Change happens slowly in Japan, but it does happen. You wake up one day, and things that weren’t possible years ago are happening today. Nowhere is that more evident than in the woman who will represent Japan in the Miss Universe pageant—but that’s to the chagrin of some who wanted a more “Japanese” winner.

Ariana Miyamoto is the twenty-year-old selected to represent Japan in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant. As reported by Mainichi News, Miyamoto even expressed uneasiness as to whether or not it would be okay for a hafu [half-Japanese] like her to represent Japan.

When introducing herself to reporters after her selection, Miyamoto said that her mother is Japanese and her father is American. She added that she was born and raised in Nagasaki and that while she doesn’t “look Japanese” on the outside, on the inside, there are many Japanese things about her.

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[Photo: MissUniverseJapan/Facebook]

Let’s be clear. She is Japanese. She’s a Japanese citizen. She grew up here. She was born here. She’s Japanese. Yet, out of politeness or even humility, she explained herself to the Japanese press. After this was out of the way, the rest of her interview progressed fairly normally with questions about how she felt when her name was announced or if she’s thinking of entering the Japanese entertainment industry.

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Her selection has caused controversy online in Japan. Website Byokan Sunday and Naver Matome have a good round-up of comments that appeared on Twitter. Comments like, “Is it okay to select a hafu to represent Japan?” or “Because this is Miss Universe Japan, don’t you think hafu are a no-no?” When not wondering if this was “okay,” others said things like she didn’t look Japanese, her face was “too gaijin” or that the country deserved a “pure-blooded Japanese” (純日本人 or “junnihon”) beauty instead. Elsewhere online, one commenter wrote, “It makes me uncomfortable to say she’s representing Japan.”

Because the vast, vast majority of Japan is filled with Japanese people from homogeneous backgrounds, you get comments like this from people who have no idea what it is like to be different or not to be part of an overwhelming majority. There’s a lack of empathy, and unfortunately, that can reflect poorly on Japanese society.

Consider that mixed marriages between Japanese and Chinese and Koreans have been happening since the 7th century and that by the 9th century, a third of all nobles in Japan claimed foreign ancestors. This intermingling has happened throughout Japan’s history, so the term “pure-blooded Japanese” can seem ambiguous at best. However, while the number of hafu are increasing, the number of mixed marriages is still low. In 2006, for example, 5.46 percent of all brides were foreign (and 1.18 percent of the grooms were foreign). Yes, the vast majority were with Filipino, Chinese, and Korean spouses. But, annually, there are 20,000 mixed babies born in Japan.

On GirlsChannel, a popular site that allows readers to vote on comments, many of the highest-rated comments said that they wanted a more “Japanese” contestant to represent Japan—with the explicit implication that half-Japanese people do not reflect the country. However, not everyone thinks that way. This is extremely important to point out. There were comments supporting her selection, with people saying that the only thing that matters is whether or not she’s a citizen and loves this country or whether or not she was born and raised in Japan. Others said criticizing the selection because she wasn’t “Japanese” enough was “pathetic” and outdated thinking.

The notion of being Japanese has traditionally been narrow. There is no denying that. But babies that are born here, grow up here, and speak Japanese as their native language act and think, well, Japanese. The same goes for anyone who is raised in any country. Your environment breeds culture. Your culture is how you define your identity. Your identity is what makes you who you are.

You know, you see movies like Hafu (above), and you think the country is changing, and then, you see stuff like this. One commenter on website GirlsChannel put it best: “Even if you are hafu, if you have Japanese citizenship, then you’re Japanese.” If only more people felt that way. Many do. Over time, maybe more will.

I wish Miyamoto-san the best as she represents her country to the world, even if her country doesn’t always do the best job of representing itself.

[Photo: MissUniverseJapan/Facebook]

Top photo: MissUniverseJapan/Facebook

To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.

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