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Naomi Osaka of Japan at the Australian Open on January 23, 2019; an anime rendering of Osaka, in a since-removed YouTube video of the Nissin noodle ad. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images and YouTube/Nissin)


Sponsor under fire for ‘whitewashing’ biracial tennis star Naomi Osaka in anime ad

January 23, 2019

A Japanese instant-noodles company has apologized for an anime-style ad featuring half-Haitian half-Japanese tennis champion Naomi Osaka. Noodle brand Nissin had hoped to capitalize on the young star’s rise to the upper echelons of tennis competition with an ad based off of art drawn by popular mangaka Takeshi Konomi, the author of long-running manga series The Prince of Tennis. But the decision to portray Osaka with light skin and noticeably straighter hair than her real-life counterpart has drawn criticism and accusations of “whitewashing” — especially among critics who say that Japan has struggled with accepting cultural and racial diversity.

In Japan, biracial people are commonly known as “haafus,” and have long fought to be accepted as truly Japanese by society, according to author Baye McNeil, who has resided in the country for the past 15 years.

“Making her look white just tells these people that what they are isn’t good enough,” said McNeil.

In 2015, half-Japanese half African-American model Ariana Miyamoto won the Miss Universe competition only to face criticism in the media for “not being Japanese enough” to represent the country. Following Osaka’s win in the U.S. Open last September, an Australian cartoonist also infamously portrayed Osaka as a white blond woman while simultaneously depicting her opponent, Serena Williams, with a racist caricature akin to a gorilla. In a 2016 interview, Osaka put a positive spin on the confusion her racial diversity has caused with fans at home and abroad.

“Maybe it’s because they can’t really pinpoint what I am,” she said. “So it’s like anybody can cheer for me.”

In a statement, Nissin apologized for “the confusion and discomfort” caused by their recent advert.

“There is no intention of whitewashing,” a spokesman for the company said. “We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future.”

Read the full story at SBS News.


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