In late November of last year, the excitement of then reigning Miss International, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, was shattered into pieces when she was informed by the International Culture Association (ICA) that she could not attend the activities of Miss International 2013. She was supposed to pass her crown to the next titleholder, but that did not materialize as well. As reported in several Japanese tabloids, the people within ICA had instructed Yoshimatsu to call on “sick and shut up”. Yoshimatsu did not wish to lie to her fans because she was very healthy at that time, and was definitely unwilling to keep her silence. That lapse of judgment on the part of ICA had paved the way for exposing issues of mismanagement within the organization.
As most people already knew, Ikumi Yoshimatsu – the first and only Japanese to win the Miss International crown – was being stalked and threatened by a powerful talent agency executive, Genichi Taniguchi, and that, the ICA had allegedly barred Yoshimatsu to attend the pageant activities to “avoid scandal”. Instead of giving in to the threats of Taniguchi, Yoshimatsu did the absolute opposite and vowed never to let the culture of silence and fear rule over her. She fought back, and as a result, she started STALKER ZERO!!.
When news broke out that Yoshimatsu was disallowed to fulfill her last duties, it was too late for several people to notice, including the wife of the Prime Minister of Japan, Akie Abe, which prompted her to call for an investigation of what actually transpired. As Japan Times reported in their December 25, 2013 issue, “The mainstream Japanese media, fearing the loss of access to the talent agency-owned celebrities or possible retaliation, have mostly ignored her story.” And sadly, ICA, which was supposed to support Yoshimatsu, and all women for that matter because they organize an international beauty pageant, did not come to her rescue. In the unique world of pageantry, such inaction will surely haunt ICA for a long time, unless it is corrected.
So what really went wrong? According to Yoshimatsu, who spoke to Missosology last Tuesday, May 27, 2014, the organization did not initially produce a signed written contract after her unexpected win in Okinawa on October 2012. In order to have material documents to protect her rights, she and her legal representative had drafted a contract that took 10 months after her win to be signed by the ICA. During those periods, she was already active in her engagements as Miss International, which included the attendance to the inauguration of US President Barrack Obama.
Most of Yoshimatsu’s charity works and speaking engagements were achieved, not because of ICA, but because of the talent management that she created early last year – the IY Global. Believing that she could make a huge difference as Miss International 2012, she traveled to the US several times, as well as Russia, to speak with women leaders and young students, as well as financing her own charity works through the money that she earned in those engagements. She was not paid the second half of her prize money as Miss International.
It is a known fact among pageant fans that many, if not all, of the reigning Miss International winners are nowhere to be found after they win their respective pageant. Calls for reforms and changes in the treatment of MI winners are usually being ignored by the organization. According to Yoshimatsu, as Miss International 2012, she was asked to escort former ICA chairperson Hirofumi Hashimoto in many of his dinner functions, which she believed was quite degrading as a beauty queen. On the other hand, the current Miss International, Bea Rose Santiago of the Philippines, has barely stepped out of her country after returning from Tokyo. While it is true that she is being supported by her fellow countrymen, with the library project in her home island of Masbate as a proof, the question there is, where was the ICA behind that project? Let it be known that most of the time, Santiago is just in her Manila home, waiting for grace to come.
The cases of Yoshimatsu and Santiago are just two of the examples why Miss International, despite its rich history and tradition, is losing grounds as one of the major international pageants today. In Missosology Forum alone, the number of hits and views in the Miss International page is not even half of the 3rd biggest pageant, which is Miss Earth. In social media, as evidenced on Facebook, Miss International only has more than 60,000 LIKEs. Mighty Miss World and Miss Universe had already surpassed the one millionth mark, while Miss Earth’s official fan page is nearing its 85,000th LIKE. The Poland-based Miss Supranational, a non-Big4 Pageant that is just on its sixth year, has already more than 220,000 LIKEs.
On November 11th of this year, a new Miss International will be crowned. As of press time, more than 20 delegates have already been selected, with only a handful of national winners. When these women, as well as the next batch of appointed delegates, will start arriving in Tokyo on October 26th, they will carry with them their hopes and aspirations of bringing prestige to the title. To win the crown, they will deliver speeches – ranging from promises of world peace, camaraderie and friendship, to helping children and the marginalized sector of society. And, as cliche as it may sound, only one will emerge as the ultimate winner.
And as soon as that woman is declared Miss International, what will happen to her? We surely hope that by then, the Miss International Organization, under the auspices of ICA, has already reflected and learned from its ignorance, and that, they have already corrected the history of not allowing Ikumi Yoshimatsu from crowning her successor. If nothing is corrected, we can only wish one thing to the next girl who will be crowned as Miss International: “Good luck chasing pavements.”