In March of 2015, Ariana Miyamoto (宮本 エリアナ 磨美子 Miyamoto Ariana Mamiko) won the crown for Miss Universe Japan. For the Japanese nation and culture, this was a huge and monumental event. What makes it so, is that she is the first ‘Black-Japanese’ mixed race woman to win the crown. What this did was bring into the cultural spotlight, the issues of identity, race, color, nation, and gender–into an intense configuration that, I think, is necessary for Japan to struggle with today. It remains to be seen whether this has far-reaching effects.
Miss Miyamoto decided to run for Miss Universe Japan, after her Black-Japanese friend committed suicide. Miyamoto-san, then decided that she must run, if not for her deceased friend’s sake, linked with her own misgivings, memories, sorrows, and the will to empower, in relation to her Japanese identity as ‘impure, not-Japanese, mixed-race, half (ha-afu).’
When Miyamoto describes some of what she went through in her younger years, attending Japanese schools or in her neighborhood, they, of course, remind me of my own experiences in Japan in the 1950s and 60s. Japan has changed, yes, since the postwar era, into which I can place my own early childhood memories. But it has only changed through the continual association with a globalizing, rejuvenating, re-building American-ized Japan, grappling with its own place in a world which it did not want to enter in the first place. It is never complete and has contradictions, like most things.
As one remembers, Tokyo Bay was bombed by the American Commodore Perry, so that the Japanese were forced to trade with the United States in the days of colonization, It was a rape, a forced opening. Now, of course, Japan may not resent something from hundreds of years ago. But then there were the bombings in the World War. Then the Occupation of Japan by the US, which continues in many ways, via the US-Japan Securities Pacts and the presence of the US military in Japan (and Okinawa–which is another topic in relation to Okinawa as a colony of Japan, not Japanese).
The invisibility of mixed-Japanese issues related to the US military, is connected to the same issue in the entire Pacific rim, where United Statian soldiers have tread, and left their babies and girlfriends, one-night stands and lovers, abandoning them. The US military wants the issue to be silent and works with the Japanese to fulfill that silence, by force and propaganda and whatever other means. The United States, then, is more than a bystander in the ongoing racism against persons such as myself, or Miss Miyamoto. It is also just as real that times have changed and it is more accepted in many ways, than in the postwar period. But this does not mean that it is okay.
Making Black-Japanese-ness invisible, is a way in which Japan would not have to deal with its multicultural heritage, and to prioritize and move forward into the world, a homogenized and made-up fiction of a single ethnic, racial heritage. It is also a way in which many Japanese have no trouble with and may even want Japan to change, although those Japanese are bullied into being silent oftentimes.
Miss Miyamoto’s struggles are also now a way for her to empower multicultural Japan, and to again, struggle with Japanese bullying and cultural violences, which have always been intense and prolific.
Many many many Black-Japanese, and White-Japanese, have killed themselves on Japanese soil and in the streets. Many many many Black-Japanese and White-Japanese have been killed by doctors, mothers, grandmothers, caretakers, sisters and brothers, in the name of not “tainting” the family heritage, to not make it impure. Funny how killing and raping and oppressing is not considered dishonoring. I wish it were.
I wish it were. Then Miss Universe Japan, in her glorious beauty and strength, could be seen as something Japan were proud of. Instead, it is fodder for blogposts like mine and hundreds of others, or television programs that endlessly ask her how she “feels” and what she “hopes for.” Tired questions really. The questions should be pointed toward and into Japanese society. Many Japanese have wanted Japan to again, acknowledge Japan’s multicultural heritage. In my mother’s time, in the 1930s, she saw Japanese nationalism put a stranglehold on the diverse ways in which Japanese thought of themselves. In rising nationalism, in Japan’s rise to where it is now, one way was to create a Japanese-ness that had to be nothing else, singular and mythical and un-obstructable. It killed its diversity in mainstream culture.
But make no mistake, the judges voted for Miss Miyamoto. There are many Japanese who herald and want Japanese to be who they really are, instead of the tired one-race, mythical and nationalistic blunt identity that is now, giving Japan its excuses for its racism and its lack of being proud of their histories in reality, not in a nation-making nationalism of the colonial period.
Miss Miyamoto will live and give of herself and is and will be an important force for change in Japan. And at the same time, there are those who will cling to their willingness to marginalize her and to call her ‘not really Japanese.’ There are those who say that ‘this year’s Miss Universe Japan is foreign, not Japanese’ –dismissing the whole pageant, never really having to struggle with their own views.
Herein lies the same problem everywhere, not just in Japan.
There are those that use their own racism against Japan, to blame the Japanese for their racism, not looking at their own, thus confirming their own individual superiority. I think offering different ways of changing, instead of only indicting and screaming and playing victim and superior, would be best.
But at the same time, this moment of Miss Universe Japan as Black-Japanese, is also the beautiful place where change has happened–continuing to disturb the current status quo, opening all of us, hopefully, to our own distinct pasts and possibilities toward the future. It is a struggle to be sure.
Thank you Miyamoto-san. I stand in solidarity.
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