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Hi Blog. Very briefly (as it’s a busy time here at the Colorism Conference — plus another blog post out tomorrow on my upcoming JT column), here is a link to my recent interview last weekend with ABC NewsRadio Australia, on the crowning of multiethnic Japanese Ariana Miyamoto as Miss Japan (which the African-Americans at my conference were quite aware of). Listen to it (our bit starts at minute 6:24) at:
Some context from other media:
As for the radio program, I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. Thanks ABC. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
13 comments on “ABC News Radio Australia interviews me on multiethnic Japanese Ariana Miyamoto’s crowning as Miss Japan 2015”
Detailed article about Ariana and her father:
@ Becky #1
That’s a great article! Thanks for posting!
The Daily Mail is a relatively right-wing newspaper in the UK, so I’m sure it will be accused of ‘Japan bashing’ for this article, but I thought it was spot on in summing up discrimination issues.
Excellent podcast Dr. Debito, you nailed it about how there is something in the Japan constitution prohibiting discrimination but nothing in local codes etc about enforcing it. I was always confused about how this worked because I was denied a job before just because Im a foriegner then asked what meaning the law has if its not enforced. I still dont quite get it but its Japan; perhaps its not meant to be. Glad to see your getting the coverage you deserve and an excellent articulation of how things really are in Japan
Jim,just shows how “uniquely racist” Unique Japan is if even the Daily Mail is calling Japan Inc out so comprehensibly-and it seems that the Free Pass is over; its just that The Abe Family keep trying to claim it back, by pushing the racist envelope, or by bringing back the cliched slogans and stereotypes he no doubt grew up with, e.g. Safety Japan.
Only this time the rest of the world laughs. Or just politely…moves on (and away).
Anyway, the article really lifts the lid of the dark side of Japan-well actually the beauty queen case has done that, quote- “Today, those perceived of belonging outside the mythical Japanese race are regularly discriminated against leading to a type of apartheid, particularly when it comes to renting housing”
A recent ruling by Japan’s ministry of justice in Kyoto declared that a ‘No foreigners allowed’ rule by landlords is not in fact discriminatory, thus cementing some of the institutional and casual racism non-Japanese face in contemporary Japan.”
So, is Ayako Sono actually merely just describing a situation that already exists? I.e. Apartheid already exists in Japan.
Still, hats off to the panel (who are they? or are their identities hidden to protect them?) for selecting her, though for my money there was no competition, esp. in the CNN picture above. Ariana is stunning and very striking, whereas a lot of the other contestants I would not even give sideways glance after a few pints in Roppongi, miaow… (sorry, couldnt resist being catty).
I quote the Immortal Bard, Ali G. from his groundbreaking movie “What does this country need? We need more FIT WOMEN.”
Jokes aside, Japan in general should welcome the beauty in diversity and stop being so paranoid. Happy Easter, all.
— I’m pleased that the article in Japanese, on that apartment refusal case being adjudged as not discrimination, has leaked out into the English-language press. I’ve been meaning to put up the Japanese article (with translation) but haven’t had time to translate it. Has anyone seen a fuller article in English focusing on the MOJ BOHR judgment so I can save some time and cite it as well? Thanks.
Wow, what a very beautiful lady she is.I feel such disgust towards those Japanese subjecting her to racial abuse.
— I think we should also feel disgust towards Japanese subjecting someone to abuse whether or not she is beautiful. Let’s phrase these things better, please.
Correct-The celebration of mediocrity, the humdrum, the average in Japan. The crowning of Ariana got me thinking about a cultural trait thats been playing on my mind for about two decades or so that I would like to debate here, which is that in Japan its not the winning, its the “gambateru/gaman” that counts, or more to the point, its how well you play a role, instead of how good or how beautiful you are as yourself.
Who decides what role you play? Well, your parents. Thus, Abe, Taro Ass’o and the gang are all generational politicians.And they tend to parrot similar opinions, especially handed down, inappropriate ones. But of course it is easy for them. And did they ever really have an alternative? Did even Kim Jong Un ever have any other choice but to become Kim Jong Il mark 2?
I contend, in Japan you must either play the role handed down to you, or if this is not clear you must keep a low profile and try to be as average as possible.
Contrast, you want to make ceramics, but you are not allowed to develop your own style- you are applauded for faithfully reproducing what your sensei tells you to do. You want to be a western geisha, but you don’t to be bossed around by the hierarchy that comes with it.
In fact, the only way people ever get to become innovative sensei themselves in these fields usually involves some horrible split from schools, being ostracized, and against all odds being determined and possessing a huge amount of belief in the one thing they can excel in, to set up their own schools. Though of course many will just give up.
Even, you want to learn Japanese, but you don’t want to have to faithfully and wordlessly accept all the hierarchical, patriarchal baggage that comes with it.
In the 90s a friend of mine related an anecdote about how Mariah Carey had responded testily in Japan when asked angrily if her riffing in her songs would be “hard to sing at Karaoke”. But in a way, this is correct. A technically good singer’s songs may not be the easiest to sing.
The mediocre song that is easy for any drunken Taro to sing at Karaoke tends to do well in Japan – at least in Komuro era J pop Japan, but I digress.
