Ariana Miyamoto is Japanese by legal definition. The 20-year-old was born in Japan. She is a Japanese citizen. She grew up in Japan. She is also Japanese by beauty pageant definition—she was just crowned Miss Japan to represent the island nation in the Miss Universe pageant. But in spite of her impressive accomplishments and pride in her nationality, Miyamoto has been receiving criticism around the web for not being Japanese enough.
Miyamoto’s mother is Japanese and her father is African American. Miyamoto is the first biracial Miss Japan, and the first half-Japanese, half-black woman to compete in Miss Universe. But she is doing so with some criticism from citizens in her own country. She told Japanese press that “while I don’t look ‘Japanese’ on the outside, on the inside, there are many Japanese things about me.”
On GirlsChannel, a popular web forum dedicated to commentary about Japanese stars, there was complaint about how Miyamoto was chosen over other beautiful contestants who looked more traditionally Japanese. However, there was also an outcry of support for the pageant’s decision. One commenter wrote, “Who cares? All that matters is that she is a citizen born in Japan and she loves our country.”
Ariana Miyamoto upon being crowned Miss Japan 2015. (Photo: Instagram)
Miyamoto faces a high chance of doing well in the Miss Universe pageant, which favors crowning leggy, tanned, Gisele Bündchen-doppelganger pageant queens with Victoria’s Secret blowouts. Countries that have changed their judging standards from local ideals of beauty to globalized ideals of beauty have done well. For example, in the preface for Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, author Susan Bordo shares the anecdote of how Nigeria’s Miss World contestants used to do very poorly at the Miss World competition because they were representative of local standards of beauty. When an entrepreneur, inspired by Hollywood, entered a light-skinned and very thin contestant named Agbani Darego into the competition, she subsequently became the first black African to win Miss World. Japan has won Miss Universe twice: in 2007 and in 1959—and it is the only East Asian country to have ever won.
Miss Kyoto with Ariana Miyamoto, who competed as Miss Nagasaki in the Miss Japan pageant. (Photo: Instagram)
The traditional definition of being Japanese extends far beyond just looking East Asian. There have extensively studied cases of discrimination against Japanese-born Koreans and Japanese-born Chinese in Japan. The country has held a tumultuous history on the continent of Asia, and up until 1853 when Matthew Perry led his four ships to Tokyo Bay, Japan had been closed off to the rest of the world in attempts to maintain its solid Japanese identity and culture. Being Japanese has always been a fairly narrow definition.
The choice to crown Miyamoto as Miss Japan is not just one that expands and contests the idea of whose ideal beauty represents a country—but is also a strategic motion by the Miss Japan Organization to remain competitive in the Miss Universe arena.