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Newly crowned Miss Japan proud of Indian roots


    Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa smiles as she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo.

TOKYO >> The newly crowned Miss World Japan is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only part of it.

Priyanka Yoshikawa, crowned Monday after outshining more than 6,900 other applicants, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings.

The 22-year-old is preparing for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November.

Being fitted for a couture gown for the event is part of the program, but fashion plays a small role in Yoshikawa’s life.

And she doesn’t want to fit into any stereotype.

She told The Associated Press on Wednesday that being in a beauty contest is a way to achieve her ambitions: Go to Bollywood, while pursuing her goal of building a children’s home in India.

A national debate was sparked in largely homogeneous Japan last year when Ariana Miyamoto, a half-American of African descent, was chosen Miss Universe Japan, another international beauty contest. Miyamoto faced criticism that she doesn’t look Japanese enough, even though she mostly grew up in Japan and speaks the language perfectly.

So far, Yoshikawa has faced less criticism. She says her victory is perhaps a sign that Japan is becoming more tolerant of diversity.

“I think (being mixed race) is getting more acceptable,” she said, citing her victory as the second in a row. It’s a matter of “who can represent your country (best) and I think that’s the answer,” she said after a fitting at a Tokyo dressmaker’s office and discussing the design of her gown for the November event.

She did think about her identity at length, but being called “hafu,” or half, a term in Japanese for people of mixed-race, doesn’t bother her, though it sometimes has negative connotations. Her roots have expanded her cultural experiences and perspective, she said.

While traveling in Asia, she is often mistaken as a local, while in Japan she is constantly scrutinized, Yoshikawa said. Japanese people seem to have stereotypes of how Japanese, Asians, or Americans should look. “I just let it go … you can be anything now. We are all the same human beings.”

Japanese with foreign roots or cultural backgrounds have faced discrimination, though less so as global exchanges prompt more international marriages. Mixed-race Japanese Olympians earned medals for Japan at the Rio Games.

Yoshikawa, who has an Indian father and a Japanese mother, grew up mostly in Japan but spent one year in India and three years in America. She says living overseas gave her a broader perspective, but that she still calls Japan home.

What struck her the most was a year in Kolkata. As a 9-year-old girl, she saw her peers living in poverty, up close.

“That totally changed my life. If I didn’t live in India, or India was not inside me or part of me, I don’t think I would have been here talking as Miss World Japan,” she said. “Living in India has changed everything, how I see the world, how I want to live, my vision.”

After returning to Japan with her family, cleanliness and safety here struck her again. She says the stark difference inspired her to work for a change — to improve the lives of children in India.

To help send her message out, Yoshikawa hopes the elephant training license on her resume will catch attention because, she says, there will be more mixed-race people in Japan and that will no longer be a way to stand out.

The license, which she obtained in Laos, is not just a decoration. She loves elephants, in part because of her Indian roots, and can ride an elephant with a passenger on the back and can bathe them. “That’s me, I can do that.”

Beyond Miss World, she wants to achieve her ambitions in India — in Bollywood’s film industry and Kolkata.

“I would like to go into that industry. I need to learn dancing and Hindi but yes, of course I love to try anything,” she said.

Comments (13)

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    • Oh, give me a break. Japan has a very large foreign population who – despite what sensationalist lay national character surveys such as this would have you believe – are there because they actually want to be.

      MM, you’re here at these blogs every day. Do you think we as muricans are in a position to criticize someone else for closed minds?

  • The reason why Ms Yoshikawa is more accepted than Ms Miyamoto is because she looks more Japanese. Also, there is still a terrible stigma against African-Americans which go way back to the previous Tokyo Olympics. Then, bands of blacks descended on Akihabara, the technical shopping district, and proceeded to shoplift items from stores. Police found that they were from the U.S. Even today, that stigma remains.

    • I think you are going too far back in history. I think what has come into play more is American military stationed in Japan, have recently assaulted/raped some Japanese women that has made national news. Also I think the US military soldiers involved are mostly black.

    • This is NOT about your taste in women, nor your limited opinion. You missed the point. Miss Yoshikawa has achieved something in her young life, against the odds, and should be congratulated. And being from Hawaii – a place where all races are mixed – she is a breath of fresh air in a country that tries its best to be homogeneous.

  • She’s pretty and likely would be a good representative as Miss World Japan. However, it seems that these worldwide beauty contests are deviating from their original intent – that is to showcase the beautiful women and different cultural traits of each different country. As more mixed race people represent their countries, there may eventually be little to differentiate them. If that’s what everyone wants, okay, fine.

    • I don’t think so. If that were the case, multicultural, multi-ethnic countries (like the US) would have deviated from the original intent at the outset.

      • No. In the beginning, the U.S. was not “multicultural or multi-ethnic”. The vast majority of people were White Anglo Saxon people. Most, if not all, beauty queen winners and contestants were White Anglo Saxon women. Today, the U.S. has a large Black and Hispanic population and there are some Blacks and Hispanics (even some Asians)in the beauty contests but the vast majority are still White.

        For example, why even have a Miss China or Miss Nigeria if they looked like White blue-eyed blondes?

        • “why even have a Miss China or Miss Nigeria if they looked like White blue-eyed blondes?”

          Maybe because China and Nigeria are their countries of citizenship…?

          I suggest that the reason for most US or European contestants of the past having blonde hair had not to do with population so much as the bias of the judges and/or other races simply being barred from entering.

          Would you prefer it that way?

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