She has raised the question of what it means to be Japanese.
Each year, dozens of beauty pageants occur in Japan, including the Miss Japan Grandprix (also known as Miss Nippon). According to the parent organizer’s website, the competition is meant to select a winner who represents the “foremost beauty of all Japanese women.”
However, the 2024 Miss Japan Grandprix winner has sparked international and domestic debates over ethnicity and beauty standards, facing harsh backlash.
In late January, the Miss Nippon contest took place to find the newest woman to represent the contest. A 26-year-old woman named Karolina Shiino was ultimately selected as the winner.
The issue that many have found with Shiino’s win is that she is 100% Ukrainian. The new Miss Nippon was born in Ukraine and moved to Nagoya when she was five, becoming a naturalized citizen at some point.
No rules were broken for her to compete and win in the competition, as the only standards are that the competitor be unmarried and Japanese by nationality, which Shiino is.
Because of this, some see no issue with her winning the competition due to her love of Japan and desire to be accepted as a Japanese person.
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,
— Karolina Shiino
However, her win has brought many debates on nationality and beauty standards, spreading even outside Japan.
Japan has remained largely homogenous, with nearly 98% of its people being Japanese.
Many feel that it is not suitable for someone who is not from one of Japan’s ethnic groups and without Japanese features to represent the beauty of Japan. Throughout history, European beauty standards have been forced on populations as a byproduct of colonization, and some fear Shiino’s win may show a preference for these ideals.
— 山下弘枝 (@chihaya0425) January 23, 2024
Racial discrimination is absolutely unacceptable, but if the Miss Nippon contest is based on the concept of beauty, I personally wish that it would be based on standards of Japanese beauty. With Karolina Shiino’s appearance, an [ethnically] Japanese girl has no chance of winning under the modern values of beauty.
— historian Hiroe Yamashita via CNN
On the other hand, some see it as a step towards multiculturalism in Japan. Many experts have urged increasing the number of immigrants allowed into the country as a partial solution to its steadily decreasing and aging population.
Some have also compared it to countries like America, where women of different ethnic backgrounds but American nationality compete for national titles.
— 筋トレ100%マン (@BCAA20000) January 23, 2024
Many Japanese people do not value Japan, so why is there a problem that she has cherished Japan, where she has lived since she was a child, so much that she became a naturalized Japanese citizen, took on the challenge of becoming Miss Nippon and was crowned Miss Nippon?
— X user via CNN
International netizens have chimed in, many of whom do not agree with Shiino’s win. Some have reflected on the backlash Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Universe Japan 2015, faced despite being born to a Japanese mother.
The pageant’s operator stated that Shiino won the title because she is a “hard-working, yet humble, Japanese woman with a very strong sense of consideration for others.”