The beauty contest winner making Japan look at itself

The beauty contest winner making Japan look at itself

BBC News

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, Tokyo Correspondent

At first sight even I am a little confused by Ariana Miyamoto. She is tall and strikingly beautiful. But the first thing that pops in to my head when I meet the newly crowned Miss Universe Japan is that she doesn’t look very Japanese.

In just two years here I have clearly absorbed a lot of the local prejudices about what it means to be “Japanese”.

My confusion lasts only until Ariana opens her mouth. Suddenly everything about her shouts out that she is Japanese, from the soft lilting tone of her voice, to her delicate hand gestures and demure expression.

Well of course she is. Ariana was born in Japan and has lived here all her life. She knows little of her father’s home back in Arkansas in the United States. But to many Japanese, and I really do mean many, Ariana Miyamoto is not Japanese. Not fully anyway.

Ariana is what is known in Japan as a “hafu”, taken from the English word “half”. To me the word sounds derogatory. But when I ask her Ariana surprises me by defending the term, even embracing it…

…Many people here genuinely believe Japanese are unique, even genetically separate from the rest of us.

When my (Japanese) wife got pregnant, one of her friends congratulated her with the words: “It’s not easy for us Japanese to get pregnant with a foreigner”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Of course this myth is complete nonsense. Japanese are an ethnic hotch-potch, the result of different migrations over thousands of years, from the Korean peninsula, China and South East Asia. But the myth is strong, and that makes being different here hard…

Read the entire article here.

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