TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s first Miss Universe victory in nearly 50 years brought a welcome note of light relief to the country on Tuesday, amid a raft of grim domestic news.
Television stations showed Riyo Mori, a vivacious 20-year-old dancer from Shizuoka prefecture, south of Tokyo, being crowned winner of the contest in Mexico, beating other finalists from countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
Media reports were otherwise dominated by coverage of a wake held for Japan’s scandal-tainted farm minister, who committed suicide on Monday. The Japanese public has also recently been shaken by a series of gruesome crimes.
Mori, encouraged by her dance teacher mother and her grandmother, has become only the second Japanese woman to take the top prize at Miss Universe. Last year Kurara Chibana, another Japanese contestant, came second in the pageant.
“I am happy that Japanese people’s bodies have reached world standards, although I am sure she also worked hard on her inner self,” said 39-year-old housewife Noriko Hasegawa, a judge at a male swimwear modeling contest coincidentally being held in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“As a Japanese, I am proud of her,” she added.
The triumph came after months of preparation by Mori, who said in a recent interview with Metropolis magazine in Tokyo that she had been to France to learn the right mannerisms and interview skills.
After hearing from friends that Japanese women often seemed suppressed, Mori told the magazine she wanted to show the world Japan also boasted “passionate women like me.”
A spokeswoman for Shizuoka town hall said employees there were thrilled and were considering how best to celebrate Mori’s return home.
“My sincere congratulations,” the town’s mayor, Zenkichi Kojima, said in a message to Mori.
“As the representative of the people of Shizuoka, I must tell you we are delighted. I hope you will make the world your stage and reach even greater heights,” he said, referring to Mori’s ambition to become a Broadway dancer.
Others also expressed pleasure that Japanese were making their names known across the globe.
“It is great that more young people in the entertainment business are venturing out into the world and being ambitious, not only in beauty pageants,” said Yoko Sato, a 40-year-old housewife also attending the men’s swimwear contest.
But some complained that Mori was not sufficiently representative of Japan, where meekness and modesty have long been qualities valued in women.
“She’s not exactly a traditional Japanese beauty,” one elderly woman told Fuji TV when shown a photograph of the beauty queen. “She’s more of an exotic type.”