The crowning of Priyanka Yoshikawa as Miss Japan has sparked further debate in the country about identity and race, Carol Hayes writes.
On 5 September, Priyanka Yoshikawa – born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and Indian father – was selected to represent her country as Miss World Japan 2016. In her acceptance speech she said, “I want to spread the message of love and beauty of this country”. Her selection has, however, sparked controversy as to her racial identity and whether it is appropriate for her to represent ‘this country’ of Japan.
With her mixed parentage, Priyanka is what is commonly termed a ‘half’ (haafu) in Japan. But how can such a woman have been chosen to represent Japan, when only about 2 per cent of yearly births are bi-racial, and where 99 per cent of refugee applications are rejected? Images of attractive half-Japanese are not new to Japanese media or popular culture, and commonly appear in fashion magazines and TV talk shows. Ten years ago The Japan Times commented on the appeal: “In modern Japan, the Haafu image projects an ideal type; English ability, international cultural experience, western physical features – tall with long legs, small head/face, yet often looking Japanese enough for the majority to feel comfortable with.”
Global news headlines such as ‘Part-Indian crowned Miss Japan‘, ‘Half-Indian elephant trainer crowned Miss Japan‘, and ‘New Miss Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa on her Indian origins: I thought I wasn’t normal‘, have all stressed Priyanka’s difference and exotic otherness. In doing so, they seem to have stirred up the underlying tension between racial purity and a more globalised Japan which is much more comfortable with multi-ethnicity.
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