AP Interview: Newly crowned Miss Japan proud of Indian roots

This photo shows a certificate issued to new Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa on March 14, 2016 by Phone Travel Elephant Camp in Luang Prabang, Laos, after completing the "elephant mahout training course." Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (Prianka Yoshikawa via AP)
Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 as she is preparing for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa smiles with a couture dress in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 as she is preparing for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 as she is preparing for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
New Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa adjusts her hair as she is fitted for a couture dress in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 in her preparation for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
In this photo taken March 8, 2016 and released by Priyanka Yoshikawa Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, newly crowned Miss World Japan Yoshikawa, left, rides an elephant in the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (Prianka Yoshikawa via AP)
Newly crowned Miss World Japan Priyanka Yoshikawa smiles as she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Yoshikawa is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only a part of that. Yoshikawa, who was crowned Monday, Sept. 5, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

TOKYO — The newly crowned Miss World Japan is hardly a typical Japanese woman. Being half-Indian is only part of it.

Priyanka Yoshikawa, crowned Monday after outshining more than 6,900 other applicants, has a certificate in elephant training, teaches English to children, enjoys kickboxing and volunteers as a translator at medical meetings.

The 22-year-old is preparing for the worldwide pageant in Washington, D.C., in November.

Being fitted for a couture gown for the event is part of the program, but fashion plays a small role in Yoshikawa's life.

And she doesn't want to fit into any stereotype.

She told The Associated Press on Wednesday that being in a beauty contest is a way to achieve her ambitions: Go to Bollywood, while pursuing her goal of building a children's home in India.

A national debate was sparked in largely homogeneous Japan last year when Ariana Miyamoto, a half-American of African descent, was chosen Miss Universe Japan, another international beauty contest. Miyamoto faced criticism that she doesn't look Japanese enough, even though she mostly grew up in Japan and speaks the language perfectly.

So far, Yoshikawa has faced less criticism. She says her victory is perhaps a sign that Japan is becoming more tolerant of diversity.

"I think (being mixed race) is getting more acceptable," she said, citing her victory as the second in a row. It's a matter of "who can represent your country (best) and I think that's the answer," she said after a fitting at a Tokyo dressmaker's office and discussing the design of her gown for the November event.

She did think about her identity at length, but being called "hafu," or half, a term in Japanese for people of mixed-race, doesn't bother her, though it sometimes has negative connotations. Her roots have expanded her cultural experiences and perspective, she said.

While traveling in Asia, she is often mistaken as a local, while in Japan she is constantly scrutinized, Yoshikawa said. Japanese people seem to have stereotypes of how Japanese, Asians, or Americans should look. "I just let it go ... you can be anything now. We are all the same human beings."

Japanese with foreign roots or cultural backgrounds have faced discrimination, though less so as global exchanges prompt more international marriages. Mixed-race Japanese Olympians earned medals for Japan at the Rio Games.

Yoshikawa, who has an Indian father and a Japanese mother, grew up mostly in Japan but spent one year in India and three years in America. She says living overseas gave her a broader perspective, but that she still calls Japan home.

What struck her the most was a year in Kolkata. As a 9-year-old girl, she saw her peers living in poverty, up close.

"That totally changed my life. If I didn't live in India, or India was not inside me or part of me, I don't think I would have been here talking as Miss World Japan," she said. "Living in India has changed everything, how I see the world, how I want to live, my vision."

After returning to Japan with her family, cleanliness and safety here struck her again. She says the stark difference inspired her to work for a change — to improve the lives of children in India.

To help send her message out, Yoshikawa hopes the elephant training license on her resume will catch attention because, she says, there will be more mixed-race people in Japan and that will no longer be a way to stand out.

The license, which she obtained in Laos, is not just a decoration. She loves elephants, in part because of her Indian roots, and can ride an elephant with a passenger on the back and can bathe them. "That's me, I can do that."

Beyond Miss World, she wants to achieve her ambitions in India — in Bollywood's film industry and Kolkata.

"I would like to go into that industry. I need to learn dancing and Hindi but yes, of course I love to try anything," she said.

___

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi

People also read these

Lifelike robots made in Hong Kong meant to win...

Jan 16, 2018

David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become "super intelligent...

Kara Wai ecstatic over Excellence in Asian Cinema...

Jan 18, 2018

Hong Kong actress Kara Wai says she is ecstatic over receiving this year's Asian Film Awards'...

Japan actor in Scorsese's 'Silence' drawn to...

Mar 1, 2017

Shinya Tsukamoto was drawn to Scorsese's 'Silence' and his own films by the evolution of a...

Japan's parliament proposes abdication law for...

Mar 17, 2017

Japanese ruling and opposition parties have handed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a proposal urging his...

Roland founder, digital music pioneer Ikutaro...

Apr 3, 2017

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the Japanese engineer who pioneered digital music and founded synthesizer giant...

About Us

Frontal Report is an emerging leader in all forms of media. We aim to be the leading news brand for readers around the world.

Contact us: sales[at]frontalreport.com

Subscribe Now!