At Kabuki the crowd applause the perfect poses, and these poses are cliches. A few weeks later I went to a J rock concert, and was in culture shock after the rock singer (not a famous one) DID THE EXACT SAME THING. He would strike an “Elvis” pose, and the crowd would applaud his pose. Then he would strike a “Freddie Mercury” pose with the mic stand, and the crowd would applaud wildly. Me, I just wanted to leave, but I digress.
I remember a former student saying how she loved Kevin Costner (groan) and I asked why, she said it was because he was “utterly average looking, and good at being so”. Go figure.
Now, as a sop to any Japologists still reading at this point, I will point out at this point that Hofstede scores the Japanese as the most Individualistic of Asians, although the caveat is they are individualistic in a group, and in their hobbies-the latter which has been much written about. There is some room for debate as to what this actually means. Hofstede says it means that there is no one decision maker in Japanese companies, i.e. they all individualistically opted out of making a stand-out decision.(??).
And yet. “Individualism” as a real concept and not just a buzzword in Japan hasn’t taken root after a brief Prague Spring of entrepreneurialism and “following your dream” in the 90s, its seems the Old Guard Cultural Stalinists, I mean Abeists, are now attempting to discredit that as “irresponsible”.
So, back to Ariana. I think the issue here is that she is a natural beauty in her own right, She is doing her own thing, and she is doing it well, she is a confident, sassy individual woman and has succeeded against all the odds, and this makes some Japanese nervous. It is like how the book “Working in Japan”(1990) recommends “Don’t wear a bright necktie to Japanese business meetings, you will bring out all their anxieties and neuroses”.
Also, as I said earlier, it REALLY WAS NO CONTEST. Look at the other contestants. They have perfected a generic, inoffensive and in my opinion, quite common look, and honestly speaking I thought the runners up were the same woman. I am not being, err, “racist” here, haha, there was a recent controversy in a beauty contest in Korea about all the contestants looking too similar, quite possibly having been to the same cosmetic surgeon and no doubt the same may or may not be the case in Japan.
So thanks again to that anonymous panel for sticking their necks out and making a landmark decision (and honestly speaking, picking the most attractive candidate physically, and she has curves too).
Maybe overwhelming beauty has the power to defeat racism. Nichelle NIchols (Uhura in Star Trek) cites a letter from a white Southerner who wrote, “I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain’t gonna fight it.” During the Comedy Central Roast of Shatner on August 20, 2006, Nichols jokingly referred to the kiss and said, “Let’s make TV history again—and you can kiss my black ass!”
I heard Psaltis saying in the narration that you will be publishing a new book this upcoming November. I assume it’s derived from your recent dissertation work. Who is the publisher? Is it University of Hawaii Press, M.E. Sharpe, or Akashi Shoten?
— Thanks for asking. I’ll keep schtum about the publisher for now, sorry.
The thing about Ariana is this;
Because she doesn’t conform to the widely accepted stereotype of ‘Japanese beauty’, if she losses on the international stage, the Japanese are denied their navel-gazing moment of ‘she ‘yoku ganbatta’ but the world doen’t understand Japan’s ‘unique’ beauty’ victim moment, but are already geared up to disown her (and ensure such a selection never happens again?).
Whereas, if she wins, well, what then? This puts J-society and media in quite a pickle, doesn’t it. Especially if she ultimately chooses US citizenship.
However, if she had been chosen as the US winner, you can bet that the J-establishment would be all over her as she is ‘Japanese’, just like so many Nobel Prize winners, and discussions on allowing dual nationality would surface again.
— The phenomenon is called, “They’ll claim us if we’re famous” in my science. They’ll claim her if she’s Nikkei overseas, certainly. But in Japan, where nitpicking beautiful people is a national sport, by both men who want an upskirt (and will snipe if they don’t get one), and women who launch mean snipes out of jealousy. Ariana, while being claimed (especially if she gets the big prize) will remain an easy target for nitpicking for the additional dimension of race.
I was wondering when you gonna get around to this. I must tip my hat to the judges for choosing Miss Myamoto for what I assume is her character. Of course there are going to be ignorant, bigoted people that will ridicule her for not being “pure” enough as if anyone were a pure anything. These people need only look at Japan’s ancestry and see how much korean, russian and mongolian blood is in their own DNA.
Bloomberg on Miyamoto:
Beauty Queen Wants Japan to Open Minds and Borders
by Kevin Buckland, Isabel Reynolds
Bloomberg, April 6, 2015
Important video of Miyamoto, where she decries “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu) in Japan, is at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-06/biracial-japan-beauty-queen-wants-open-minds-and-borders
Japan’s first biracial beauty queen doesn’t see her crowning as a sign the country’s ingrained aversion to immigration is softening.
“Japan is always saying it’s globalizing, but I feel it hasn’t yet dealt with basics such as racial discrimination,” said Ariana Miyamoto, who has a Japanese mother and African-American father. “Things may have changed in places like Tokyo, but if you go into the countryside, things haven’t really changed at all.”
