In a poignant moment following her crowning as Miss Japan on Monday, Carolina Shiino, a 26-year-old Ukrainian-born model, expressed the challenges of being accepted as Japanese, highlighting the prevailing racial barriers. Having moved to Japan at the age of five and raised in Nagoya, Shiino, the first naturalized Japanese citizen to win the pageant, has reignited a contentious debate on the essence of Japanese identity.
While some applaud Shiino’s victory as a reflection of evolving times, others contest that she does not embody the conventional image associated with “Miss Japan.” Notably, her win follows Ariana Miyamoto’s groundbreaking victory in 2015 as the first biracial Miss Japan, raising similar questions about eligibility based on racial background.
Social media platforms are now abuzz with differing opinions. Critics argue that Shiino, with no Japanese parentage, lacks the requisite “Japaneseness.” Concerns are raised about the message her win sends, with some questioning if it reflects a political decision. A dissenting voice claimed that if Shiino were born Russian, victory would have been improbable, insinuating a shift in criteria toward a political stance.
In response to the controversy, Ai Wada, organizer of the Miss Japan Grand Prix pageant, defended the judges’ decision, asserting they selected Shiino with “full confidence.” Wada emphasized Shiino’s fluency in both spoken and written Japanese, contending that she is “more Japanese” than critics may perceive. Shiino herself, upon receiving Japanese nationality last year, acknowledged her outward appearance but asserted that her mind had “become Japanese” through her upbringing in Japan.
As Shiino accepts the title of Miss Japan 2024, she expresses gratitude, describing the recognition as a Japanese individual in the competition as a fulfilling dream. The ongoing debate surrounding her victory illuminates the complex and evolving nature of discussions on national identity in a diverse and multicultural society.