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Priyanka Yoshikawa / Ariana Miyamoto: Japanese Beauty Queens, ハーフ, and Pop-Culture Disconnect

September 11th, 2016  |  Published in FEATURE, SOCIAL SCIENCES


ariana-miyamoto-3-japantimes | This week, one of our readers tipped us off on a story about beauty in Japan.

For the second straight year, Japan will be represented in one of the Big 4 beauty pageants by a poised, intelligent, strong woman who happens to be racially mixed and unwaveringly proud of who she is. Last year, Miss Universe had Ariana Miyamoto (left). This year it will be Priyanka Yoshikawa (below) at Miss World. For a nation known for its obsessive attempts to maintain historical concepts of beauty and national identity dating back to when the wheel was invented, this is a breakthrough.

priyanka-yoshikawaImmediately when I started researching these two young leaders I expectedly came across their struggles growing up in Japan owing to ethnic heritage. This triggered thoughts of Japanese society, the impact of popular media on the people, and how contrary to what I would expect, pop-culture fails to change enough attitudes for there to be progress. It has me left seeking answers.

As an outsider looking in I have noticed, in particular, an enduring disconnect between (1) what I hear or read about Japanese sentiment on race-relations and (2) what I see represented in their popular culture. Popular culture, as I understand it, reflects the widespread likings of a society. Then how is it that with one of their main cultural vehicles, anime and manga, despite all the progressive storylines and multi-ethnic looking casts created by people who usually do not look like those depicted, do I keep reading about a nation that, overall, maintains a negative attitude towards those of different cultures? When I meet people from Japan or read recent articles about social dynamics there, and I recognize this is anecdotal, the thought is that Japan is overwhelmingly a country conservative and unwelcoming of diversity.

How can we explain then the wild success of the Korean Wave yet Zainichi have to try and hide their Korean ancestry? How is it that hip-hop or jazz can be found all over radio, television, and film and in bars, clubs, dance studios, and music stores throughout the country yet Afro-Japanese relations are tenuous? Please someone help me dissect what is happening here. I’m sure at ground level the story is much more clear yet all the more complex. Perhaps, from one angle, there is a line drawn between (a) a cultural import temporarily visiting by way of, say, a concert or television program and (b) having a person with roots of that import considered the same as a local and with the same rights. In the case of anime, maybe the dynamic is that these are works of fiction, ideas for another time, another dimension and as much as they are enjoyable, there is that Japan and there is the regular Japan a person is stuck in most of the time. If there is truth in this, then my question becomes, “What is perceived to be gained and lost from this maintained position?” I would love to see some cost benefit analysis to have a better grasp on this.

To bring this back, clearly some influential people over there are taking steps in the right direction towards change and inclusivity. They are building that necessary bridge that connects old Japan with a forward-looking today. Whoever you are over there, we share your vision for a world without institutionalized bull and we are with you in knocking down dumb one pillar at a time.

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