People :
Her Double Identity as “Miss Japan” and a Student Volunteer
Ms. Rie Kokubo

Ms. Rie Kokubo
Ms. Kokubo was born in 1984 in Kanagawa Prefecture and graduated from Atsugi High School in Kanagawa. At Waseda University, she majors in sociology and the humanities. In August 2005, she worked in Guangzhou Province, China, as a WAVOC* volunteer for helping former Hansen's disease patients. In January 2006, she won the Grand Prize in the 38th Miss Nippon (Miss Japan) Contest. Currently a junior in the School of Literature II, Rie is enthusiastically involved in volunteer activities as well as practicing yoga and playing the saxophone.

We can sense her beauty in her every gesture, and just standing there she is like a beautiful picture. However, being Miss Japan is not all about looks; Ms. Kokubo's inner beauty reflects her strong interest in sociology and active involvement in volunteer activities for supporting former patients of Hansen's disease. She recalls, "Until two days before the Miss Nippon Kanto Regional Contest, I was volunteering in China! As part of my volunteer studies class at the WAVOC, I was building a road with other students for the HD ‘recovery village’ residents at Teng-Qiao." She admits her initial hesitation upon making the visit. "I knew I wouldn't get infected but wondered if I could actually shake hands with the former leprosy patients. All those concerns disappeared from my mind when I was so warmly welcomed by the villagers!"

Her perspective on life changed when she lost her father by illness when she was still in the first year of high school. "I felt totally empty but then realized there were many people like myself, which opened my eyes to the world around me." She eventually applied for the Miss Nippon Contest to change herself and at the same time raise the public consciousness and understanding on leprosy. "Yet some people call me a hypocrite and say that my philosophy is just another kind of image politics." She bravely tackles the hard tasks of serving as both a student volunteer and the current Miss Japan, which have made her very busy, enough to make her occasionally think of giving up. During such a difficult period, Director Hara of the Giants baseball team encouraged her with the following words, "Never give up; just believe that only you can do what you are doing now". She soon regained her vitality.

Ms. Kokubo says, "My motto is ‘nothing starts without trying’." She still continues her volunteer activity thru "Qiao", an NGO organized by the students who volunteered at Teng-Qiao. In June, she lectured on Hansen's disease at a university in Tochigi, and "now students interested in my activity are joining the NGO, and our volunteer work is spreading outside Waseda as well," she says happily. She will visit the same HD recovery village this August. Though her Miss Japan duties will also increase in August, she declares, "I have to go there to remind myself of my starting point." Her smile was the warm, gracious smile of Miss Nippon.

*WAVOC: the Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center, Waseda University

Copyright (C) 2006 Student Affairs Division, WASEDA University. All rights reserved.
First drafted 2006 July 27.