With more foreign workers and tourists going to Japan, the homogeneous nature of the country's society will likely change more than ever in the coming decade. One of the leaders of this transformation is biracial beauty queen Ariana Miyamoto. Crowned Miss Japan 2015 in March, Miyamoto is the first multiracial Miss Universe from the country -- and she is trying to tackle its deep-rooted racism. She has become a symbol of the nation’s increasingly diverse society while she pursues racial equality and a country free of discrimination.
The daughter of a Japanese woman and an African-American man who served in the U.S. Navy, the 20-year-old bartender-turned-model was born and raised in Nagasaki. But many netizens have complained that Miyamoto -- who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, has bronze skin and is super slender -- doesn't look enough like ordinary Japanese women to represent the nation.
Miyamoto said that despite an invitation by the event's promoter in Nagasaki, she initially refused to participate in the Miss Universe contest last year because no woman of mixed race -- or what the Japanese call "hafu" -- had previously become Miss Universe Japan.
However, a heartbreaking incident changed her mind: A good friend of Miyamoto’s, a 20-year-old fellow hafu, who was half-white, committed suicide. “He could not find his identity,” she said. “He committed suicide a few days after he told me, ‘I don’t have any idea where I should be located.’”
Miyamoto said her friend suffered partly because he couldn’t speak English. Many Japanese people take for granted that white people usually speak English, she said, and become annoyed by those cannot.
“To ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated and to eliminate prejudice and discrimination," she said, "I decided to enter the contest.”
“I hope that Japanese society will become more open by accepting not only hafu but also LGBT people and others,” Miyamoto said. “I hope to make Japan and the world a livable place for everyone.”
What is it you most hope to personally achieve in the next 10 years?
I hope I can improve the situation of racial discrimination as much as possible since I have been combating it. I received some criticism in Japan after I was crowned Miss Universe Japan, even though there are many children of mixed race. I hope to eliminate it as much as I can. I have had this hope to change the situation since I was a child, because I had my own experience of difficulties living in the nation.
Many international marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese now take place. Without solving this issue fundamentally, future children will also have difficulties living here.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the past year?
I was not good at revealing myself to others. I had trouble talking about myself and speaking in front of others. I had this challenge after I decided to apply for Miss Universe Japan.
Which living person do you most admire?
I do admire Mariah Carey. She spent her early years in an orphanage, and then she became a top star. That’s really great. I have a lot of respect for her. Her father is also of African-American descent. I feel a sense of affinity with her.
What advice would you give a young person trying to decide what to do with their life?
I would like to say this to my former self: Please love yourself first of all. And I think it’s OK to do whatever you want to do. Please believe in yourself and accomplish whatever you set out to do.
What do you do to de-stress, recharge and stay balanced?
I try to empty my head by taking a bath. Without thinking anything, I take a shower and stay in a daze. I just relax in a bath. After getting out of a bath, I can easily recognize what is annoying me and what I should let go of.
Could you please finish this sentence: In the year 2025, we will… ?
In the year 2025, we will change our attitude toward people of different races, which is what I've been appealing for. I hope our attitude will change not only in Japan but also in the rest of the world.
What current trend do you think we'll look back on in 10 years in disbelief?
The trend of women being too thin will disappear. Japanese women are currently very eager to be underweight. But an athlete-type body (rather than skinny) has already begun to become mainstream.
How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How important has sleep been in your life?
I get four to five hours of sleep every night. I may be a short sleeper, but I can wake up even though I sleep less at night. This must be related to my previous job -- a bartender. I kept unusual hours, day-night reversal. I think sleep is important. Sleeping hours differ between individuals.
What do you value the most?
Although there have been many wars in every corner of the world, I was born in Japan and have lived a normal life in good circumstances. My family was not rich, but I had a meal and a house that sheltered us from wind and rain. I could also go to school. I am very grateful for this sort of thing.
This piece was originally published by HuffPost Japan and was translated into English. It was condensed and adapted for an American audience.