‘I am absolutely Japanese’: Ukrainian-born model sparks debate by winning Miss Japan pageant

Miss Nippon contestants at the beauty pageant’s finale in Tokyo.

The face of Japanese beauty is now a Ukrainian-born model — at least according to pageant judges who sparked a debate on cultural identity by naming 26-year-old Karolina Shiino as Miss Japan on Monday.

The annual Miss Nippon contest, which takes its title from the country’s Japanese name, awards the tiara to the contestant representing the “Foremost Beauty of All Japanese Women,” according to the organizers’ website. The decision to pick a winner with European heritage has raised questions about beauty standards and what it means to be Japanese.

“I wanted to be recognized as a Japanese person,” Shiino, a naturalized citizen who has lived in Nagoya since she was 5 years old and speaks fluent Japanese, told CNN in Tokyo.

Shiino said she has faced difficulties being accepted as a local because of her appearance, and hoped her win would change minds about who can be considered Japanese.

“After all, we live in an era of diversity — where diversity is needed,” she said. “There are many people like me who are worried about the gap between their appearance and (who they are).” She added: “I kept being told that I’m not Japanese, but I am absolutely Japanese, so I entered Miss Japan genuinely believing in myself. I was really happy to be recognized like this.”

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