My SNA Visible Minorities column 53: “Miss Japan Shiino Karolina lost her crown. Inevitably.” (Feb 26, 2024)


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Hi Blog.  People have been clamoring for me to write about this case.  Well, here you go.  No surprises in my conclusion, probably.  Just some new research.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.



By Debito Arudou. Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities Column 53 February 26, 2024


You might have heard the big news last month about Shiino Karolina, a Ukrainian-born Japanese citizen who won the title of Miss Japan.

You have also heard earlier this month that she lost her crown due to allegations of her having an affair with a married man.

Yappari.  I thought that might happen.  How convenient.  Let’s put this event in perspective.  

This not the first time a Japanese beauty contest in has chosen a person not “pure-blooded” to represent Japan.  In 2015, African-American-Japanese Miyamoto Ariana was chosen as Miss Japan in 2015. 

This was big news back then too for winning despite her biracial status.  I say “despite” because oodles of internet trolls questioned whether a half-Japanese could represent Japan.  

And guess what?  She could, since lightning struck a second time a year later, when Indian-Japanese Yoshikawa Priyanka was crowned Miss World Japan.

However, with Shiino, the third time was not the charm.  She only lasted two weeks.  Why?  Because she was a bridge too far.

Shiino, who came to Japan as a child from Ukraine and was raised and naturalized in Japan, was admitted to the contest on the basis of her Japanese citizenship, meaning without any blood-quantum qualifier.  

This is a very positive step, as it acknowledges that “Japaneseness” is a legal status.  (And yes, this pronouncement came with all the caveats that she’s a fluent speaker, acculturated, “more Japanese than we are” from all the people who would vouch.  Phew.)

Shiino’s win showed that people can become Japanese over time, not just be ascribed it from birth and bloodlines.  

This matters to Japan’s rapidly depopulating society.  If Japan can bring immigrants over and see them as “Japanese” like any other, well enough to represent Japan even if you don’t “look” it, this portends well for Japan’s inevitable international future.

But then came the backlash.

The first problem was the media making a big deal of this for the wrong reasons.  Instead of heralding the positive steps and future implications for Japanese society, they used racialized headlines (most without even mentioning Shiino by name, making her an issue instead of a person) to focus on how they anticipated readers would react.  Never mind the judges’ decision, where she won because of her looks.  Media once again made her win a “despite.”   

Media also empowered the self-proclaimed Identity Police.  Instead of focusing on the voices of how Shiino was in fact Japanese, media again devoted an outsized proportion of space to the trolls who reinforce the unhealthy narrative that “real” Japanese have to look a certain way.  

The trolls should not even make the news.  There are racists in every society, and their unhealthy hate will always be underground chatter.  Unearthing and megaphoning them just resuscitates their dying ideologies.  Manufacturing drama for the sake of clickbait is irresponsible pandering.

The second problem here is with “beauty contests” in general.  They are a throwback idea that women should be pedestaled just because they won the “lovely lottery”.  Too bad for all those who “fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.”  (There’s a half-trillion-dollar cosmetics industry to help fix that, of course.)

Remember the origin of these pageants.  According to a well-researched article in Honolulu Magazine, “the first modern contests involving the judging of women’s outward appearance can be credited to P.T. Barnum, one of the country’s greatest showmen, who also held national contests for dogs, chickens and babies, in 1854.”  

So putting people on display like dogs and chickens was always problematic.  And by “people,” of course we mean “women.”  Where are the international beauty pageants similarly subjecting men to the “male gaze”?

Now put it through the Japan filter, where looks are linked to citizenship:  you have to “look Japanese to be Japanese.”  

Thus any contest that focuses on “looks” means Japan adds an extra hurdle.  “Shiino doesn’t even look Asian, let alone Japanese.  How can she possibly represent ‘us’?” 

Try claiming that a Visible Minority (or a Person of Color, however defined) doesn’t represent “us” in a lot of other societies, and then try to dodge the accusation of being a “racist country.”

The same embedded racism is so hard-wired in that you see it in overseas ethnic-transplant societies.

In Hawai’i, for example, there are the Miss Chinatown Hawai’i, the Narcissus Festival, The Cherry Blossom Festival, the Miss Latina Hawai’i and the Miss O’ahu Filipina beauty contests, where contestants have to exhibit sufficient blood quanta to qualify.  

For the Japanese exhibitors, purity of bloodline mattered.  The Cherry Blossom Festival wasn’t even open to “multiethnic Japanese-American women” until 1999.  And that’s before you get the extra layer of now having to be stewardesses not just of countries, but of entire cultures.

But back to the worldwide pageants where ethnic identity is less important than looking good in a swimsuit.  You still have the issue of, “Who can represent ‘us’?”  And what befell Shiino is similar to what happened to Vanessa Williams, the first African-American woman to win Miss America in 1984.  

Out came the Identity Police back then too:  A black woman representing America?  Oh hell no.  Eventually Williams lost her crown due to nude photographs taken two years prior.  

Now with Shiino:  A Ukranian-Japanese with no Japanese blood whatsoever representing Japan?  Oh hell no.  Find a reason to dethrone her.  

It only took two weeks to find a sex scandal.  After all, pageant women are also supposed to be virginal and available too.  (Hence the “Miss” in the title.)  Being c*ck-blocked by a married man sort of spoils the male gaze.  

Nevertheless there’s a whiff of hypocrisy to what happened to Shiino.  It’s hard to believe other contestants weren’t also having sex as consenting adults.  So why Shiino?  Because the pageant organizers didn’t anticipate how controversial a win by a Japanese without any bloodline would be.  They blinked and looked for an off-ramp.  

The sad conclusion to draw from this case is that Shiino Karolina got hers.  Japan still isn’t ready to recognize Japaneseness as a legal status instead of an ethnic bloodline, and people will still resort to any means to revert to type.  In this case, blood type.  

But if you really want to fix this situation, you’ll abandon beauty contests altogether.  They just bring out bad habits in society, and at the expense of women.

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