In just about any other country, Ariana Miyamoto would likely be an undeniable head-turner. In her native Japan, though, the half-black, half-Japanese beauty queen faces an ongoing backlash due solely to her skin color. The black Miss Japan is unperturbed, saying that she wants to use her newfound fame and platform to change the way that Japan approaches the intersection of race, tradition, and beauty.
Miyamoto snagged the title of Miss Universe Japan earlier this year, and her very coronation sparked a wave of discussion on Twitter and across the internet. Born to a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Miyamoto calls Japan home, even though she doesn't look exactly like everyone else in the largely homogenous Japanese society.
"Even though she's Miss Universe Japan, her face is foreign no matter how you look at it!" ~@2ygravity Okay... http://t.co/nUnn0gjYgl"Even though she's Miss Universe Japan," one commenter wrote on Twitter, "her face is foreign no matter how you look at it."
— rufai ajala (@rufaiajala) March 22, 2015
That was among the most benign of comments the newly crowned Miss Universe Japan received upon her coronation. Miyamoto's mixed cultural heritage threw Japan's cultural homogeneity into stark contrast virtually overnight, with large sections of the world quickly learning how a good portion of the Japanese populace views Africans and African-Americans.
Miyamoto, though, says that she views the backlash that comes from being the first black Miss Universe Japan as a challenge. The beauty queen hit the pageant circuit after a mixed-race friend of hers committed suicide. She also says that she has endured some abuse since being named Japan's first black Miss Universe.
"I'm stubborn," Miyamoto told the AFP. "I was prepared for the criticism. I'd be lying to say it didn't hurt at all. I'm Japanese – I stand up and bow when I answer the phone. But that criticism did give me an extra motivation."
Miyamoto views her attainment of the Miss Japan title as an opportunity. With the spotlight on her as the first black Miss Japan, Miyamoto hopes to draw attention to the issue of racial discrimination in her home country.
"I want to start a revolution," Miyamoto said with a laugh. "I can't change things overnight, but in 100-200 years there will be very few pure Japanese left, so we have to start changing the way we think."
Meanwhile, Japan continues to struggle with its image of blacks in general and African-Americans in particular in an ever more connected world. The island nation has "hardly any black models or TV personalities," according to Miyamoto, who hopes that her selection as Miss Universe Japan will help to change attitudes in the country.
"Most celebrities are [of Caucasian or Eurasian descent] like Rola or Becky," Miyamoto added. "Hopefully I can create a Japan where anyone can make things happen."
[Image via Yahoo News/AFP]