Ariana Miyamoto (C) from Miyazaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, makes a speech in Tokyo on March 12, 2015 after being chosen to represent the country at this year's Miss Universe contest.
Photo by Kyodo/AP

Biracial Miss Universe Japan faces backlash

Ariana Miyamoto made headlines around the world earlier this month after becoming the first multiracial contestant to be crowned Miss Universe Japan – but not everyone in Japan is celebrating.

Miyamoto, who was born to a Japanese mother and an African-American father, is a Japanese citizen, but the 20-year-old is facing criticism for being hāfu, or half-Japanese. ”Is it okay to choose a haafu to represent Japan?” one commenter wrote online after Miyamoto’s win, according to a translation by the Washington Post.

Another: “Even though she’s Miss Universe Japan, her face is foreign no matter how you look at it!”

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In a conference with reporters after her win, Miyamoto, who is from Nagasaki and holds a 5th degree mastery of Japanese Caligraphy, said she didn’t “look Japanese” on the outside, but there were many things about her that made her Japanese.

Being mixed-race in Japan is not a new phenomenon, but the debate over “being Japanese enough” is one that has drawn attention worldwide thanks to the internet. Laura Perez Takagi, co-director of the film Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan, told NBC News“In a country where the majority of fashion beauty magazines and TV shows are reigned by ‘hāfu’ models and actors … It was actually about time that a mixed-race Japanese girl won the Miss Universe pageant.”

Japan is not the only country that has faced beauty pageant backlash related to its winner’s ethnicity. In 2013, 7-year-old Jakiyah McKoy was stripped of the title of Little Miss Hispanic Delaware because officials ruled she was not “Latina enough” (her undocumented grandmother was Dominican, but McKoy had no papers to prove it), and Miss New York Nina Davuluri faced criticism from online detractors when she became the first Indian-American woman to be crowned Miss America. 

“I have always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as the diversity in America evolves,” Davuluri said.

Miyamoto will represent Japan in the 2015 Miss Universe pageant.