Bira­cial ele­phant trainer wins Miss Ja­pan

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

A HALF-IN­DIAN beauty queen with an ele­phant trainer’s li­cence was crowned Miss Ja­pan on Septem­ber 5, strik­ing a fresh blow for racial equal­ity.

Priyanka Yoshikawa’s tear­ful vic­tory comes a year af­ter Ari­ana Miyamoto faced an ugly back­lash for be­com­ing the first black woman to rep­re­sent Ja­pan.

So­cial me­dia lit up af­ter Miyamoto’s trail-blaz­ing tri­umph as crit­ics com­plained that Miss Uni­verse Ja­pan should in­stead have been won by a “pure” Ja­panese rather than a haafu – the Ja­panese word for “half”, a word used to de­scribe mixed race.

“Be­fore Ari­ana, haafu girls couldn’t rep­re­sent Ja­pan,” Yoshikawa told AFP in an in­ter­view af­ter her ex­otic Bol­ly­wood looks helped sweep her to the ti­tle.

“That’s what I thought too. I didn’t doubt it or chal­lenge it un­til this day. Ari­ana en­cour­aged me a lot by show­ing me and show­ing all mixed girls the way.”

Yoshikawa, born in Tokyo to an In­dian fa­ther and a Ja­panese mother, vowed to con­tinue the fight against racial prej­u­dice in ho­moge­nous Ja­pan, where mul­tira­cial chil­dren make up just 2 per­cent of those born an­nu­ally.

“I think it means we have to let it in,” said the 22-year-old when asked what it sig­ni­fied for her and Miyamoto to break down cul­tural bar­ri­ers.

“We are Ja­panese. Yes, I’m half In­dian and peo­ple are ask­ing me about my ‘pu­rity’ – yes, my dad is In­dian and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I have In­dian in me. But that does not mean I’m not Ja­panese.”

Yoshikawa, like Miyamoto, was bul­lied be­cause of her skin colour af­ter re­turn­ing to Ja­pan aged 10 fol­low­ing three years in Sacra­mento and a fur­ther year in In­dia.

“I know a lot of peo­ple who are haafu and suf­fer,” said Yoshikawa, an avid kick-boxer whose politi­cian great-grand­fa­ther once wel­comed in­de­pen­dence cam­paigner Ma­hatma Gandhi for a two-week stay at their home in Kolkata.

“We have prob­lems, we’ve been strug­gling and it hurts. When I came back to Ja­pan, every­one thought I was a germ,” she added.

“Like if they touched me they would be touch­ing some­thing bad. But I’m thank­ful be­cause that made me re­ally strong.”

Yoshikawa, who speaks flu­ent Ja­panese and English and tow­ered over her ri­vals at 1.76 me­tres (5 ft, 8 ins), will con­test the Miss World crown in Wash­ing­ton this De­cem­ber.

“When I’m abroad, peo­ple never ask me what mix I am,” said Yoshikawa, who earned her ele­phant trainer’s li­cence to add spice to her re­sume.

“As Miss Ja­pan, hope­fully I can help change per­cep­tions so that it can be the same here too. The num­ber of peo­ple with mixed race is only go­ing to in­crease, so peo­ple have to ac­cept it.”

Re­ac­tion to Yoshikawa’s vic­tory failed ini­tially to trig­ger any real out­rage, although some were un­happy.

“What’s the point of hold­ing a pageant like this now? Zero na­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics,” grum­bled one Twit­ter user, while an­other fumed, “It’s like we’re say­ing a pure Ja­panese face can’t be a win­ner.”

As the Ja­panese govern­ment con­tin­ues to push its “Cool Ja­pan” brand over­seas to en­tice for­eign tourists for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Yoshikawa promised to win over any doubters.

“There was a time as a kid when I was con­fused about my iden­tity,” she said. “But I’ve lived in Ja­pan so long now I feel Ja­panese.”

Photo: AFP

Priyanka Yoshikawa walks the walk dur­ing Miss Ja­pan on Septem­ber 5. As win­ner, she will go on to con­test Miss World in De­cem­ber.

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