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Saturday, Sep. 8, 2012

Youth bridges Japan-Arab divide with fashion


From growing up in a poor rural area in Harbin, in northeastern China, to becoming a student at a prestigious university in Tokyo and representing Japan at the Group of 20 Youth Summit in Mexico this May, 19-year-old Megumi Yoshinaga has been on a tough but inspiring journey.

News photo
Megumi Yoshinaga

With a highly driven personality and leadership skills she has acquired through her experience, Yoshinaga headed a group of fellow university students and successfully organized a unique fashion show in Tokyo in July.

The show featured the latest styles of "abaya" Islamic women's clothing, in an attempt to break the stereotype that Muslim women are simply covered in solid black from head to toe.

Yoshinaga, an international relations student at Waseda University, came up with the idea of the event after a trip to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other places in February and March.

Like many others in Japan, Yoshinaga had initially associated the countries only with "deserts and camels." But through the trip Yoshinaga said she "realized there is a fascinating culture."

She figured that as many young people are interested in fashion, it would be a good way to promote cultural exchanges between Japan and the Arab world.

The July event was well received and attracted a greater turnout than she had expected. Yoshinaga said she also plans to organize a similar show in February, this time to introduce Japanese fashion in Dubai.

Yoshinaga grew up in poverty in Harbin and under the care of her grandparents while her parents worked and lived in Japan.

"One is poor because of a lack of knowledge," she quoted her grandfather as telling her. Bearing those words in mind, she studied hard at school and always ranked top in her class.

Through her travels, Yoshinaga said she has now found her love for Japan.

Looking to the future, Yoshinaga is set to study at Peking University in Beijing. When asked what she dreams of becoming, Yoshinaga said, "To become a bridge between Japan and China, and to bring happiness to people through the fashion business."

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