Popular opinion is against opening up Japan to foreign workers, despite having a population that is aging at the fastest pace in the developed world and dying off at a record rate. Miyamoto disagrees with this prevailing view. “We should invite in people from all over the world to share their cultures with us,” she said.
In person, the 20-year-old exudes the same self-confidence that helped her beat 43 others to take the 2015 Miss Universe Japan crown last month. It’s a quality that’s come in handy, given that her brown skin and curly hair made her a target of racial abuse in her native Nagasaki Prefecture and, more recently, on social media.
“What is a half-Japanese doing representing Japan?” exclaims one of the highest-rated postings on the website GirlsChannel, a kind of Reddit for local news and gossip. “She looks like a foreigner,” complains another. “What a disappointment,” laments a third.
Miyamoto, who recalls school classmates asking her not to share the same swimming pool with them, says she hasn’t been surprised by the reaction. She wants to use such attitudes to stay focused on why she entered the pageant in the first place.
“If there hadn’t been this kind of criticism, there would be no point in me competing,” she said, with no trace of bitterness. “I don’t want to ignore it. I want to change those people’s attitudes.”
The importance of racial purity held by some Japanese is codified in a genre of writing called nihonjinron, or theories of Japaneseness. And it illustrates the challenges to opening up the country’s borders to immigrants — something that many economists say is a must.
The number of people in Japan will shrink by almost a third by 2060, when 40 percent of the populace will be over 65 from about a quarter now, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research projects.
The challenge is that widespread aversion to immigration makes the topic effectively off limits in political circles. Participants in a government survey conducted in August last year were asked to choose as many answers as they liked from a list of options for how to address the decline in Japan’s working-age population. Less than 12 percent suggested importing labor.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has avoided using the I-word, opting for phrases like “foreign workers,” and preferring to offer extended visas rather than permanent residence. Among his so-called Abenomics reforms for revitalizing Japan, an immigration policy is notably lacking.
That didn’t prevent one senior ruling party official from citing Miyamoto as a symbol of Japan’s changing outlook.
“The fact that a half-Japanese woman has been chosen as Miss Universe Japan is a sign of our country’s globalization,” said Kenya Akiba, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Diplomacy Committee. “In fact, if you think about it in terms of how much progress Japan has made in that area, the choice of a half-Japanese is quite late in coming.”
Population figures don’t support such an optimistic assessment. The number of registered foreign residents has been virtually unchanged since 2006 at just over 2 million, according to the Justice Ministry. That means only 1.6 percent of the country is non-Japanese.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso sparked some controversy in an October 2005 speech when he described Japan as “one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race.” He was the minister for internal affairs at the time, and became foreign minister later that month.
The notion of Japanese uniqueness is challenged by the fact that much of the language and early culture are derived from China, while the predominant religion, Buddhism, was imported from India.
Still, the idea has seen a resurgence with the 2012 election of the more nationalist Abe government, according to Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki at the Australian National University in Canberra, whose recent publications include a study of border controls in postwar Japan. She says it has also been accompanied by a rise in xenophobia, and more people like Miyamoto are needed.
“It’s very good for Japanese people to be challenged, and made to think whether their stereotypes about who looks Japanese are really correct any more,” she said. “The more that people who look slightly different from the stereotypical image of Japanese come to represent Japan, the more people will get used to that idea.”
Eye of Beholder
Miyamoto says that while she has felt more at ease since moving to Tokyo, shop clerks still try to speak to her in English, even when she asks a question in her native Japanese. How does she deal with it?
“Since they’re making the effort, I try to respond in English,” she says. Rather than making her angry, “I just think it’s funny.”
A spokeswoman for the Miss Universe Japan organization told Bloomberg some criticism “is to be expected” because perceptions of attractiveness are subjective. She said the winner should possess “a beauty that is fitting to represent Japan,” but whether she should represent “traditional standards” of Japanese beauty is up to the individual judges.
Miyamoto hopes to wear a kimono at the Miss Universe competition, but says she really wants to convey the inner beauty of the Japanese to the world.
“If people say they are Japanese, that’s enough to make them Japanese in my opinion,” she said. “It’s not a question of what they look like, it’s what’s in their hearts.”
Hidenori Sakanaka, head of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute and a former director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, believes there has been a shift in attitude.
“There are not many people who actively want to accept immigrants, but the situation now is that you can’t say you don’t like them or you don’t want them here,” he said. “We are not far from people realizing that there’s no choice but to accept immigrants.”
Miyamoto says her first challenge is to change attitudes at home. “I think there will be a lot of mixed-race children born in the future, and we need to create an environment where they can grow up free from prejudice,” she said.
Ultimately, she sees her mission as encompassing more than just Japan.
“I want to use my involvement in Miss Universe to travel to other countries and talk to people who have experienced the same things I have,” she said. “I hope to be able to give them courage.”
The NYT has picked this up. Woo-hoo!
Well…the BBC has finally picked this one up…somewhat late, with a video news article:-
“..Miss Japan: First mixed-race winner provokes debate..”*
— Good report. One in 50 babies born every year in Japan, equalling about 20,000 kids, is of mixed roots. Good statistic to have.
Ariana got featured on the BBC! She just keeps rocking the boat.
She is incredibly brave.