The Face Of Japan Is Changing, But Some Aren't Ready 

The Face of Japan Is Changing, But Some Aren't Ready

Change happens slowly in Japan, but it does happen. You wake up one day, and things that weren't possible years ago are happening today. Nowhere is that more evident than in the woman who will represent Japan in the Miss Universe pageant — but that's to the chagrin of some who wanted a more "Japanese" winner.

Picture: MissUniverseJapan/Facebook

Eriana Miyamoto is 20-year-old selected to represent Japan in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant. As reported by Mainichi News, Miyamoto even expressed uneasiness as to whether or not it would be OK for a hafu [half-Japanese] like her to represent Japan.

When introducing herself to reporters after her selection, Miyamoto said that her mother is Japanese, her father is American. She added that she was born and raised in Nagasaki and that while she doesn't "look Japanese" on the outside, on the inside, there are many Japanese things about her.

The Face of Japan Is Changing, But Some Aren't Ready

Picture: MissUniverseJapan/ Facebook

Let's be clear. She is Japanese. She's a Japanese citizen. She grew up here. She was born here. She's Japanese. Yet, out of politeness or even humility, she's explaining herself to the Japanese press. After this was gotten out of the way, the rest of her interview progressed fairly usual with questions about how she felt when her name was announced or if she's thinking of entering the Japanese entertainment industry.

Her selection has caused controversy online in Japan. Website Byokan Sunday and Naver Matome have a good round-up of comments that appeared on Twitter. Comments like, "Is it OK to select a hafu to represent Japan?" or "Because this is Miss Universe Japan, don't you think hafu are a no-no?" When not wondering if this was "OK", others said things like she didn't look Japanese, her face was "too gaijin" or that the country deserved a "pure-blooded Japanese" (純日本人 or "junnihon") beauty, instead. Elsewhere online, one commenter wrote, "It makes me uncomfortable to say she's representing Japan."

Because the vast, vast majority of Japan is filled with Japanese people from homogeneous backgrounds, you get comments like this from people who have no idea what it is like to be different or not to be part of an overwhelming majority. There's a lack of empathy, and unfortunately, that can reflect poorly on Japanese society.

Consider that mixed marriages between Japanese and Chinese and Koreans have been happening since the 7th century and that by the 9th century, a third of all nobles in Japan claimed foreign ancestors. This intermingling has happened throughout Japan's history, so the term "pure-blooded Japanese" can seem ambiguous at best. However, while the number of hafu are increasing, the numbers of mixed marriages are still low. In 2006, for example, 5.46 per cent of all brides were foreign (and 1.18 per cent of the grooms were foreign). Yes, the vast majority were with Filipino, Chinese and Korean spouses. But, annually, there are 20,000 mixed babies born in Japan.

On GirlsChannel, a popular site that allows readers to vote on comments, many of the highest rated comments said that they wanted a more "Japanese" contestant to represent Japan — with the explicit implication that half-Japanese people do not reflect the country. However, not everyone thinks that way. This is extremely important to point out. There were comments supporting her selection, with people saying that the only thing that matters is whether or not she's a citizen and loves this country or whether or not she was born and raised in Japan. Others said criticising the selection because she wasn't "Japanese" enough was "pathetic" and outdated thinking.

The notion of being Japanese has traditionally been narrow. There is no denying that. But babies that are born here, that grow up here, and speak Japanese as their native language, act and think, well, Japanese. The same goes for anyone who is raised in any country. Your environment breeds culture. Your culture is how you define your identity. Your identity is what makes you who you are.

You know, you see movies like Hafu (above), and you think the country is changing, and then, you see stuff like this. One commenter on website GirlsChannel put it best, "Even if you are hafu, if you have Japanese citizenship, then you're Japanese." If only more people felt that way. Many do. Over time, maybe more will.

I wish Miyamoto-san the best as she represents her country to the world, even if her country doesn't always do the best job of representing itself.

The Face of Japan Is Changing, But Some Aren't Ready

Picture: MissUniverseJapan/Facebook


    There are whole sections of japanese society that have lived and died there for generations on end and still they are not recognised by the government as japanese citizens. Imagine the cries of racism if say, norway, had stories in the press saying someone cannot represent them in any way because they are not white enough. Lets face it, 'hafu' is nothing but an insult to any one of mixed race.

    The people of Tokyo seemed to be more xenophobic than the rest of the country. That's just my experience whilst traveling around Japan.

      Really? Just wait to see the small town rednecks of Yaso-Inaba /jk

      In all seriousness, it's a damn shame. I have (distant) family on my mother's side that married into a Japanese family, and when they lived there in the 80s, had to take on Japanese names and their own little daughter told her parents to only speak Chinese or Korean at home.

      That said, this is not a uniquely Japanese thing. The Miss America winner from a couple years back was a girl from an Indian background who was born and raised in New York > cue lots of racists on Twitter saying that Miss America shouldn't be a 'terrorist.'

        Yeah the small towns in japan are like medieval in their attitude towards non locals (that applies to Japanese from the city too)

        Yes it is a real shame that the colour of your skin is more important than your nationality. My cousins are in a similar boat, both girls, mother is South African Indian, father is a White South African. One cousin is olive skinned the other is white. Back in the 80s when they were young they had to use separate bathrooms when out an about in public and had to avoid using public transport in some places.

          It really depends. I've been to some of the most backwards, middle of nowhere places in Japan and been invited to stay in a stranger's home because I was a visitor. I've bid been told to fuck off home in my own large, modern, famously foreigner accepting town.

    Congratulations to Eriana Miyamoto, Miss Universe Japan. Beauty pageants have a good record on diversity.

    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; (the winner was Sarah Mariko Winterbottom) Annabell Newman - Jamaican)

    Not restricted to Japan - this happened in Fiji fairly recently

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