TOKYO – Priyanka Yoshikawa says she hopes that being crowned Miss World Japan will spur greater acceptance in her homeland of people with parents from different ethnic backgrounds, such as herself.
With a Japanese mother and an Indian father, Yoshikawa, 22, offers the latest challenge to Japan’s self-image as a racially homogeneous nation, after she was selected on Monday to represent the country in the Miss World contest.
“I have a responsibility,” said Yoshikawa. “I have to make things happen because I made a difference, being crowned as a mix.”
She joins a wave of prominent “hafu,” as many Japanese call those with parents from different ethnic backgrounds. Among them are Mashu Baker, who won a gold medal in judo at the Rio Olympics, and Asuka Cambridge, who anchored the silver medal-winning men’s 4×100 metres relay team.
Some children of mixed ethnicity in Japanese schools have been bullied because they look different.
“In school, people used to throw garbage at me,” said another biracial beauty queen, Ariana Miyamoto.
Other “hafu” have won fame in entertainment, but may yet not be regarded as genuine Japanese.
Yoshikawa is the second Japanese of mixed ethnicity to win a beauty contest in as many years.
Last year, Miyamoto, whose father is African-American, was chosen as Japan’s representative to the Miss Universe contest, a victory that Yoshikawa said had inspired her to enter Miss World.
“Half is not 100 per cent Japanese. If someone is chosen as Miss Japan, both her parents should be Japanese,” said a critic of Miyamoto to CNN.
Miyamoto’s win sparked a social media backlash, but the response to Yoshikawa has been more nuanced.
“Miss Japan is ‘hafu’. I’m so happy!” wrote one social media commentator. Others said the two mixed-race choices showed Japan was more accepting of ethnic diversity.
Some were puzzled or critical. Miss Japan should “look good in kimono,” said one person in a comment on Yahoo. Another said, “She’s not bad, but wasn’t there a pure Japanese to represent Japan?”
Such reactions reflect a traditional mindset that is starting to change, said Yoshikawa, who at 5-8, is taller than the average Japanese woman.
“We’ve been told how Japanese look,” she added. “How our faces are. We have to be pale, or the Asian look. But things change. It’s a small island, but we have a lot of people from other countries and we have a lot more ‘hafus’ in every single year.”
International marriages are increasing in Japan, forming 3.3 per cent of the total in 2013, government figures show, four times those in 1980. Mixed-race children accounted for 1.9 per cent of births in 2013.