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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.

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.

Professor of anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard, Theodore Bestor, said that the Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having an identity that is “inaccessible to foreigners.”

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.

While we could give the Japanese people a side-eye, I know this goes on in our own community as well. I know I’ve heard one too many stories about biracial people feeling ostracized by Black people they thought would embrace them.

Representation is important. And if you don’t feel represented by a particular individual is it always because of bigotry and intolerance?

Either way, as a Black woman, with very little knowledge about Japanese culture, I’m more than happy for Ms. Miyamota and I wish her all the luck in the Miss Universe pageant.


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