Ukrainian model wins Miss Japan pageant
Ukrainian model Karolina Shiino has ignited controversy by winning the Miss Japan 2024 beauty pageant. Although Shiino is a naturalized Japanese citizen, she has no Japanese ancestry and her win has angered some viewers in the ethnically homogenous nation.
The 26-year-old model was crowned the winner of the 56th annual Miss Japan Grand Prix on Monday, becoming both the first naturalized Japanese citizen – and the oldest woman – to do so.
Shiino was born in Ukraine to two Ukrainian parents, and moved to Japan aged five when her mother remarried.
”I live as a Japanese person, but there have been racial barriers and many instances where I wasn’t accepted,” she said during Monday’s ceremony, according to Reuters. “I’m just filled with so much gratitude that I have really been accepted as a Japanese person today,” she added, speaking in fluent Japanese.
Japanese commenters on social media were less accepting. “So, someone who doesn’t have a drop of Japanese blood and has no trace of Japanese-ness is going to represent Japanese women?” one X (formerly Twitter) user wrote.
“If she was half [Japanese], sure no problem. But she’s ethnically 0% Japanese and wasn’t even born in Japan,” another wrote, while one user worried that “Japanese people naturally [would] get the wrong message when a European-looking person is called the most beautiful Japanese.”
Some commenters claimed that the judges had chosen Shiino to send a signal of support to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. “If she were born Russia, she wouldn’t have won. Not a chance. Obviously the criteria is now a political decision. What a sad day for Japan,” one person wrote.
Pageant organizer Ai Wada told the BBC that the judges had chosen Shiino with “full confidence.” The Ukrainian model “speaks and writes in beautiful and polite Japanese,” Wada said, calling her “more Japanese than we are.”
Japan is widely regarded as the world’s most ethnically homogenous developed country, and while its government does not keep track of its citizens’ race or ethnicity, it is believed that 98% of the country’s population is ethnically Japanese.
Although the government no longer pays immigrant workers to return to their home countries – as it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis – immigrants must meet strict criteria to become citizens, and birthright citizenship is not awarded.
Shiino is not the first controversial winner of the Miss Japan title. In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, whose parents are Japanese and African-American, became the first biracial woman to win the pageant, triggering a national discussion about whether mixed-race contestants should be allowed to enter the competition.