Riri Yoshida

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Hello Riri!  Its great to talk to you!

Thank you!  Its so nice to talk to you.

14937094_10205612040659567_240024605_n1.   How did things go with the Miss Grand Japan competition?

It was a great experience and it gave me the opportunity to give voice to the issue of multi-racial relations in Japan.  I felt my presence at the competition was a chance to give an image to the issue.

2.  Have you been involved with the beauty pageants before?

Yes I have.  I entered Miss Asia USA here in LA where I finished in the top five.  And also Queen of the Universe which is an international competition where I finished in the top ten.  In those two I entered as Miss Japan.  Then I came back to Japan where I entered Miss Supranational which is one of the Big 5 competitions.  I finished in the top ten and also received an award for Best Regional Costume.  After those was Miss Grand Japan and I was Second Runner-Up and I also was awarded Miss Friendship.

3.  You designed the costumes, right?

Yes, for Miss Supranational I designed the kimono costume.  I also designed an evening gown for Queen of the Universe and then for Miss Grand Japan I designed a kimono evening gown which I wore at the event.

4.  The evening gown you wore was inspired by kimono designs, correct?

Yes.  My mother is a kimono stylist so she is the one who inspired me to make that dress.  I wanted to represent her during the competition because she is the one who introduced me to the beauty of the Japanese kimono.  

14907876_10205612040819571_24082705_o5.  And this was the costume Ayaka Sato wore for the international competition held recently in Las Vegas?

Yes, she wore the costume I designed for the national competition.

The costume looked great and did a great job of representing the Japanese culture.

6.  Can you tell us a little bit about where you are from and where you went to school?

I’m from a very small town in Chiba called Katsuura.  And I moved to Tokyo when I was 15 because I wanted to go to high school in Tokyo because I thought it would be a better future for me.  I moved by myself, when I was fifteen.  And I studied in Tokyo.  For university I studied abroad.  First, I went to a language school, then I transferred to a community college and then after that I transferred to a four year university.  At first my major was performing arts, and I always wanted to study fashion design as well because of my mother.  So I changed my major to family and consumer science which involves apparel design.  So that is where I studied my fashion design skill.  And besides school I always studied dance and did modeling and studied acting as well.

14875099_10205612040739569_211556862_n7.  When did you get involved in the pageants?  Did it grow out of your interest in fashion and performing arts or was it something separate, like an independent interest?

Yes, it was definitely something related because I had always liked performing on stage.  I saw my friend who entered the competition when I was in high school and when I was in college, so I thought “maybe I could do that myself”.  Because when I was in Tokyo and in high school I belonged to a modeling agency.  I wanted to break the idea that a person has to be tall and slim to be a model.  Because I am not that tall you know.  From a beauty pageant perspective I am quite short.  So I was always questioning why someone needs to be tall and slim like a supermodel.  My mother is very short but I think she is very beautiful.  So entering the competitions was a way for me to represent myself and get the message across.

14858668_10205612040939574_1887423818_o8.  Which region did you represent during the competition?

I represented Chiba.

9.  So you won Second Runner-Up, correct?  Can you explain the award for us?

Second Runner-Up is the top three, so the winner is Ayaka Sato, and she became Miss Grand Japan.  The second place was Erea Taira so she was the First Runner-Up and then I was one of the top three.

Miss Friendship is like Miss Congeniality.  This is for the most friendly person in the pageant and the award is voted by all of the girls.  I’m also a dancer and I was helping them clean up the choreography and I think that is what helped me win the award.  After the dance sequence I was so satisfied.  They were like my babies!

14958408_10205639301301066_955396147_n10.  Is the dance performance something you have done before?

Yes, I have been involved with dance since I was in junior high school.  Of course I have danced stage performances and I was in a dance crew so we performed together.  So it was something I felt very comfortable to be a part of.

11.  What style of dance do you prefer.

I really like old school.  I like locking and popping.  I also like hip hop as well.

12.  Are there particular performers or musicians you like to dance to?

I like James Brown or Michael Jackson.

13.  Do you have a goal with your dancing and participation in the pageants?

Dancing is my passion, I do it more for fun.  And I really want to be the one to open doors for a new generation.  Asian women are under-represented in the performing arts so I can be the door-opener so that more women like myself in Japan or anywhere else in the world can be involved.

