(April 23, 2023)Priyanka Yoshikawa (addressed as Yoshikawa Purianka in Japanese) became the second multiracial beauty pageant contestant to hold a winner’s title in Japan. She was crowned Miss World Japan in 2016. Born to a Bengali father and a Japanese mother, the twenty-nine-year-old is a master of many trades. Before holding the beauty pageant title, the youngster worked as a Japanese interpreter with a license in elephant training. The avid kickboxer and art therapist is now an entrepreneur helping people feel confident in their skin.
It was a teary trail-blazing triumph when Priyanka got successful in claiming the top title in Japan’s beauty pageant. The critics were completely against her participation. They felt that the title holder should have been a ‘pure’ Japanese rather than a ‘haafu’ – the Japanese term for ‘half’, often used to describe people from a mixed race in Japan. Priyanka’s predecessor Ariana Miyamoto was the first ‘haafu’ to hold the title in 2015 serving as her role model.
“Ariana is an inspiration for showing me and showing all mixed girls the way,” Priyanka had remarked after her win. Though the youngster who can fluently communicate in Japanese, English, and Bengali, was confused about her identity growing up, she calls Japan her home after spending most of her life there.
The pain of being a ‘haafu’
More than the desire to prove her mettle as a beauty contestant, the Tokyo-born youngster’s main aim was to fight cultural barriers. Priyanka has been a victim of bullying since her childhood for her skin colour. After spending four years of her formative life outside Japan when the Indo-Japanese youngster returned to the country; she experienced huge discrimination. As a six-year-old Priyanka moved to Sacramento, California with her parents and stayed there for three years. From California Priyanka and her parents came to India for a year and stayed in Kolkata.
When as a ten-year-old, Priyanka returned to Japan she was aghast at how people discriminated against her for being multiracial. “My dad is Indian and I’m proud of it, I’m proud that I have an Indian in me. But that does not mean I’m not Japanese,” she said in an interview. “I know a lot of people who are ‘haafu’ and suffer,” she added.
Being different seemed to be more challenging in Japan than in the US and India. “I had the darkest skin out of anyone I knew. I stood out, and in Japan, that wasn’t considered a good thing. The experience made me question my identity and opened my eyes to what that concept means,” she remarked.
A rich family legacy
The youngster’s great-grandfather Prafulla Chandra Ghosh served as the first chief minister of West Bengal. Priyanka has grown up listening to stories of how Ghosh welcomed Mahatma Gandhi for a two-week stay at their home in Kolkata. Sharing her disappointments in dealing with racism, Priyanka remarked in an interview, “We have problems, we’ve been struggling, and it hurts,” adding “When I came back to Japan, everyone thought I was a germ.”
However, instead of being bogged down by the discrimination hurled at her, Priyanka chose to be strong and vowed to challenge the attitude of people. Participating in the pageant was a step in this direction. Winning the Miss World Japan title was a big win for her because it led her to rise against the odds, particularly when it was her appearance that had been a matter of ridicule.
“As Miss Japan, hopefully, I can help change perceptions. The number of people with mixed race is only going to increase, so people must accept it,” she remarked.
Celebrating diversity through entrepreneurship
Although it wasn’t easy for Priyanka to face discrimination in Japan, her experiences catalysed her wanting to help people accept and embrace the way they were.
In this effort, she launched MUKOOMI, a wellness and skincare brand in 2020. Derived from the Japanese words ‘mukou’ meaning ‘beyond’, and ‘miru’ meaning ‘to see’, the brand is dedicated to making people confident of who they are and celebrates diversity.
“MUKOOMI is my life’s ambition, bottled. It represents who I am, and what I want to share with the world,” mentions Priyanka in her message on the company’s website.
“MUKOOMI is a call to action. It means to see beyond typical beauty expectations and see beyond divides physical or metaphorical. New and exciting things are born from when we come together, and infuse our experiences, our journeys, share understanding and appreciation for one another,” she adds.
The multifaceted youngster is dedicated to creating a successful business and has been interspersing her cause of inclusivity and respect for diversity to it. “MUKOOMI is based in Japan, but it goes beyond nationality, identity, gender, or skin type. It’s for you!” is the strong message that Priyanka conveys to her fast-growing clientele.
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