Selena.
Being of the nation-as-imagined-community school of thought--some elites constructed the notion of nationhood as opposed to it being some organic construct--I believe it's high time that Japan grappled with this issue. Instead of maintaining a really superficial bias against someone who practically grew up there, acceptance is well overdue. With depopulation well underway in Japan, they certainly could use more people regardless of ethnic background. Perhaps Miyamoto-san will be remembered as someone who brought more acceptance of gaijin (foreigners) and haafu, but there really is no more time left for Japan to decide as it grapples with the long-term consequences of an aging and depopulating society.