It was a warm day in June this year in Tokyo. I dropped by a huge hall to visit Miss Universe Japan national director Hiroko Mima, who was giving catwalk lessons to the girls who were competing in Miss Japan 2019.
As the girls huddled at the other end of the hall chatting and waiting for their turn to catwalk, I noticed one of them in a corner, with an edgy haircut and wearing a chic black metallic dress. She was looking at herself before the mirror and reviewing her catwalk.
Fast forward to August, during Miss Universe Japan 2019, that same girl won the crown. Her name is Ako Kamo.
“It’s really an honor to get to represent Japan,” Kamo tells Lifestyle. “But at the same time, with the use of the Miss Japan platform, I would like to raise awareness specifically about our education system.” She explains how she believes there’s too much conformity in the system, with everyone expected to think the same way.
Kamo and Mima were in Manila a few weeks ago to prepare for Miss Universe 2019 set on Dec. 8 (Dec. 9 Manila time) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Like 2018 Miss Japan Yuumi Kato, Kamo will have her Miss Universe wardrobe done by Filipino designers, specifically student designers of Slim’s Fashion School, and Joel Escober. They will make her competition gowns.
Buddhist monk and makeup artist Kodo Nishimura, who trains Kamo in makeup, is impressed with how Kamo knows her fashion.
“She knows how to choose clothes that suit her. Her style is smart, classy, but with a playful touch,” Nishimura tells Lifestyle. “In terms of makeup, she likes it very natural.”
But Nishimura is teaching Kamo how to put on more color. “She doesn’t know how much makeup Miss Universe delegates put on,” Nishimura says in half-jest.
On Kamo’s recent Manila trip, the Lifestyle staff was caught by surprise when she suddenly said, “Thank you po, ate” to one of the Nuwa hotel staff during the shoot.
In 2017, Kamo was an exchange student in the Philippines for six months at Assumption College in San Lorenzo, Makati. That’s how she knows a few Tagalog words.
During the shoot, she recalled with excitement how she loved a “tapa” fast-food chain and how she had to be back in the school dorm by 8 p.m. because of the school curfew.
Her Assumption classmates oriented her on Philippine history, particularly about the colonizers. She also visited museums.
Usually, two exchange students are invited, but during Kamo’s stint, she was the only one. “I didn’t have any friends with me and I was really scared at first,” Kamo recalls. “But I was happy when my classmates welcomed me.”
She learned a lot about acceptance and inclusivity.
After winning the 2019 Miss Japan, Kamo drew a lot of publicity in her country. It marked Mima’s first year after acquiring the Miss Universe franchise for Japan.
Mima wanted to veer away from the typical pageant-girl look, and to make Miss Japan more high fashion and edgy— more reflective of Japanese fashion today.
For Miss Japan, Mima wants to create a unique style only a Japanese woman can pull off.
On this page is Lifestyle’s exclusive fashion shoot with Ako Kamo, with Stores Specialists Inc. brands.