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Priyanka Yoshikawa, Miss World Japan, challenges nation’s ethnic identity

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WATCH: The newly crowned Miss World Japan has been accused of not being Japanese enough – Sep 7, 2016

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.”

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昨日、9月5日に行われた、ミスワールド日本大会にて、2016年度日本代表に選んで頂いたことを、皆様にご報告致します。 新しく、また1つ、夢への扉が開きました。ここはゴールではなく、私にとってのスタート地点だと感じております。まだ夢を見ているような気持ちですが、気を引き締めて、12月にワシントンDCにて行われる世界大会に向け、全力で励み、結果を残してきたいと思います。また、スピーチはSNSにも上げている、チルドレンホームを実現させ、子ども支援活動、チャリティ活動を第一線で行っていきたいです。1つでも多くのことを、皆様とシェアできることを、楽しみにしております。今後とも皆様、吉川プリアンカを宜しくお願い致します。 My heart overflows with love and gratitude, especially for all those who have supported me this far. I look forward with great anticipation towards the various steps to follow as a part of this wondrous journey. I am thankful for this opportunity where I was able to show my inner strengths by my actions, and not just by my words and appearance. It is what a person does with their gifts that makes a difference in this world. Now I would want to use my gifts to make a difference in this world as given the opportunity of Miss World Japan 2016. Priyanka Yoshikawa 吉川プリアンカ #MissworldJapan2016 #Missworld #PriyankaYoshikawa #ミスワールドジャパン #ミスワールドジャパン2016 #吉川プリアンカ #奇跡とは自分を信じること #Dreamsdocometrue

A post shared by Priyanka Yoshikawa(吉川プリアンカ) (@priyankayoshikawa) on

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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.

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“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.