“During my childhood I was outside a lot doing sports such as swimming and tennis. I was a tomboy when I was small, full of energy and even when I was small, I was always curious and would often go on my own to discover new places…. My career ambition for the future is to become a world-renowned reporter, travelling around the world and interviewing influential people in all kind of areas.” This is how the smart and bubbly personality, Kurara Chibana described her childhood and ambitions in Miss Universe 2006 contestants profile interview. No wonder she is now travelling all over the world as a model, TV reporter and a humanitarian. She is a fashion icon and role model for the youth of Japan.
Kurara is an intellectual woman with an interest in global education, language and cultures. She is an education philosophy graduate from Sophia University, lived in France for nine months and Spain for three months. As someone who is interested in languages, she learnt French and Spanish. She can speak English, French Spanish and Japanese. Isn’t that incredible? She entered beauty pageant with a mission and to use the platform for bigger opportunities. Even before entering Miss Universe Japan pageant, Kurara, was hired as a features’ reporter for a top fashion magazine in Japan. Her duty was to fly around the world to interview unique people in the entertainment world and to report about them and about their personal lifestyles. After winning Miss Universe Japan 2006, she was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission Refugees). She is the prodigy of the well-known French fashion and beauty expert, Ines Ligron – the then National Director of Miss Universe Japan who revamped the contest and gave a new life to the almost non-existent contest.
At the Miss Universe pageant in 2006, she became a heavy favourite of fans all over the world. She presented herself as a well-educated woman with international aspirations who wanted to become an international journalist or writer. Her striking looks and intelligent personality, many thought, was enough for her to win the crown. She was smart and epitomizes someone who is sassy and cosmopolitan. During the contest, Chibana was the crowd favourite and her flirty winks drew an unusually enthusiastic response from the audience. At the preliminaries, she sported a unique red and pink-hued gown with silver corseting designed by Novespazio. The gown looks good on her and the colour combination definitely match up to her soft demeanour.
Then the final night came. She definitely was a top contender to walk away with the title and who knew there could be a disappointment later. She had an amazing stage presence, can connect with the audience and of course, she was stunning. Who would forget the Best national costume of the night! That year Japan experimented with its national costume. Not that it had ever experimented with its national costume before. But it was different that time. It wasn’t just the dress but also the sword that made it unique. I would call her the Samurai Warrior. I have seen many national costumes round of Miss Universe before and every time it would be more or less the same – from bird wings inspired feathers costume to flower inspired costume to the bride’s dress costume. Japan had the most interesting and unique costume that made it stood out among the various national costumes and from her own previous representative costumes. The Samurai Costume instantly became a hit all over the globe. No wonder it won the Best National Costume Award.
The opening of Miss Universe 2006 started with the pre taped introduction of the delegates in their national costumes. Japan worked it out like a true warrior. Her costume from top to bottom was simply amazing. The bun hair with the front hair falling smoothly made her looked so edgy and sharp while the way she swings the sword was a solid performance for an introduction. Then the top 20 were called for swimsuit round. When Japan was called out, her happiness and joy was sweet and cute. Kurara in swimsuit round rocked the stage with her spunky, lively, bold and spirited energy. She dazzled in swimsuit round. Then came the top 10 evening gown round. As expected she made it to the top 10. For evening gown round, she wore a black evening gown exhibiting intricate latticework designed by Olivier Theyskens for Rochas. Looking at her black gown from far, it looked so simple but then looking closer one see’s the embroidery on the dress; It was simplicity meet with intricate embellishment. The gown had its own charm and Chibana walked unlike her swimsuit round. In evening gown round she chose to walk in a calm and composed manner. The gown in fact suited that style of walk. She knows how to project herself and that’s her plus point. Her soft demeanour and unique style projection presented a sophisticated and high culture classy woman. As the night progressed, she became the audience favourite and the audiences were cheering for her. She was very good at acknowledging the crowd.
The top 5 came and this is the controversy everyone has been talking about. Kurara was the third contestant to be called on stage. Miss Switzerland congratulated her and she reciprocated the same by closely leaning and gave her a peck on the cheek. She also congratulated Paraguay. That gesture of reciprocating back and being excited for her competitor was truly sweet of her. It only shows her how humble and warm she is. One doesn’t get to see that alot on stage. Kurara was asked how she learned French and Spanish. It was very funny and humorous when she started speaking French and her translator couldn’t translate it. She had to translate herself. The audience at that time was definitely impressed and cheered for her. It was the night for Japan. She acknowledged the audience and the energy of the room and said it made her happy. The audience cheered with delight as she became the crowd’s darling. The final question was “If you could change something in the history of humanity, what would you change and why?” Responding in Japanese and translated into English, she answered: “I believe there is not so much difference between men and women… only biggest difference will be the physical power of a man and sometimes men exploit his power and if we can only relinquish that kind of violence and also the kind of exploitation, we’ll be better.” Everyone thought she would be the one to win and there was no doubt about that. But the unexpected happened and she became 1st runner-up to Miss Puerto Rico Though Zuleyka was at her best and she shined, but many thought Kurara was more deserving. And many blamed it on the translator. It was alleged that the official Miss Universe interpreter missed out the feminist element of her answer, which apparently cost her the crown.
