The Brief Reign of Japan’s First Foreign-Born Beauty Queen

The newly crowned Miss Japan 2024, statuesque in an embroidered column dress, sauntered center stage and said through tears that she finally felt accepted in a nation she’d called home since she was 5.

Karolina Shiino, a Ukraine-born model, won the Miss Japan title in January, a few months after she had been naturalized as a Japanese citizen. That made her the first foreign-born woman to wear a crown meant to signify the “foremost beauty of all Japanese women.”

The crowning of Ms. Shiino, 26, was the latest test of what it means to be Japanese, at a time when the country has record numbers of resident foreign nationals and faces a demographic crisis that will require businesses across the country to recruit more foreign workers in the future.

But this week, barely two weeks after Ms. Shiino’s victory, her reign came to an unceremonious end — not for questions of identity, but over an affair with a married man that had been splashed in the pages of a tabloid.

Here’s what happened.

A historic crown

Ms. Shiino, contestant No. 1 among a dozen finalists, was selected after a competition at a hotel in Tokyo that involved a strut in a sports bra and shorts, and a kimono round for which she wore a peach pink one with a chrysanthemum pattern and zori sandals.

When she won, she said it felt like an affirmation she had long sought.

“Even though I live as a Japanese person, due to racial barriers, I was not accepted on many occasions,” she said after her selection, in fluent Japanese. “But this time I was recognized as Japanese, and I am full with so much gratitude.”

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