Japan's half-Indian Miss World contestant challenges its self-image

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TOKYO, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Priyanka Yoshikawa says she hopes that being crowned Miss World Japan will spur greater acceptance in her homeland of people with parents from different ethnic backgrounds, such as herself.

With a Japanese mother and an Indian father, Yoshikawa, 22, offers the latest challenge to Japan's self-image as a racially homogeneous nation, after she was selected on Monday to represent the country in the Miss World contest.

"I have a responsibility," said Yoshikawa. "I have to make things happen because I made a difference, being crowned as a mix."

She joins a wave of prominent "hafu," as many Japanese call those with parents from different ethnic backgrounds, among them Mashu Baker, who won a gold medal in judo at the just-concluded Rio Olympics, and Asuka Cambridge, who anchored the silver medal-winning men's 4x100 meters relay team.

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Priyanka Yoshikawa Japan's half Indian Miss World contestant
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Priyanka Yoshikawa Japan's half Indian Miss World contestant
Priyanka Yoshikawa walks during the Miss World Japan 2016 Beauty Pageant in Tokyo on September 5, 2016. The half-Indian twenty-two year-old model won the title to represent Japan for Miss World 2016. / AFP / TORU YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Priyanka Yoshikawa smiles as she holds the trophy after winning the Miss Japan title during the Miss World Japan 2016 Beauty Pageant in Tokyo on September 5, 2016. The half-Indian twenty-two year-old model won the title to represent Japan for Miss World 2016. / AFP / TORU YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Priyanka Yoshikawa (C) reacts with joy moments after winning the Miss Japan title during the Miss World Japan 2016 Beauty Pageant in Tokyo on September 5, 2016. The half-Indian twenty-two year-old model won the title to represent Japan for Miss World 2016. / AFP / TORU YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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)
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 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 is fitted for 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 chooses 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 is fitted for 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)
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)
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)
Designers helps Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, try on a dress as she chooses a costume which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, tries on a dress as she chooses a costume which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, tries on a dress as she chooses a costume which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, poses for a photographer as she chooses a dress which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, looks at herself in the mirror as she chooses a dress which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, poses for a photographer as she chooses a dress which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Priyanka Yoshikawa, winner of Miss World Japan 2016, looks at herself on the mirror as she choose a dress which she is going to wear in the Miss World competition, at a designer's atelier in Tokyo, Japan, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Some children of mixed ethnicity in Japanese schools have been bullied because they look different. Other "hafu" have won fame in entertainment, but may yet not be regarded as genuine Japanese.

Yoshikawa is the second Japanese of mixed ethnicity to win a beauty contest in as many years.

Last year, Ariana Miyamoto, whose father is African-American, was chosen as Japan's representative to the Miss Universe contest, a victory that Yoshikawa said had inspired her to enter for Miss World.

Miyamoto's win sparked a social media backlash, but the response to Yoshikawa has been more nuanced.

"Miss Japan is 'haafu'. I'm so happy!" wrote one social media commentator. Others said the two mixed-race choices showed Japan was more accepting of ethnic diversity.

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Some were puzzled or critical. Miss Japan should "look good in kimono," said one person in a comment on Yahoo. Another said, "She's not bad, but wasn't there a pure Japanese to represent Japan?"

Such reactions reflect a traditional mindset that is starting to change, said Yoshikawa, whose height of 1.76 m (5 ft 8 inches), exceeds that of the average Japanese woman.

"We've been told how Japanese look," she added. "How our faces are. We have to be pale, or the Asian look. But things change. It's a small island, but we have a lot of people from other countries and we have a lot more 'hafus' in every single year."

International marriages are increasing in Japan, forming 3.3 percent of the total in 2013, government figures show, four times those in 1980. Mixed-race children accounted for 1.9 percent of 2013 births. (Writing by Elaine Lies and Malcolm Foster; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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