Thursday, April 30, 1998

Nana Okumura

Miss Japan’s
Fairy tale

A month ago, she was
an unemployed student of
fashion design

By Tim Ryan


Nana Okumura is living a dream, and no matter how it ends, she knows it can't be bad.

Miss Universe logo Only a month ago, she was an out-of-work student looking for a school of design in Japan to study fashion. Having just returned from visiting her parents in England, Okumura was walking down crowded Omotesando Street in Tokyo when she noticed a woman following her.

"Ines (Ligron) tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself," Okumura said. "I thought she was a lost French tourist needing directions."

Ligron had been hired by the Miss Universe Pageant to help select a representative from Japan who could participate in this year's competition. The country had not sent a contestant to the past three pageants due to a lack of sponsors.

"She asked me if I would be willing to enter the Miss Japan Universe competition. I thought she was joking. I mean, come on!

"One moment I'm walking down a busy street, and the next I'm being asked to compete with some of the most beautiful girls in the world."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Nana Okumura is just happy to be Miss Japan after being discovered
last month and hasn't even considered that she could win
Miss Universe with her fresh, girl-next-door look.

Okumura discussed the idea with friends and her parents, and though all had some strong concerns against it, Okumura nevertheless agreed to enter.

One month later she had won the title Miss Japan Universe, and five days after that she was in Hawaii representing a cosmetic company at a convention in the new Hawaii Convention Center.

At the convention, Okumura, dressed in an ankle-length white gown, sat demurely on a stool while Japanese men and women took hundreds of pictures or asked for an autograph.

"It feels odd," Okumura, 24, said later. "I'm not used to being the center of attention. If I hadn't won this, I would still just be a normal girl walking down the street. But now all these people ask to take a picture with them and look at me up and down, up and down.

"Honestly, it feels weird but very, very interesting."

Ligron was struck by Okumura's "girl-next-door look, natural beauty, the elegant, confident way she carried herself."

"She may not have noticed it, but men and women were turning their heads to take an extra look at her," she said. "Nana has 'winner' written all over her."

Okumura laughs at the compliment.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Nana Okumura isn't the typical pageant delegate,
but poise and confidence have helped her
assume the role with ease.

"I do not think I am very beautiful or very charming," said Okumura, who did some modeling when she was 20. "But my image of Miss Universe has always been about the beauty on the inside. And I do feel I have something on the inside."

There's a sense that Okumura sees the pageant more as an adventure, an interesting chapter in her unfolding life, rather than a serious must-win competition.

She moved to London from Hiroshima with her parents when she was 2. When Okumura returned to Japan at age 7, she couldn't speak her native tongue.

"I could not take the exams because I couldn't understand them, so the teacher just told me to draw something while other students were being tested," Okumura said. "I became quite good at drawing and developed an interest in fashion design."

Okumura doesn't know what she wants to do with her new status, and she hasn't entertained the possibility that she might win the title.

"Just being Miss Japan is very satisfying, enough for me right now. It's an extraordinary experience, like a fairy tale for me -- except in this dream I cannot fly."

Nana Okumura is just happy to be Miss Japan after being discovered on the street last month and hasn't even considered that she could win Miss Universe with her fresh, girl-next-door look.

Party Universe puts delegates
in a 1970s groove

By Tim Ryan


All that was missing on the night Planet Hollywood turned into Planet Universe was John Travolta.

A Village People group -- provided by the Hawaii Dance Alliance -- performed one moment, followed by the '70s hit "The Hustle," and then it was a leap into the '90s with "Macarena."

Last night was '70s Night for the 82 Miss Universe contestants, their first real taste of freedom since arriving here last weekend to compete in the May 12 pageant.

About 100 invited guests -- mostly guys in ties such as Joe Souki, speaker of the House; Nestor Garcia, state representative; and Mike Wilson, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, in a sport coat and aloha shirt -- watched from the sidelines as the delegates mostly danced alone, until KGMB anchor Russ Shimooka jumped in and asked a boogying Miss Venezuela to "show me what you got."

And when the contestants weren't dancing, they were taking pictures of friends dancing, or mugging for the professional photographers.

Except for the Macarena, all the '70s songs played last night were recorded before any of the contestants had been born.

Tonight's events

Bullet "Cocktail Party" followed by "Party with the Legends," Legends in Concert, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. (Invitation only)

Tomorrow's events

Bullet "Made in Hawaii" Fashion Show & Dinner, Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom, 6-9:30 p.m. Contestants will model fashions. Tickets $100 each, $1,000 for a table of 10. For information: 524-2211. (Public event)

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