14.  Do you feel you have any roll models or mentors who you can look up to for inspiration?

Miyoshi Umeki, she is the only Asian actress to have won an Oscar.  She won “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” for the film Sayonara.  She was in the film with all those Asian men and they were in love but they couldn’t get married.  The society didn’t allow them to be together.  It was right after WWII.  So I thought it was pretty impressive for her to win that award.

14963612_10205639346502196_1306765286_o15.  So you want to go into screen acting?

Yes, I am pursuing my dream.

I moved to LA two weeks ago but was living here for about six years until I moved back to Tokyo.

16.  Were you involved with screen acting when you were in Tokyo?

I trained at the Ups Academy where Yoko Narahashi teaches.  She is a famous casting director in Tokyo.  I was studying there and then performing theater.  I performed at Ups Academy and also at Nakano Pocket, a small theater in western Tokyo.  I have also appeared in commercials and music videos.

17.  Now you’re back in LA.  What’s your plan going forward?  Are you taking more classes?  Are you in touch with a casting director?

Yes I am definitely taking more classes because I want to be known for my talent.  So of course I am training all the time – constantly.  And I just got signed to a new agency here in LA so I think it is a great start!

18.  Do you know what types of work you will be getting involved with?  Will you be involved with short films, feature length films, stage performances, etc?

I would definitely like to be involved with feature length films.  I want to do some roles that do not necessarily involve being an Asian woman.  If we keep enforcing the stereotypes nothing is going to change.

19.  Apart from your career goals or your professional pursuits, maybe you can tell us a little about your personal life.  Do you have any interests that keep you occupied when you are not involved with your acting classes or performances?

I love to design things so I just go shopping and I just look for fabric.  I go out and look for used kimonos and I look for materials and then I go back and plan on a design.

20.  So you like to alter used kimonos and turn them into your own design?

Yes.

14938065_10205639300501046_184244266_n21.  What kind of fabrics do you use?  Traditional Japanese silks, or do you use other creative materials?  

I usually mix and match fabrics.  For instance I will start with a used kimono and then use fabric imported from Italy.  So I am always mixing and matching.  I always find it more interesting rather than one solid orthodox idea.  And I just create something new.

22.  I recently saw a program on NHK about the kimono culture and how it is dying away. 

Yes, of course because my mother is a kimono designer so we have had discussions about it as well.  About how our culture is kind of disappearing.  But I think what I am doing right now can be a solution because I can make a kimono dress which is easier to wear.  They don’t need a kimono stylist.  They can enjoy it as a going-out dress.  Like for going out to dinner and they will think, “Hey, I am wearing this wonderful dress!”  So they can get a taste of the culture.  But mainly they are going to be more interested in Japanese culture and they will read about it.  We can put these designs out there and open more doors for people who might be interested in Japanese culture.

riri-kimono23.  Have you researched the kimono culture or visited places like Kyoto where the kimono is such an important part of their history and culture?  

When I was in Tokyo I studied Japanese traditional dance so I was wearing kimono all the time when I would practice.  So it helped me to understand.  And my great great grandfather I think, was the kimono maker – on my mother’s side.  And of course my mother would put the kimono on me all the time – since I was little.

24.  Does that also involve having contact with silk producers?  Does your family have ties with the silk industry in Japan? 

My mother’s family is from the island where the kimonos are a little different than those from Kyoto.  Each region has a different type of kimono.  That type of kimono is from Hachijo, they have a special kimono called Kihachijo.  My family friend has the factory for making Kihachijo.  The factory is on an island south of Tokyo.

25.  Are you going to continue to participate in the pageants or will you move more into acting?

I think I am going to move more into acting.

26.  Are you familiar with the Ninjagirl website?  Had you viewed it before the interview?

Yes, I had.  I know Daniel Smith.  He is a producer with Fox.

27.  Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers at Ninjagirl?  Any shoutouts to the fans?

Maybe just for the girls out there who are thinking about entering the pageant competitions who are wondering if they are beautiful enough to enter the pageants.  I believe beauty is compassion, kindness and love.  And it isn’t just our size or shape.  So I really want them to have the courage to enter and just enjoy the experience rather than just comparing themselves with somebody else.  Because you are the only person who can be you.  Your uniqueness is beautiful and don’t let other person tell you otherwise.

kimono-kyoto

edited by Anthony Heller

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