As 600 million TV viewers looked on Miss Japan, Riyo Mori, realised her childhood dream when she was crowned Miss Universe this week. In what was clearly an emotional moment, the 20-year-old dancer gasped in surprise as her name was read out at the Mexico ceremony.
As the 10,000-strong crowd cheered, a diamond-and-pearl-studded tiara worth a quarter of a million dollars was placed on her head by last year's winner, marking only the second time Japan has won the contest since 1959. "She's an amazing champion, an amazing woman," says the pageant's co-owner, business tycoon Donald Trump.
The win comes after months of hard preparation for Riyo, who comes from a small town at the foot of Mount Fuji and trained in France on how to handle interviews. Backed by her dance teacher mother and her grandmother, she decided to make the bid for the Miss Japan crown after hearing from friends that Japanese women often seemed suppressed. She told one magazine she wanted to show the world that Japan has "passionate women like me".
As winner of the contest, Riyo - who hopes to open an international dance school in Tokyo - will travel the world for a year, performing charity work and duties for pageant sponsors. "I'm really excited about what I'm going to be able to do… to benefit society," she said, after beating 77 contestants to the title.
Miss Brazil, Natalia Guimaraes, came second while Miss Venezuela, Ly Jonaitis, took third place.