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Priyanka Yoshikawa

This week, stunning Priyanka Yoshikawa was named Miss Japan. Why is a beautiful woman in beauty pageant making headlines? Because this is the second year in a row that Japan has chosen a biracial beauty queen. Last year, contestant Ariana Miyamoto was selected as Miss Japan, making her the first person of a mixed-race background to win the title.

“We are Japanese,” Yoshikawa told AFP news agency. “Yes, my dad is Indian and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I have Indian in me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not Japanese.”

Mixed-race births make up about 3 percent of the Japanese birth rate, compared to 10 percent of US babies in 2013; about 6.9 percent of adults in the U.S. identify as mixed race, according to a 2015 study. Half-Japanese people are known colloquially as “hafu” in Japanese culture and “hapa” among Pacific Islanders and other Asian-adjacent cultures; some people who prefer the term “daburu” to denote mixed heritage.

Priyanka Yoshikawa

“There are many Japanese who believe in the purity of Japanese culture and traditions,” Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, explains to Al Jazeera.  “They have this imagined Yamato race … Everybody in the archipelago comes from this same blood pool, this same DNA. Now, anybody who seriously researches Japanese history knows that this is a myth.”

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“I don’t think the equivalent word for ‘hafu’ exists overseas, but in Japan you need it to explain who you are,” Miyamoto told Al Jazeera America last year.

Many folks have mirrored the attitudes that Yoshikawa speaks of — in response to her win, and in response to Miyamoto’s.

“I don’t mean to discriminate,” one post read, “but I wonder how a hafu can represent Japan.” (I suppose “I don’t mean to discriminate” is the international version of “I’m not racist, but…”)

Priyanka Yoshikawa

But Yoshikawa is facing less backlash than her predecessor.

“Before Ariana, hafu girls couldn’t represent Japan, ” Yoshikawa explained. “That’s what I thought, too. Ariana encouraged me a lot by showing me and all mixed girls the way.”

“I know a lot of people who are hafu and suffer,” she continued. “When I came back to Japan, everyone thought I was a germ. Like if they touched me they would be touching something bad. But I’m thankful because that made me really strong.”

Priyanka Yoshikawa

“When I’m abroad, people never ask me what mix I am,” Yoshikawa says. “As Miss Japan, hopefully I can help change perceptions so that it can be the same here too.”