Carolina Shiino, a 26-year-old model of Ukrainian descent, has made history and sparked a national conversation in Japan by winning the Miss Japan 2024 title. Her victory, however, has been met with mixed reactions, igniting a debate about the evolving concept of Japanese identity.
Born in Ukraine, Shiino moved to Japan at the age of five after her mother's remarriage to a Japanese man. Her win in the Miss Japan Grand Prix pageant marks her as the first naturalized Japanese citizen to claim the title. On stage, Shiino expressed her deep gratitude for being recognized as Japanese, acknowledging the challenges she faced due to her background, as reported by The Independent.
However, Shiino's victory has stirred skepticism online, with some social media users questioning the decision to crown someone who is not ethnically Japanese as Miss Japan. Critics argue that her European appearance contradicts traditional perceptions of Japanese beauty, with one person questioning the absence of "Japaneseness" in the choice.
Others have expressed concerns about the message sent by selecting a European-looking individual as the epitome of Japanese beauty. One comment from a non-Japanese resident in Japan described the choice as "beyond ridiculous" due to the lack of ethnic connection.
In defense of Shiino's selection, pageant organizers and judges have highlighted her confidence as a key factor in her win. Ai Wada, the pageant organizer, emphasized that Japanese beauty is not defined by appearance or bloodline but is rooted in the heart. Wada praised Shiino's proficiency in Japanese, both in speech and writing, stating, "She is more Japanese than we are."
Shiino's triumph in the pageant has thus opened a broader dialogue on what constitutes national and cultural identity in contemporary Japan, challenging traditional notions and urging a reflection on the essence of Japanese beauty.