Japan’s ‘Double’ Miss Universe Tests the Country’s Changing Attitudes on Race

Screencap image from Miss Universe Japan YouTube channel.

Screencap image from Miss Universe Japan YouTube channel.

The selection of a half-Japanese, half-American woman as Japan's representative for the 64th Miss Universe pageant this past April has sparked a renewed domestic and international debate regarding what it means to be Japanese.

The Miss Universe Pageant also highlights the problems mixed-race Japanese continue to face in their home country of Japan.

Ariana Miyamoto, the child of a Japanese woman and an African-American man, will be the first half-Japanese contestant in the Miss Universe competition. The selection of Miyamoto as Japan's representative created a flurry of mixed reactions on Twitter.

Some of the comparatively milder reactions on social media express confusion and hesitation toward the announcement.

Interestingly, many even mildly negative tweets have been deleted by their owners, but not before being documented by news aggregation site Matome Naver:

ミスユニバースジャパンがハーフってどうなん?(笑)(archived tweet)

What's up with Miss Universe Japan being half? (lol)

Another tweet, since deleted, said:

ミスユニバース決まったんだ!って思って結果見たけど…正直日本代表がハーフってどうなんだろうとは思ってしまうなあ〜 (archived tweet)

At first I thought, ‘oh they chose Japan's Miss Universe!’ But then I took a look at the results and… well, to be honest, I can't help but wonder about a half representing Japan…

Others wondered how such a selection was made in the first place:

日本代表にハーフを選んで良いの!?ミスユニバースは選出基準謎のときあるよね。(archived tweet)

Is it okay to choose a hafu as Japan's representative?! The Miss Universe selection process was certainly mysterious this time.

Stronger criticisms called Miyamoto's ethnicity into question:

ミスユニバースジャパンの長崎代表の方 すごい美人なんだけどさ、 日本代表って顔じゃないよね(小声 (archived tweet)

The Miss Universe Japan representative from Nagasaki is an incredible beauty, but her face doesn't represent Japan does it?

The strongest reactions state Miyamoto is a gaijin, which is an impolite way to refer to foreigners in Japan, and that her selection is a mistake.

ミスユニバースジャパンやのに、顔どう見ても外人やないか! #めざましテレビ (archived Tweet)

Even though she's Miss Universe Japan, no matter how ya look at her face she's an outsider, ain't she!

Despite research and evidence suggesting that the people of Japan are the result of different migrations of people over thousands of years from all over Asia, there is a strong belief among Japanese that the nation is made up of an ethnically homogeneous race.

Historically, mixed-race Japanese children have been subject to bullying and social ostracization ever since the fraternization between American GIs and Japanese women after the end of WWII.

The post-war American occupation resulted in ever-increasing births of multi-racial children in Japan.

In 1952, a government census determined there were 5,013 mixed-race children in Japan, while today, according to Megumi Nishikura's documentary “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan”, 20,000 half-Japanese babies are born every year.

Considering this history and the above reactions, it's little wonder people like Miyamoto who identify as half-Japanese continue to be subjected to social and physical forms of bullying in school.

In an interview with Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of BBC News Tokyo, Miyamoto mentions one of her friends growing up was unable to cope with the treatment he received from his peers and committed suicide.

Not everyone agrees with the sentiment that Miyamoto is not fit to be Japan's representative. In this YouTube video, many interviewees broadly support Miyamoto for Miss Universe.

Support for Miyamoto has been strong on Twitter as well:

What's the problem here… I'm having a real hard time understanding objections [being dredged up on Matome Naver].

Another Twitter user revealed a different prejudice while voicing support for Miyamoto:

If she was transgender I could see the problem, but what's wrong with her being a “double?”

The user uses daburu or “double” to refer to what Japanese people perceive as Miyamoto's mixed-race heritage. “Double” is a less-common but politically correct way to refer to a mixed-race or hafu person in Japan.

Where “half” has the implied meaning of incomplete, “double” implies the different parts of a person's multi-racial background compliment each other.

So what if Ariana doesn't look like a pure-blooded Japanese? Her mom's Japanese, born and raised in Japan, and she said her daughter's acclimated to Japanese culture. Ariana's an elegant Japanese woman! Let's get out there and give her our congratulations!

In a video from The Hafu Project, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of multi-racial Japanese, people who identify as having both non-Japanese and Japanese heritage were asked to explain how they introduce themselves in Japan.

The responses were enlightening:

The Hafu Project also interviewed Japanese people to find out their views on hafu.

Although the responses indicate that the situation may not as grim as the negative tweets against Miyamoto might suggest, the participant's perspectives are primarily influenced by appearance. The primary words used to describe hafu include “pretty,” “cute” and “beautiful,” which only focuses on physicality and doesn't take personality into account.

However, when the participants were asked if they feel there is a difference between Japanese and hafu, all responded that there is no real difference and they are the same as everyone else.

It is safe to say there is progress being made regarding Japan's attitudes towards multi-racial Japanese; however, the mixed reactions and lack of Japanese media coverage regarding Ariana Miyamoto show that there is still work to be done in order for “halfs” to be considered “whole” Japanese.

The 64th Miss Universe Pageant's will be held later this year or early in 2016 and while a venue has not been chosen yet, possible locations include China and Colombia. Although discussion regarding Miyamoto has largely died down, the debate will likely be reignited once the contest gets underway.


  • […] by Matt McClellan · comments (0) Donate · Share this: twitter facebook reddit […]

  • disqus_uYobIwxxAr

    Another recycled theme and article content, but at least with more thorough compilation and films. Now the question is – Ariana has made it her running message as a contestant to “eradicate racism everywhere” – will she still participate despite Donald?

  • Chris McVey

    Impossible. Only white people are racist.

  • […] of the many rising articles from Global Voices, I’ve chosen “Japan’s ‘Double’ Miss Universe Tests the Country’s Changing Attitudes on Race“. I’ve chosen this article because of how netizens are viewing Ariana Miyamoto, the […]

  • Johnathan Li

    From this article I seem to see a kind of “faux pro-femme” trend on the concept of “Hafu” (which in my country we refer to as “mixed-heritage”), implying albeit discreetly the notion of their “acceptable” kind of “Hafu” labelled as typically female (based on the type of comments made by the pure Japanese shown on the third video in this article) as well as having Japanese blood on the paternal side (i.e. offspring of a Japanese Man married to a Foreigner Spouse), which is not only prevalent on the societal side but also on the cultural side as well (such as in Dramas, Anime and Japanese Comic Books or Manga for example).
    Problem is, it’s not just the basic awareness of such a community existing in Japan, but also that of the depth and whether the existence of such “Hafus” may be accepted the same way as their own kind regardless of how they came about (like gender or whether their Japanese parentage is maternal or paternal). The kind of “publicity” that Ariana Miyamoto gets is more likely an influence of the model herself being “different” from the typical image of the “Hafus” in the sense of her Japanese parentage being on the maternal side, that is despite being no more Japanese than a typical pure Japanese in all other aspects.

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