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Creative roots

Cool & Kawaii Japan

Japan through the eyes of Miss International contestants


The 53rd Miss International Pageant was held in December 2013, marking the first time in six years that the event came to Tokyo. Dubbed 'Miss International 2013 x Cool Japan,' the pageant focused on the girls' perspectives on the city. Contestants visited Daikanyama, Ginza, Odaiba and other famous spots around Tokyo, then used Facebook and other media to share with the world what they found to be cool, cute or delicious.

Over the two weeks preceding the main event, they visited the Imperial Palace, took part in demonstrations of traditional arts like flower arrangement and tea ceremony, and availed themselves of opportunities to learn about Japan. They also visited the new Tsutaya T-Site in Daikanyama (a trendy bookstore complex), Shibuya 109 (a shopping center popular among young girls) and Harajuku (an offbeat fashion center), visiting the front lines of Japanese pop culture, where kawaii (cute) is born and broadcast to the world. So just what did the girls see in Japan that was 'cool and kawaii'?

For most participants, this was their first time visiting Japan. They were nearly unanimous in saying things like, 'This was my first time in Japan. Before coming, my image of Japan was one of technological gadgets and clean, tidy cities, along with courteous behavior.' Despite the limits of information available to each contestant in her home country, most had a similar concept of what Japan was like.

Of course, a few ideas diverged widely. Nikoleta Duchonova of Slovakia said that before coming, she had no image of Japan and saw it as another world, "like Mars on Earth." Meanwhile, Bea Rose Santiago of the Philippines, for whom this would be the second visit, said that for her Japan is "beautiful, full of colors and amazing food!" Taken as a whole, however, nearly all of the contestants arrived with an image in mind of a neat, orderly and advanced, kind-of futuristic place.

Just how did that image change after visiting Japan? The Dominican Republic's Carmen Munoz Guzman said she learned that Japan is not only rich in its technology, but also in its culture and people. Seeing that the nation's various ceremonies and traditions have been maintained to this day "means that you never forget who you are and where you came from," she said. She added, "It's beautiful to see how polite and kind you all are." Sarah Ainsley Harrison of Canada and other girls all agreed that Japanese culture and its people made the biggest impression on them.

The word 'cool' is front and center in the title of the Miss International 2013 x Cool Japan event. So what did the girls find on their visit that made them think This is really cool?

Chonthicha Tiengtham of Thailand said she loved the beauty of the kimono and yukata.Cristina Alves da Silva of Brazil commented, "I liked all the stuff that has a connection with culture and costumes of the country," such as Japanese dolls, fans and masks.

While some loved traditional elements, most of the girls were absolutely captivated by Japanese sweets. The girls' eyes went wide at the variety, flavors, subtle presentation and cute — often gorgeous — appearance of Japanese desserts.
Other favorites included traditional feminine picks like fashion and cosmetics. But some contestants found their own unique manifestations of cool and kawaii, such as Layla Yarak of Lebanon, who liked the cute package designs of coffee products, as well as bento boxes, which feature a variety of food packed neatly into a small box. These comments may well indicate that Japanese culture has the potential for wide appeal to people the world over.

On their return to their home countries, the girls packed their suitcases with chopsticks, beauty products, chocolates and other souvenirs for friends and family (and for themselves!). As global spokespeople, they'll undoubtedly spread the message of Japanese creativity wherever they go. We have high hopes that the 'Cool Japan' the girls encountered on their trip will continue to reach the world, inviting more people to experience these delights for themselves.

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