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Naomi Osaka sponsor apologises for ‘whitewashing’ tennis star in ad

Naomi Osaka sponsor apologises for ‘whitewashing’ tennis star in ad

One of Naomi Osaka’s sponsors has been forced to apologise after depicting the Japanese tennis star, who is half-Haitian, with pale skin in an advertisement. Nissin featured Osaka in an ad for its Cup Noodle range of instant ramen. It depicts Osaka, who holds dual Japanese and American citizenship, with pale skin, wavy brown hair…

One of Naomi Osaka’s sponsors has been forced to apologise after depicting the Japanese tennis star, who is half-Haitian, with pale skin in an advertisement.

Nissin featured Osaka in an ad for its Cup Noodle range of instant ramen. It depicts Osaka, who holds dual Japanese and American citizenship, with pale skin, wavy brown hair and Caucasian facial features.

The company said it had not intended to “whitewash” the athlete, who became a national hero in Japan after beating Serena Williams to win the women’s singles title at the US Open in September last year.

“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.”

The company did not say what would become of the “Hungry to Win” ad, which was designed by Takeshi Konomi, a veteran manga artist best known for his popular Prince of Tennis series. The spokesman said the ad had been created in keeping with Konomi’s trademark style.

The ad, which also features her compatriot Kei Nishikori, drew criticism on social media, with many users accusing Nissin of whitewashing Osaka, whose mother is Japanese.

Baye McNeil, an African-American writer based in Japan, said Nissin had altered Osaka’s appearance to make her more commercially “appealing”.

In his “Black Eye” column for the Japan Times, McNeil noted that Osaka’s representatives had been involved in the ad’s creation, but accused Nissin of missing “the chance to show that Japan is striving to be increasingly inclusive, diverse and forward-moving – with companies like Nissin leading the way”.

He added: “I’d been anticipating Osaka’s appearance since it isn’t often that a high-profile woman of colour is featured in a major Japanese ad campaign. So when I cued it up on YouTube I was truly disappointed to see that there was no woman of colour to speak of in the commercial. Instead, I found a whitewashed representation of Osaka.”

Osaka and Nishikori, who have both reached the latter stages of the Australian Open in Melbourne, have not commented publicly on the ad.

Osaka, who was born in Japan, moved to the US when she was three and was raised in Florida. Her US Open victory raised hopes that the country of her birth would adopt a more inclusive definition of Japanese identity in a society that often sees itself – with increasing imprecision – as racially homogenous, and where mixed-race people are routinely referred to as haafu (half).

The Nissin ad, unveiled earlier this month, is not the first time racist images of black female tennis players have sparked controversy.

In September, News Corp in Australia was widely condemned for publishing a racist, sexist cartoon depicting Serena Williams and in its Melbourne paper. The cartoon, which appeared in Rupert Murdoch’s Herald Sun tabloid, showed Williams having a tantrum on the court after her loss to Osaka in the US Open final. The depiction of Osaka was also criticised as making her appear as a “white woman”.

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