A month after she was crowned the world's most beautiful transsexual, Japanese TV personality Ai Haruna wants her country to be more tolerant toward people of diverse sexual orientations.
Haruna, 37, already a household name in Japan, was chosen Miss International Queen 2009, at a pageant in Thailand last month after judges picked her over runners-up from the host country and Brazil.
"I was surprised to see so many transgender people working at hotels and restaurants with no problems, in Thailand," she said at a Tokyo press conference.
"Japan can learn many things from other Asian nations like Thailand and the Philippines."
In Japan, people can legally change their gender on official documents, but transgender people still face spoken and silent discrimination, Haruna said.
She recalled condominium owners had declined to let her rent apartments because neighbours may object.
"I was rejected five straight times," she said. "I think Japan is lacking behind."
Haruna, whose original name is Kenji Onishi, said she had lived with difficulties since when she was a child.
"I was born with a very masculine sounding boy's name. But I always wanted to be a girl, always dreamed of becoming a pretty idol seen on TV."
"But for a long time life was very difficult for me," she said in a quivering voice.
"Even after I had a sex change operation at the age of 19 and had my first boyfriend, I encountered many, many obstacles that constantly made me realise I wasn't a woman."
Now crowned the world's transsexual queen, Haruna said she wanted to work internationally to raise awareness for sexual minorities.
"I want to work for those who are troubled like me," she said. "I want to work in the world. And of course, I want to be married some day."