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Japan's Miss Universe Breaks With Timid Tradition

New Miss Universe Riyo Mori said Monday she had confidence in herself and knew she could win the title, unlike conventional Japanese women who are often seen as timid. "I was determined to bring back the crown and sash to Japan," Mori, 20, told her first news conference since returning to Japan.

"I knew I could do it." The ballerina by training who teaches jazz dance at her mother's studio in Shizuoka near Mount Fuji last month became the second Japanese to be crowned Miss Universe, after Akiko Kojima in 1959. "I was so happy and surprised that I don't even remember the moment" when her name was announced at the pageant in Mexico City, Mori said.

"When I walked on the runway with the crown, I was so thrilled because I had decided to myself during a rehearsal that I was the one who would walk here," she said, still wearing the 250,000-dollar crown on her head. Mori, who dreams of performing on Broadway, said she wanted to use her tenure as Miss Universe to help fight HIV and AIDS.

Mori was coached by Ines Ligron, who was hired 10 years ago to train Japanese girls for Miss Universe by Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and owner of the contest. The French woman said that Mori was strong enough not to be intimidated. "Normally what happens is when a Japanese delegate arrives at Miss Universe, she just goes down because she sees so many beautiful girls, and she just feels frightened," Ligron said.

"But Riyo was just going stronger and stronger until the very end, and that's why I'm very proud of her for this." Ligron also coached Kurara Chibana, the polyglot journalist who last year took second place in Miss Universe. As Miss Universe, Mori is given an apartment in New York for a year, an undisclosed salary, a complete wardrobe including a luxury watch and a scholarship for two years of film study in New York.


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