In an article written by Peter Holley for the Washington Post this month, 20-year-old Japanese super model Ariana Miyamoto was cited as receiving harsh criticism for winning the title of Miss Universe Japan. She received such criticism because, according to many Japanese citizens, she does “not look Japanese enough” to represent the country at the Miss Universe Pageant. Miyamoto is the daughter of a Japanese woman and an African American man, making her a hafu, which is the word given to multiracial or multiethnic half-Japanese people. However, Miyamoto is in fact a Japanese citizen and a native of Sasebo in Nagasaki. She is considered to have an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy and can speak Japanese fluently without any trace of an accent. She is indeed Japanese, but why then do many have such a problem with her representing Japan in the pageant?
Japan is seen as one of the most homogeneous places on Earth and many people there do not view mixed-race individuals as truly Japanese. As stated by Theodore Bestor, a professor of anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University, “The Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having a unique identity that is inaccessible to foreigners.” Nonetheless, there is a “hafu” population in Japan and Miyamoto’s selection as Miss Universe Japan sheds light on this often unseen population. This population can no longer remain hidden and Japan will need to learn to accept that it is not as homogeneous as it and the rest of the world may think. “Miyamoto’s selection as Miss Universe Japan is a huge step forward in expanding the definition of what it means to be Japanese,” stated Megumi Nishikura, a filmmaker who created a film documenting the lives of hafu citizens in Japan. The controversy that has erupted over Miyamoto’s selection is a great opportunity for the Japanese to examine how far they have come from their self-perpetuated myth of homogeneity and, at the same time, how far they have to go.