Beauty Contest in Yamagata City to Accept Male Applicants for the First Time; Organizers Want to Ensure Diversity and Gender Equality

Courtesy of the organizing association of the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
Four winners of the Miss Hanagasa beauty contest for 2023

YAMAGATA — Female-only requirements for the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival beauty contest will be abolished starting this year, ensuring diversity and gender equality, the organizing association of the annual summer tradition of Yamagata City has decided.

The winners of the contest, called Miss Hanagasa, participate in the festival’s parade held from Aug. 5 to 7. While the association has decided to abolish the gender requirement, the title of the winners will remain as Miss Hanagasa.

The beauty contest started in 1964 under its current name. Winners appear on floats and dance at the end of a parade during the festival. In addition, the winners travel to Tokyo and elsewhere to promote local tourism. In recent times, the association receives about 25 applications each year, mainly from students, and four are selected as winners.

For a long time, entry requirements for the contest was limited to unmarried women between the ages of 18 to 25 living in the prefecture, excluding high school students, according to the association. However, the number of applicants later declined, prompting the organization to raise the upper age limit to 26 in 2017. This limit was abolished in 2021.

This year, some association officials pointed out that the gender requirement no longer suited the times. For that reason, the association has changed the requirement of “unmarried women” to “unmarried persons” for the upcoming contest.

Asked why the requirement of “being unmarried” is maintained, “Miss Hanagasa are asked to cooperate with us in sending them [to other areas to promote the festival] regardless of weekdays and weekends,” an association official said. “So, we need people whose family lives will not be troubled by such duties.”

Meanwhile, the association plans to keep “Miss” in the title for the beauty contest’s winners regardless of their gender. According to the association, changing the name did not become a topic of discussion.

“We will consider whether or not to change the name after looking at how many applications we will receive from men,” the official added.

An official at the Yamagata municipal government’s tourism strategy department said, “The title of ‘Miss Hanagawa’ has become widely known over the long history of the festival.

“Miss Hanagasa have also played a role as the ‘face’ of the prefecture,” the official said. “In order to gain the understanding of a wide range of people, it is necessary to discuss and adopt new ideas according to the changing times and circumstances.”