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dressed as their favorite characters, clockwise from top
left: Chun Li of Street Fighter, two turks from Final
Fantasy, unidentified, Antonia Bayle from Everquest and
a Star Wars stormtrooper
Photos by Rob Gunther
Reigning Miss Universe Japan Eri
Machimoto basks in the beauty of life
By Chris Betros
Eri Machimoto was walking along Omotesando one day early
in 2003 when she was suddenly accosted by a Frenchwoman who
asked if she was a model. The woman was Ines Ligron, national
director for Miss Universe Japan, who was scouting for candidates
for the pageant. "I was really surprised," recalls
the 172cm-tall Machimoto. However, the invitation to join
the contest intrigued her enough to check it out on the Internet
and she soon applied, joining more than 1,500 other young
women. One year later, in March of this year, Machimoto, 20,
beat 13 other finalists to be crowned Miss Universe Japan
and went on to represent her country in Ecuador in June.
The Japan final, a gala event held at a hotel in Odaiba, featured
contestants modeling casual punk, lingerie and evening gowns.
It was a whole new world for Machimoto, who comes from the
small town of Fukayama, outside Hiroshima.
Through her trips abroad and frequent appearances at promotional
events, Machimoto says she has learned a lot about herself
in the past 18 months. "I've developed more
self-confidence and my English is getting better,"
she says. "Another positive effect is that I have learned
more about own culture by representing Japan abroad. It was
interesting to see the image people had of Japanese women,
namely that we are shy and reserved."
When she is not carrying out her official duties, Machimoto
continues her studies in economics at Nihon University in
Tokyo. An active woman, she enjoys swimming, basketball and
marathons, as well as cooking. Usually, beauty contest winners
are a magnet for drooling men, but Machimoto says guys hardly
ever try to hit on her. Currently, she doesn't have
a boyfriend, but says her ideal man must be "unselfish,
kind and know what he wants."
While there is still some criticism of beauty contests as
being demeaning to women, Machimoto disagrees. "The
contests are not just about physical appearance. True beauty
is in your heart. It's who you are. These contests
also provide women with a lot of opportunities," she
says. "In my case, it has kindled my interest in children's
issues, especially helping refugee children."
As her tenure starts to wind down, Machimoto is looking ahead
to the next phase of her life. A karaoke fan, she aspires
to be a singer. "I dream of singing to a full house
in Tokyo Dome. I would also like to get into movies, but I
have to succeed in Japan before I can even think of going
to America." Her successor will be chosen next January.
Whoever it is, Machimoto offers some simple advice: "Don't
worry about winning or losing. Look ahead and just do your
best. Like in life, I suppose."
Photo credit: MUJ
In 1998, real estate mogul Donald Trump, who owns the Miss
Universe pageant with NBC, asked French businesswoman Ines
Ligron to take charge of Miss Universe in Japan. Ligron not
only took charge; she revamped the whole concept, elevating
it in status and turning it into a gala event with sponsorship
from leading foreign and Japanese companies. An energetic
character, Ligron can often be seen around Harajuku, where
her office is located, approaching women on the street or
in cafés, asking them if theyd like to be in
Whats Donald Trump like?
Hes a very bright businessman and quite eccentric
I am. I suppose thats why we have gotten along for the
past seven years.
How often do you approach girls on the street or in coffee
Maybe too often. Sometimes my male friends say it feels weird
to be around me. Most of the time the girls assume Im
lost and asking for directions.
Whats the most beautiful physical quality of Japanese
They are long and slim with beautiful skin and can be very
much like chameleons. Their look can change dramatically depending
on the makeup and color of their hair.
What do they need to learn most after you take them on?
Definitely self-confidence. They also have to stop trying
to be kawaii, and be more sensual instead.
Name a few women whom you think are classically beautiful.
Former Miss Universe winners. Hisako Manda, Satomi Ogawa,
definitely this years Miss Japan, Eri Machimoto (see
Star Struck), and Halle Berry. Others would be Michelle Pfeiffer,
Catherine Deneuve, Monica Belluci and Charlize Theron.
When you were younger, did you want to enter a contest
and be Miss France?
I would have loved to, but the image of Miss Universe back
in the 80s was different. I thought I had to be very tall
and more to even think of applying. Now I do regret
it, because it would have been a great experience.
What is the craziest thing youve done since youve
been in Japan?
Breaking into a VIP party at the Celine shop on a 1,400cc
Harley Davidson. CB
Courtesy of MUJ