She has done the best she could. Though she might have won the crown but she has won the hearts and minds of pageant fans. It wouldn’t have been possible without a realistic and practical National Director who knows what she is doing. From the elegant and glamorous gown to an innovative national costume, from a ramp-walk skills for swimsuit and evening gown round to the way a beauty queen should conduct herself, Ines has a lot to play in this. She is the one who is responsible for making Miss Universe Japan relevant again giving it a glamorous touch to the contest. Having said that the credit also goes to Japanese beauty queens who worked hard and learned all they could with dedication and sincerity.
Coming back to Kurara Chibana, after the miss universe competition she has appeared regularly on the NTV show “NEWS ZERO”, reporting from both domestic and international locations, and launched her endorsement career as a spokesperson for more than four world-famous brands in 2007. She is the new spokeswoman for Maybelline New York’s Angel fit Make-Up. As a high-profile model – she has been gracing the cover of Domani magazine for the past six years – Chibana has become someone to whom many young Japanese women look up to her as a role model.
The smart, educated, gorgeous and global minded is also working for a worthy cause. Since 2007 Kurara has been a supporter of World Food Programme (WFP) which has taken her to African countries such as Tanzania and Zambia. In 2013 Kurara Chibana was appointed the first Japanese National Ambassador against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) She is involved in the WFP’s school project that provides meals at schools in areas hit by poverty or disaster. She has actively spread the word about hunger and WFP’s mission to end it through media and public events. “I always wanted an opportunity to go to impoverished countries and see for myself the conditions and encounter locals,” she said. “It has become such an important part of me that I can’t talk about my life without mentioning it. In Japan, not many people experience starvation at that level, so what really shocked me was seeing children who look young but their weight isn’t up to their age level. I’d ask them what they had for breakfast and they’d say the root of a tree.”
On her experiences on social works, Chibana says she learned the power of a smile. “Children are the same all over the world. They are lively and can have fun even when there is a food shortage. I go to visit them in schools and they are studying cheerfully. That’s why I like the school meal project that I am involved in. It actually gives me energy.” She is aware that she would be scrutinize of her work and there would be people sceptical about her involvement in the project. “I was a little conflicted at first as to whether I should take part in humanitarian projects,” she tells Weekender. “I was aware of the scepticism that surrounds celebrity charity work and I knew there was a chance I would be criticized. I felt there would be some people here in Japan who might question my reasons and possibly suggest I was doing it for the fame or to sell something. It made me feel uneasy, yet at the same I had longed to engage in NGO and NPO activities. That was the reason I decided to take part in Miss Universe in the first place, so I was determined not to let negative thoughts kill those dreams”. She continued, “I couldn’t devote my whole time to visiting developing countries as I had work commitments in Japan, yet at the same time I wanted to do something. The Miss Universe pageant gave me a huge opportunity, it put me in the spotlight; people suddenly knew who I was and were interested in what I had to say. I realized I could use that fact to try and inform the public about problems and critical situations in various places around the world. Being famous gives you a huge platform to pass on your message to a large number of people; I think we should use that platform to help worthwhile causes as much as we can.” “I travel to at least one destination per year, visiting people affected by hunger,” she says.
“I’ve been to Zambia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, the Tohoku region, Tanzania and Ethiopia. I think it is necessary to see the situation up-close and be able to talk to parents and children directly. I’m particularly passionate about the school feeding program. Seeing the joy on the kids faces as they eat their lunch, I just love it. “Of course there are times when you feel helpless. Speaking to children in Zambia who have lost both their parents to AIDS, it is heartbreaking. All I can really do is try to spread their message to as many people as possible in the hope that something can be done about this kind of thing in the future.”
She had in the past declined a lucrative job from a publishing company so as to be able to participate in Miss Universe pageant and opened a bigger opportunities for herself so that she could use it for the benefit of the society. It is this stint of her as the ambassador of UNWFP that she was referring to when she talked about bigger opportunities. From the way she talks, it is evident that she means it when she talked about working for the underprivileged and her role as an ambassador for WFP. She might not have won Miss Universe but she is Miss Universe for many hearts. She has already showed her capabilities with her bubbly personality, intelligent answers, runway skills and unique styles. Miss Universe 2006 has long gone but to these days she still impresses and charms everyone with her personality, style, sincerity, multilingual skills, and of course, beauty. She has this ability to connect with people and enchant them. She is here to see and hear people’s story and learn from them to be able to share it to the rest of the world. One of the best Miss Universe Japan and a true gem.
Sources: www.missuniverse.com, www.wfp.org, www.japantoday.com, www.borgenproject.org , Wikepedia etc.