Ariana Miyamoto is a Japanese model and was crowned Miss Universe Japan in 2015. Born to a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Miyamoto grew up in Japan, speaking Japanese, but has stated in interviews, that others in Japan often see her a foreigner. Rather than being considered as fully Japanese, Ariana is regarded as Hafu, or half-Japanese. It’s a term that some may find derogatory, but Ariana has embraced it, claiming that no other word can fully embody her identity in Japan.
Growing up she was often bullied for her darker complexion and admits she struggled trying to cope with the stigmatizations. But after a close friend, also a hafu, committed suicide, she wanted to find a way to raise awareness of the struggles mixed-race children face growing up in Japan, and as a result entered the Miss Universe Japan pageant in 2015.
Winning the title, Ariana joined the ranks of only a tiny handful of hafu Japanese to win a major beauty pageant and the first ever half-black woman to do so. And while she received a great deal of support and positive attention for her win, much of it came from media outlets abroad. Domestically, the media reaction was strangely subdued as “local journalists have had a hard time accepting her as Japanese,” asking her questions like “‘What part of you is most like a Japanese?’” On social media as well, some imparted very negative sentiments, for instance, one twitter user who wrote, “it makes me uncomfortable to think she is representing Japan.”
Her hope in participating in the national competition had been for others to notice that she, and other hafus are equally as Japanese as any “fully” Japanese citizen. Despite the negative comments, many more within Japan have shown support as well, and Ariana’s victory is perhaps symbolic of a forthcoming shift away from rigid stereotyping. Acknowledging that Japan still has a ways to go in accepting greater diversity, Ariana remains hopeful for the future and committed to challenging the definition of what it means to be Japanese.