Ukraine-born Miss Japan returns title after revelations about affair
A Ukraine-born woman who was criticised for not being “Japanese enough” after winning the Miss Japan contest last month has relinquished the title after a weekly magazine revealed she had been having an affair with a married man.
Karolina Shiino drew praise and criticism after she won the Miss Japan title last month, becoming the first woman of European descent to receive the accolade. The 26-year-old was born in Ukraine to Ukrainian parents, who moved to Japan when she was five.
Supporters said her victory was helping redefine what it means to be Japanese in a country with a record 3 million foreign residents, while critics questioned how a Caucasian woman could be representative of “Japanese beauty”.
She has now fallen foul of the puritanical culture that surrounds beauty pageants – in particular the expectation that contestants lead blameless private lives.
Shiino, who became a naturalised Japanese citizen in 2022, returned her title after Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine with a record of uncovering scandals, claimed she had been in a relationship with a married doctor.
Shiino said she had initially been too scared and confused to tell the truth after the article was published. “I am truly sorry for the huge trouble I have caused and for betraying those who supported me,” she wrote on Instagram late on Monday.
The Miss Japan Association said it had accepted Shiino’s request to relinquish her title, adding that it was “seriously reflecting” on its part in the controversy.
The association apologised to the contest’s judges and sponsors and said the Miss Japan title would remain vacant for the rest of the year.
Japanese media reports said pageant organisers had initially supported Shiino over the revelations after she told her modelling agency that she had ended the relationship when she discovered the man was married. But on Monday the agency said it had confirmed that Shiino had continued to see the man.
Shiino, who grew up in the central city of Nagoya, had been targeted online after winning the title by those who said a white woman could not possibly be the “face of Japan”.
Others pointed out that Shiino had met the criteria to enter the pageant, in which contestants must be Japanese citizens, single and aged between 17 and 26 when they apply.
“If you have Japanese citizenship then you are a Japanese,” another user wrote. “Isn’t that all there is to say?”
In a tearful acceptance speech delivered in fluent Japanese, Shiino said: “I live as a Japanese person, but there have been racial barriers and many instances where I wasn’t accepted.
“I’m just filled with so much gratitude that I have really been accepted as a Japanese person today.”
Previous winners of Japanese beauty contests have sparked controversy due to their backgrounds.
In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, who has a Japanese mother and African American father, drew criticism online after she became the first mixed-race woman to represent Japan at the Miss Universe pageant. A year later, Priyanka Yoshikawa, who has Japanese and Indian heritage, represented Japan in the Miss World contest.
Japanese rightwingers were furious when the Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian, was selected to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But many others welcomed the decision, pointing out that people of mixed race were becoming increasingly visible in sport, entertainment and even politics.