After any trip to Japan, one of the first things that probably strikes most people upon their return to the United States is how diverse our nation is. Everywhere you look, there are people who can trace their origins to places all over the world. Japan, on the other hand, is a nation where one’s family registry (or koseki, 戸籍) must have a Japanese-born head of household. Japan, however, is also a nation that is trying to adapt to the modern world. This year, Japan took a big step in that direction by selecting Ariana Miyamoto to represent Japan at the Miss Universe competition.
Ariana is a Japanese woman who was born in Nagasaki and has lived in Japan her entire life. However, her ethnic origin is mixed - her mother was Japanese and her father was an African-American man from Arkansas. While celebrities who are "hafu (or haafu)” are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, her selection has been somewhat controversial. Many bi-racial children still face prejudice growing up, and Miyamoto was no exception. Though Miyamoto was bullied while growing up in the port town of Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture, she revealed that it was a bi-racial friend’s suicide that ultimately convinced her to enter the Miss Universe Japan contest. Today, despite prejudice against her, she looks to Naomi Campbell as a hero and example, since she also faced racial prejudice when she began her career.
Although people have criticized her for not being “Japanese-enough,” she is no stranger to Japanese culture and even has a 5th degree mastery of Japanese calligraphy. Miyamoto is standing tall and proud to lead Japan into the 21st century. Literally quite tall, at 5’6” feet tall, she told CNN “In school people used to throw rubbish at me,” she said. “They also used racial slurs.” She has had to endure attacks on Twitter and elsewhere. Meanwhile, FujiTV faced criticism earlier this year when a musical group posed in blackface for a promotional photo shoot. Still, last year, NHK chose to feature a bi-racial couple as the theme for their popular morning drama program. “Massan", the story of a Japanese man and a Scottish woman who married and settled in Japan, was the first time that NHK's Asadora series has featured a non-Japanese actor in a lead role.
Miyamoto may be the new face of modern Japan. For example, Marie Nakagawa represented Japan on “Asia’s Next Top Model;” Nakagawa was born and raised in Tokyo to her Japanese mother and her Senegalese-French father. In fact, there are 20,000 bi-racial children born in Japan every year, and about 3.3% of marriages in Japan are between a Japanese national and a foreign national. Megumi Nishikura, whose film, “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan,” explores the lives of multiracial Japanese citizens. If you are interested, here’s a trailer for her film:
The Japan Times