New Miss Japan Is a Bit Different Than Past Winners

Carolina Shiino was born in Ukraine to Ukrainian parents, moved to Japan at age 5
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2024 5:40 PM CST
Updated Jan 28, 2024 11:50 AM CST

Carolina Shiino was crowned Miss Japan on Monday, but the headlines on her win are focused on the debate surrounding it. The 26-year-old model from Nagoya, who was born in Ukraine to Ukrainian parents and moved to Japan when she was 5, is the country's first naturalized citizen to ever win the beauty pageant, and it's opening up conversations on identity and who qualifies as being "Japanese." "There have been racial barriers, and it has been challenging to be accepted," Shiino tearfully announced after her win, in "impeccable Japanese," notes the BBC.

Per the Tokyo Weekender, Shiino's mother remarried a Japanese man, which prompted the family's move to Japan, where Shiino learned the language and says she soon felt Japanese in "speech and mind." She also always felt somewhat different, however, due to the way she looked, and when she became an official Japanese citizen in 2022, she decided to enter the beauty pageant, with the goal of "[creating] a society where people are not judged by their appearance."

Shiino isn't the first Miss Japan winner to see such backlash. In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, who had a Japanese mom and African-American dad, became the first biracial woman in Japan to win the title. Debate soon arose on whether someone of mixed heritage should represent Japan in the beauty arena, but at least in that case, Miyamoto had partial Japanese parentage. "This person who was chosen as Miss Japan is not even a mix with Japanese but 100% pure Ukrainian," one critic posted online about Shiino. "Understand she is beautiful, but this is 'Miss Japan'. Where is the Japaneseness?"

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Others defended Shiino's win as a win for a diverse Japan, per the Independent, with one person noting, "If people keep assessing Japaneseness based on roots and see only those with pure Japanese blood as their own, instead of embracing multiculturalism, Japan will run out of Japanese people." Pageant organizer Ai Wada seems to concur with the latter thought. "Following today's result, there is one thing I am convinced of," Wada said after Shiino's win. "Japanese beauty exists not in the appearance, not in the blood, but it exists firmly in our heart." (More Japan stories.)

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