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Ukraine-Born Miss Japan Sparks Debate on What it Means to Be Japanese

The decision to award the Miss Japan title to Karolina Shiino, a naturalized Japanese citizen born to Ukrainian parents, has received mixed reactions online.



Karolina Shiino, who was crowned the 56th Miss Japan on January 22 in Tokyo. (©Kyodo)

The decision to crown Karolina Shiino as the 2024 Miss Japan has been met with varying degrees of surprise. 

A model born to Ukrainian parents, Shiino moved to Japan from Ukraine when she was five years old. She obtained Japanese nationality in 2022, meeting the eligibility criteria for the Miss Japan pageant. According to the non-profit organization Miss Japan Association, she is the first contestant with European roots to clinch the coveted title.

Shiino's victory has prompted various reactions online and sparked heated discussions about the concept of "Japanese beauty" upheld by the pageant. The Miss Japan eligibility guidelines specify unmarried women aged 17 to 26 with Japanese nationality. In her application to the pageant, Shiino wrote, "I want to become a woman who embodies elegance and modesty, upholding the spirit of harmony."

Actress Fujiko Yamamoto, who won the inaugural Miss Japan title in 1950. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

'Japanese Beauty'

On January 22 in Tokyo, the pageant's judges evaluated the contestants' "Japanese beauty" based on three criteria: inner qualities, appearance, and activities. Shiino received 30 votes from the judges and emerged as the winner among 12 finalists.

However, some users on X (formerly Twitter) have reacted negatively to the decision. One tweet reads, "It's supposed to be 'Miss Japan,' but where's the Japan-ness?"

At the same time, other users tweeted that there was nothing wrong with a Japanese citizen being chosen as Miss Japan.

Blogger Kazue Fujiwara, who contributes essays about the media and politics to monthly magazines, holds the latter view. She tweeted, "Having Japanese nationality is a necessary and sufficient condition for being Japanese. Race is not a requirement. If there is a racial barrier, I would feel disappointed as a Japanese person."

On the same day, historian Hiroe Yamashita posted a tweet questioning Miss Japan's criteria: "Racial discrimination should never be tolerated. However, if you are competing in terms of appearance under the concept of 'Miss Japan,' I personally think the criteria should be based on what is truly Japanese beauty."


Shiino shared her joy at acquiring Japanese citizenship on her YouTube channel. She said, "I want to continue living in Japan for the rest of my life and die as a Japanese person. My final goal is to have my grave in Japan. I applied to become a naturalized citizen because I wanted to officially become a Japanese person."


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Shimpei Okuhara

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