‘Haafu’ and proud: Miss World Japan won by mixed-race contestant

Priyanka Yoshikawa, whose father is Indian, says she was inspired by Ariana Miyamoto, the 2015 Miss Universe Japan winner who faced racial backlash

Japan will be represented at this years Miss World contest by a woman with a Japanese mother and Indian father after Priyanka Yoshikawa became the countrys second mixed-race contestant in a row chosen for a major international pageant.

The qualified elephant trainer who counts kickboxing among her hobbies said she would use her title to promote greater inclusiveness in Japan where, according to government statistics, haafu those born with one non-Japanese parent comprised 2% of all children born in 2012.

The 22-year-old Yoshikawa, who was born in Tokyo but also spent some of her childhood in India and the US, praised Ariana Miyamoto, who won Miss Universe Japan in 2015, for giving her the confidence to enter Miss World.

Miyamoto, the child of a Japanese mother and African American father, endured a racist backlash on social media, with some asking why the title had not been awarded to a pure Japanese, although many other commenters celebrated her victory.

Before Ariana, haafu girls couldnt represent Japan, Yoshikawa told AFP after winning the title in Tokyo on Monday night. Thats what I thought too. I didnt doubt it or challenge it until this day. Ariana encouraged me a lot by showing me and showing all mixed girls the way.

Yoshikawa said her background did not disqualify her or other mixed race people from representing Japan. We are Japanese, she said. Yes Im half Indian and people are asking me about my purity yes my dad is Indian and Im proud of it, Im proud that I have Indian in me. But that does not mean Im not Japanese.

Miyamoto, who was born and raised in Nagasaki, complained in 2015 that she had been bullied as a child for looking different. In school people used to throw rubbish at me, she said in an interview with CNN. They also used racial slurs.

Some social media users questioned her right to represent Japan, with one saying that her title was a contradiction given her parentage.

The response to Yoshikawas victory was more muted, although some Twitter users wondered if a pure Japanese contestant would ever win the title. Whats the point of holding a pageant like this now? Zero national characteristics, one poster said. Another complained: Its like were saying a pure Japanese face cant be a winner.

The Indian embassy in Tokyo congratulated Yoshikawa on her victory, which entitles her to represent Japan at the Miss World contest in Washington in December.

Yoshikawa said she was confident she could challenge the perception that mixed race children are not quite Japanese enough. We have problems, weve been struggling and it hurts, she said.

When I came back to Japan everyone thought I was a germ like if they touched me they would be touching something bad. But Im thankful because that made me really strong.

As Miss Japan, hopefully I can help change perceptions so that it can be the same here too. The number of people with mixed race is only going to increase, so people have to accept it.

Japanese children born to international marriages were also in evidence at the Rio Olympics. They included Mashu Baker, who took gold in the mens under-90kg judo, and Aska Cambridge, who was part of Japans silver medal-winning mens 4x100m relay team.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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