Naomi S. Kida is perhaps the first Japino to make it to the finals of Miss Universe-Japan. Born in Tondo, Manila, in June 1988, she made it to the Top 5 of the beauty contest in Tokyo on June 17, 2011.
Naomi is the daughter of Cristina Rivera Santiaguel of Imus, Cavite and Masami Kida, president of a cement production company.
Fluent in Japanese, English and Filipino, Naomi regularly visits the Philippines and stays in Almanza, Las Piñas, with her aunt.
“If I am back here and speak Tagalog, I have to change my [frame of] mind. It takes me one to two weeks to adjust,” she told the Inquirer over lunch recently in a restaurant in Salcedo Village, Makati City.
She studied in the Philippines—at the Manila Japanese School and the International School—until Grade 3 before she left for Japan.
She went on to study at the Minamikata Elementary, Nishishima Junior High School and Nobeoka Nishi High School—all in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu.
She just earned a degree in international economics from Hosei University in Tokyo.
At 170 cm or 5’7”, she is tall by Japanese and Philippine standards. Her height served her well as a volleyball player in school and as a model.
On her calling card with her photo, she describes herself as a free-lance model, a tourism education consultant and, of course, one of the 2011 Miss Universe Japan Top 5.
She plans to work in the Philippines and someday put up an international language school to cater to Japanese who want to learn English.
Her dream is to become a bridge between Japan and the Philippines.
How did your parents meet? Where?
I’m not sure, but I think they met in Kumamoto, Japan.
How old were you when you left the Philippines for Japan to study?
Actually since I was 1 year old I have been going back and forth to the Philippines and Japan. But when I was 10 years old I started to live in Japan longer than in the Philippines.
The transfer to Japan was probably not easy because of the new setting, new classmates, etc. How did you cope with these challenges?
At first, it was so difficult to have new friends and sometimes I couldn’t speak Japanese fluently. But I don’t know how I got used to it. I think kids are more flexible than adults. So, I just naturally adjusted to the Japanese community.
Where in Japan did you stay?
My hometown is Nobeoka City. It is located in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture. Nobeoka City is the second largest city in Miyazaki prefecture. The population is around 140,000. It is known for its beautiful scenery. I finished my elementary, junior high and high school in Nobeoka. I moved to Tokyo for my university education.
How often did you return to the Philippines?
Before, I came back to the Philippines once a year. Since I went to university, I come back maybe twice a year. I usually stay in Las Piñas City with my relatives.
You said you played the role of a “mood maker” of the junior high school volleyball team, what does that mean?
It means that I always cheer up my teammates inside the court. For example, when my teammate made a mistake, I tried to make them feel that “it’s OK.” I played volleyball from 5th grade elementary until 3rd grade junior high school. Our team was the best in our city and Top 4 in Miyazaki Prefecture.
What’s the name of your dance club at Hosei University? What are your favorite songs for your dances?
I was a part of the “Groovy” dance club at the university. I used to dance to Hip Hop songs like Missy Elliot’s “Ching A Ling.” Nowadays, I’m into electro music.
Before joining the Miss Universe Japan, did you win a prefecture beauty contest?
No. We don’t have a beauty contest in our prefecture so I just joined an audition in Osaka Prefecture. After passing the audition, I was selected for the semi-final contest in Tokyo. There was a long process to be a finalist in Miss Universe Japan.
How many contestants joined Miss Universe Japan? What question did the judges ask you during the finals?
There were 15 finalists. They asked me to describe “fortune” in my own words. My answer was, “Fortune is making your own destiny through the choices you make.” I said that because of my own experiences, I am who I am now because of the choices I made in the past.
Did organizers of Miss Universe Japan ask you about your ancestry? Was being half-Filipino ever an issue during the contest?
No they didn’t. I’m not the first girl who is “half” to join the contest. There were some in the past. But so far, no half-blooded Japanese has won the title yet.
Have you ever experienced some kind of discrimination because you are half-Filipino?
Yes, I have experienced it. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I couldn’t make any Japanese girl friends because they were trying to avoid me. I don’t know exactly why but maybe it was because I was different from them.
Does your being half have its advantages, too, in Japan? In what way?
Yes, I think so. Because I am trilingual and I have a wider perspective than most Japanese people.
Are you the first contestant of Filipino ancestry to ever join Miss Universe Japan?
I don’t know. Maybe?
How long did you model for Amazone in Tokyo? Was it after the beauty pageant? What clothes or brands did you model?
I modeled for Amazone for a year. It was before the Miss U Japan. I modeled Japanese brands like “Mercibecoup” and “Issey Miyake.”
Where were you during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami?
I was in Tokyo taking dance lessons. First, I didn’t take the tsunami warning so seriously, my friends and I were even joking about it. But after we saw the videos on TV we felt really guilty.
So if calamities happen, we should take the warning seriously because we will eventually regret it if we don’t.
While in Japan, what do you miss most about the Philippines?
I miss Christmas the most, because of the happiness. I like spending time with my family and relatives.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies are traveling, dancing, riding my bicycle and going on picnics.
What are you favorite books, movies?
I don’t read a lot. My favorite movie is “Pretty Woman” because I like the soundtrack.
Did life change after your good showing in the beauty contest? Did it open opportunities?
Yes to both questions. I was able to establish a connection to both the Japanese and Philippine embassies. Now I’m closer to my dream which is to become the bridge between Japan and the Philippines.
What do you think of Filipino men?
I think Filipino men are very romantic and kind.
What do you think of our bachelor President? Do you have any message for him?
I think it is not a problem that he is a bachelor. It’s his choice and it seems like he is working really hard for our country. My message to the President is, “Don’t work too hard and please take care of yourself as well.”
How big is the demand for English-language training among Japanese students, people?
The demand is increasing because of globalization. The Japanese people know they need to learn English.
In the Philippines, do people mistake you for Japanese?
No. They mistake me for a Korean. But when I start to talk to them in Tagalog they get surprised every time.
How was the support from the Filipino community in Japan during the Miss
Universe Japan contest?
The Filipino community in my hometown supported me a lot. I didn’t have any connections with the other Filipino communities, especially in Tokyo. I didn’t receive a lot of support from them. After the pageant, I started to communicate with them.