Ukrainian-born model wins Miss Japan 2024, sparks identity controversy

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Ukrainian-born model crowned Miss Japan, sparking debate about identity
WATCH: Ukrainian-born model crowned Miss Japan, sparking debate about identity – Jan 25, 2024

On Monday, Ukrainian-born model Karolina Shiino graciously accepted the Miss Japan 2024 title with tears in her eyes.

Though Shiino, 26, is not what many would expect of a conventional Miss Japan winner, she thanked the judges and audience in lilting, fluent Japanese. As she accepted her crown and trophy, Shiino called the win “a dream.”

“I’ve had to face barriers that often prevent me from being accepted as Japanese, so I am filled with gratitude to be recognized at this competition as a Japanese person,” she said.

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According to the BBC, Shiino was born in Ukraine, but moved to Nagoya, a large city in Japan, when she was 5 years old.

Shiino became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 2022 — the first to win the Miss Japan pageant. She is also the oldest woman to win the title.

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The response to Shiino’s win has been mixed, both inside and out of Japan.

Online, some social media users felt Shiino’s triumph was unfair because she is not ethnically Japanese and therefore does not adhere to the country’s typical beauty standards. In this camp, netizens worried her win would push an image of Western beauty onto Japanese natives.

Karolina Shiino at the Miss Japan Grand Prix pageant on Jan. 22, 2024. Twitter @ibf_japan

Others praised the beauty pageant for its inclusiveness and saw Shiino’s crowning as an acknowledgement of racial diversity in Japan.

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Still, others openly wondered if Shiino’s win was political and to do with her being born in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia in February 2022.

Karolina Shiino.
Karolina Shiino said it was “a dream” to win the Miss Japan Grand Prix pageant. Instagram @Karolina0824

But in a statement to the BBC, Miss Japan Grand Prix pageant organizer Ai Wada said the judges were confident in their decision to crown Shiino.

“She speaks and writes in beautiful and polite Japanese,” Wada told the outlet. “She is more Japanese than we are.”

Shiino is the 56th Miss Japan Grand Prix winner. The beauty pageant began in 1950.

In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, whose parents are Japanese and African American, became the first ever biracial woman to become Miss Japan. Like Shiino, Miyamoto’s pageant triumph triggered discussion in the country and beyond about who should be eligible to compete for the Miss Japan title, with specific emphasis on racial inclusion.

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Miss Japan 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, at the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant on Dec. 20, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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