While respect for the elderly and admiration of the experienced are both parts of Japanese culture, when it comes to ideals of fashion and human beauty, the country definitely puts a premium on youth. It’s not at all unusual for the careers of female models, actresses, and entertainers to have their career reach its zenith in their late teens or very early twenties, then disappear from the public eye altogether.
Since 2010, though, the Bimajo Contest beauty pageant has been challenging the idea that if you’re old enough to have graduated from college you’re just about too old to be considered beautiful. Each year assembles a field of attractive women in their late 30s and 40s, and this week the pageant crowned its newest winner.
Bimajo literally translates as “beautiful witch,” but “beautiful enchantress” would be the better English equivalent for who the contest is looking for. Sponsored by Bist, a fashion magazine for women around the age of 40, this year’s Bimajo Contest was held at the Toranomon Hills Forum in Tokyo.
1,850 applicants answered the call for “women over 35 with a radiance that belies their age.” 21 finalists were selected by the organizers, with the winner being chosen from a combined score based on votes from the audience, online voting, and the evaluations of a panel of seven judges for events including swimsuit and evening wear modeling, plus the poise shown by the finalists as they addressed those in attendance.
▼ A few of this year’s finalists
When the final scores were calculated, the winner of the fifth Bimajo Contest was Kumi Minowa.
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The 43-year-old Tokyo native and former model lists golf, surfing, and studying to be a honey sommelier among her hobbies. A mother of three, Minowa says she kept her entry into this year’s Bimajo Contest a secret from her children. “They’ll probably be really surprised if they see me on the news,” she said, adding that she felt bad for not having been able to do all she usually does for her family while preparing for the pageant.
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Minowa cites actress and singer Mari Natsuki, who’s remained active as an entertainer into her 60s, as an inspiration. “I admire [the way she] doesn’t worry about her age, but is always joyful and energetic.”
Minowa is going to get more than just five minutes of fame for her win, as part of the prize she received is a contract with talent agency Oscar Productions. “I’d like to take on as many projects as they can find for me,” she said, because really, 43 is still way too young to start taking it easy.