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Anime-Style Ad Sparks Outrage for ‘Whitewashing’ Naomi Osaka

naomi osaka

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    A recent ad featuring Haitian-Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka as an anime character is receiving backlash for portraying the U.S. Open champion with light skin.

    Nissin, a popular Japanese cup noodle maker and one of Osaka’s main sponsors, unveiled the ad earlier this month as part of their “Hungry to Win!” campaign, according to The Japan Times.

    Also featured in the ad is Japan’s best male tennis player, Kei Nishikori, marking the second time the two have starred alongside each other in a Nissin commercial.


    Netizens were quick to accuse Nissin — as well as the commercial’s designer, manga artist Takeshi Konomi — of whitewashing. Osaka’s skin is noticeably paler, while her hair is depicted as brown and curly.

    Osaka, who defeated Serena Williams at the U.S. Open last year to become the first Japanese Grand Slam winner, has often sparked conversations on race and identity in Japan, a country that remains highly racially homogeneous.


    View this post on Instagram


    So happy to be partnered with @allnipponairways_official ✈️😖❤️

    A post shared by Naomi Osaka 大坂なおみ (@naomiosakatennis) on

    When Nissin signed Osaka in 2016, the move was praised by progressives as a step in the right direction with regards to celebrating and normalizing diversity. With their new ad, however, many are beginning to reconsider just how progressive the cup noodle giant really is — and how that reflects on Japanese society in general.

    Baye McNeil, an African American columnist for The Japan Times, told the South China Morning Post that “many Japanese still believe deeply in the notion of the [pure] Japanese race. And so, she’ll never truly be Japanese.”


    View this post on Instagram


    So honored to appear on the cover of @time . Thank you everyone and I hope you enjoy the story.

    A post shared by Naomi Osaka 大坂なおみ (@naomiosakatennis) on

    Speaking about the ad, he claims that the whitewashing of Osaka was a conscious effort to shift public image of the 21-year-old from being an “undesirable” foreigner to a “desirable” member of society.

    However, in an email responding to the backlash, Nissin spokesman Daisuke Okabayashi apologized for the “confusion and discomfort” and claimed that “there is no intention of whitewashing,” The New York Times reported.


    View this post on Instagram



    A post shared by Naomi Osaka 大坂なおみ (@naomiosakatennis) on

    “We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future.”

    Osaka, who is currently competing in the Australian Open, has not responded to the controversy.

    Featured Image via YouTube / Nissin Group (Left) and Instagram / @naomiosakatennis (Right)

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