So you may have heard that Japan hit a milestone recently – they crowned their first ever mixed race Miss Japan. In 2015. Slow clap, please.* Ariana Miyamoto, probably the most stunning person to hit global attention in the last ten years, was crowned Miss Japan. It’s been not even a week and the Japanese social media has demonstrated just how great they are at raining on a parade. Despite speaking fluent Japanese and being born and raised in Nagasaki, internet trolls have taken it upon themselves to label her ‘not Japanese enough’. Why?
Because her father is black. Ariana had to spend her first television appearance explaining to reporters that, actually, yes she is Japanese.
In some countries, that alone is shocking, but let’s provide some context here. Japan is famous for its homogenous culture. Japan is one of the few countries left with very little ethnic diversity. 2% of people are not Japanese nationals. There’s a feeling that people of mixed lineage are not fully Japanese, and you can see this painfully recorded in the comments from the trolls. Apparently Ariana does not ‘look Japanese’, and has a face that is ‘too gaijin’ (literal translation is ‘outside person’) and that basically she looks like a foreigner, and isn’t pure-blooded Japanese. The term ‘hafu’ is being thrown around a lot – this is the term for someone who is biracial. Further compounding the prejudice is the fact that her father is American and is black. Whilst one might be able to hide a different passport, her heavenly features are certainly noticeable. The whole discourse of this scandal can make any liberal Westerner’s toes curl, however the problem that we have in the UK is that we are only fed negative aspects of other cultures in the news. When was the last time you heard a story about Japan that didn’t involve their economy slowing down, or the tech sector? When was the last time you heard a story originating from Afghanistan that promoted understanding of the area instead of another retrospective of why America and the UK going to war over there was for oil and pretty fucked up in general?
Whilst this story is pretty shocking on the face of it, the way it has been reported has a faint whiff of colonialism, highlighting the barbarity of other cultures for not quite fitting in with our stereotypes or rhetoric of what we expect a culture to be.
Why isn’t this reported as a story of how Ariana Miyamoto is a pioneer, breaking down barriers of racial stereotypes and prejudices, redefining beauty standards and clarifying what it means to be Japanese? There’s a lot of commentary about how she’s the victim of social media and we should all feel very sorry for her. Ariana Miyamoto won a national beauty pageant and was going on to represent her country at Miss Universe 2015.
What happened to Ariana Miyamoto just shows that we’re still in need of a debate about how we perceive race in 2015. The Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign was ill-advised but at least it recognised the need for a debate. Prior to Obama’s election, his mixed heritage was the selling point. Post-election, he’s the ‘first black president’ and all of a sudden his white heritage has been erased. There are many famous celebrities of mixed heritage who suffer from having their cultural identity presumed by the media. We all remember Rashida Jones slamming down a reporter who complimented her on her ‘tan’.
There is a phenomena in (and out of) LGBTQ spaces of bi-erasure. I’d be inclined to argue that the same thing occurs for those of mixed heritage, and failure to recognise the unique experiences of people with dual heritage leads to this. Wonderful people like Ariana Miyamoto having to justify their very existence and claim to their cultural identity simply because they have succeeded.
*I’m not too sure how our track record is in the UK, but whatever.