Australian Open champion Osaka 'whitewashed' in now-removed sponsor ad

Hannah Wilks in Tennis News 1 Feb 2019
  • Naomi Osaka 'whitewashed' in advert for noodle company Nissin
  • Nissin have withdrawn the anime-style ad and apologized
  • Osaka is into the final of the 2019 Australian Open
Naomi Osaka on court (left) and as she was depicted in the now-deleted Nissin ad

The depiction of Naomi Osaka in a now-deleted advert for noodle company Nissin has sparked accusations of 'whitewashing'.



Nissin have deleted an advert that appeared to depict Naomi Osaka as a white woman and apologized after the anime-style ad sparked controversy.

Osaka and Nishikori in the ad (via the BBC)
Osaka is having an extraordinary fortnight, as the US Open champion has reached her second Grand Slam final at the Australian Open where she will face Petra Kvitova on Saturday with the winner of the match becoming the new world no. 1. 

But she finds herself at the centre of a controversy about an advert made by one of her sponsors, Nissin.

The advert, which has now been removed, was an animation clip drawn by manga artist Takeshi Konomi, who is best known for the Prince of Tennis series. It featured both Osaka and Japan's male no. 1, Kei Nishikori.

But the animation drew outcry when it was released, because it appeared to show Osaka as a white woman.

Osaka is of mixed Japanese and Haitian-American heritage and was born in the city of Osaka, although she mainly grew up in the USA. 

In images from the advert, her hair appears much straighter, her skin has been significantly lightened to a Caucasian skin tone and her eyes are rounded.

Nishikori and Osaka as they appear in the now-deleted advert
Nishikori also appears significantly less 'Japanese' in his animated depiction, with more Caucasian skin and rounded eyes.

But his depiction does not tap into specific and ongoing debates about attitudes to race in Japanese culture as the depiction of Osaka does.

'Hafu', which is the Japanese word for mixed race, reportedly still face significant discrimination in Japan. Osaka's mother was disowned by her parents after she decided to marry Osaka's Haitian father.

The company has deleted the advert and apologized.

'There is no intention of whitewashing,' a Nissin spokesperson said. 

'We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issues in the future.'

It has been pointed out that in manga as a medium, characters are often drawn this way.

Osaka said:

'I've talked to them. They've apologized. For me, it's obvious, I'm tan. It's pretty obvious. 

'I don't think they did it on purpose to be, like, whitewashing or anything. But I definitely think that the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it.'

Chiefly, however, the fourth seed wanted to reserve judgement and focus on her tennis. 'I'm just focused on this right now. I've gotten to the final of a slam, and that's sort of my main priority, so...' she said.

This isn't the first time that a depiction of Osaka has been effectively unrecognizable. In the cartoon published by the Herald Sun last September after the US Open final, Osaka was portrayed as a light-skinned woman with blonde hair, presumably to make her more sympathetic in contrast to Serena Williams, who was depicted as an angry black woman in a way that drew on several racist stereotypes.



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Australian Open champion Osaka 'whitewashed' in now-removed sponsor ad

Noodle company Nissin have deleted an advert that appeared to depict Naomi Osaka as a white woman and apologized after the anime-style ad sparked controversy

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