A Ukraine-born model with Japanese citizenship who won the 2024 Miss Japan beauty pageant has given up her title, competition organizers said Monday, in the wake of a weekly magazine report detailing her relationship with a married man.
Karolina Shiino, 26, was named the 2024 Miss Japan Grand Prix winner on Jan. 22. She was the first person of European descent to win the top prize in the contest organizers say is dedicated to crowning a representation of the “foremost beauty of all Japanese women.”
Born to Ukrainian parents, Shiino grew up in Nagoya, central Japan, after coming to the country at age 5.
Her Miss Japan victory had already been considered controversial due to her foreign roots, but she gave up the title following the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine revelation on Thursday, which reported her relationship with a married influencer who is also a doctor.
In a statement on its website Monday, the Miss Japan Association said it has accepted her request to relinquish her title and “seriously reflects on our responsibility in bringing about the series of disturbances.”
The association also offered its “deep apologies” to concerned parties, including sponsors and judges, and said the competition’s top honor will remain vacant for the rest of the year.
Contest organizers had initially backed Shiino following the report, after she told her model agency Free Wave Co. that she had ended the relationship upon learning the man was married. But a new statement from the agency Monday said it had confirmed she continued to see him after learning his marital status.
In an apology posted to her Instagram, Shiino said she had been unable to tell the truth amid her confusion and fear after the article came out. “I am truly sorry for the huge trouble I have caused and for betraying those who supported me,” she wrote.
A naturalized Japanese citizen, Shiino has said her identity is that of a Japanese person. In a tearful acceptance speech upon winning, she said, “I had not been accepted as Japanese many times, but I am filled with gratitude to have been recognized as Japanese today.”
But her appointment ignited debate over what constitutes Japanese identity and led to polarized views on social media over whether her background made her an appropriate winner.
Eligible applicants must hold Japanese citizenship, be unmarried and be between 17 and 26 years old as of the end of their application year. In selecting its winners, the contest says it judges candidates based on their inner strength, looks and actions.
Shiino said in an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday before stepping down that she welcomes discussion over her selection and respects people who oppose her win on the basis that she does not match the image of Miss Japan.
“I don’t feel negative toward that way of thinking. Rather, I believe such views provide an opportunity for reflection,” she said.
Miss Japan was first held in 1950, though its current incarnation dates back to 1967. It is a domestic event that does not send its winner to represent Japan in international competitions.
Japanese beauty contests have previously been the subject of debate over identity including in 2015, when the Miss Universe Japan competition named Ariana Miyamoto, who was born to a Japanese mother and African-American father, as its first winner of mixed heritage.