“Nippon Claimed” multiethnic tennis star Osaka Naomi gets “whitewashed” by her sponsor. Without consulting her. Compare with singer Crystal Kay.

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Hi Blog. Multiethnic tennis star Osaka Naomi, whom we’ve talked about on Debito.org before in the context of Japan’s “Nippon Claiming” (where a mudblood is “claimed” to be a “Japanese”, full stop, as long as she’s at the top of her game; otherwise her mixed-ethnicity becomes a millstone), has now been claimed to the point of “whitewashing”. Yes, her Haitian-American heritage has been washed away in the Japanese media. By one of her main sponsors, no less.  And they did it without clearing it with her first.

Witness these articles, sent in by many people (h/t to JK in particular):

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Ad Showing Naomi Osaka With Light Skin Prompts Backlash and an Apology
The New York Times, Jan 22, 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/world/asia/naomi-osaka-anime-ad.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimesworld

Naomi Osaka, the half-Haitian, half-Japanese tennis champion, is the star of a new Japanese anime-style advertisement.

The problem? The cartoon Ms. Osaka bears little resemblance to her real, biracial self.

Her skin was unmistakably lightened, and her hair style changed — a depiction that has prompted criticism in Japan, where she has challenged a longstanding sense of cultural and racial homogeneity.

The ad — unveiled this month by Nissin, one of the world’s largest instant-noodle brands — features Ms. Osaka and Kei Nishikori, Japan’s top-ranked male tennis player, in a cartoon drawn by Takeshi Konomi, a well-known manga artist whose series “The Prince of Tennis” is popular in Japan.

Mr. Konomi and Ms. Osaka, who faces Elina Svitolina in an Australian Open quarterfinal match on Wednesday, have not publicly commented on the reactions to the ad.

But a Nissin spokesman apologized in an email on Tuesday for “the confusion and discomfort.”

The spokesman, Daisuke Okabayashi, said that the characters had been developed in line with Mr. Konomi’s anime series and that the company had communicated with Ms. Osaka’s representatives.

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

After the ad was first published online, people on social media, including many fans of Ms. Osaka’s, said they were deeply disappointed.

Baye McNeil, an author who has lived in Japan for 15 years, said he didn’t understand why the ad would “erase her black features and project this image of pretty much the prototypical anime girl-next-door character.”

Ms. Osaka’s rise into a beloved national figure has been particularly exciting for biracial people in Japan, known as hafus, who have long battled for acceptance, he said.

“Making her look white just tells these people that what they are isn’t good enough,” Mr. McNeil said.
Ms. Osaka was born in Japan to a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother, and moved to the United States when she was 3. Although she isn’t fluent in Japanese, often responding to questions from Japanese reporters in English, she has tweeted about her love of manga and Japanese movies.

Ranked fourth in the world at just 21, she’s already among Japan’s most accomplished tennis players ever. She became the first Japanese-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles championship in September when she defeated Serena Williams in the U.S. Open, a victory that supercharged her celebrity ascent.

That win prompted a cartoon in an Australian newspaper that was criticized for its depiction of Ms. Williams, which many saw as a racist caricature. While most of the condemnation focused on how the Australian cartoonist drew Ms. Williams, critics also noted that Ms. Osaka was depicted with blond hair and light skin.

Black characters aren’t frequently found in anime, but artists in the medium have successfully depicted their skin tones before.

“When there is a black character, it’s clearly a black character,” Mr. McNeil said.

The discussion of biracial identity in Japan got a boost in 2015 when Ariana Miyamoto, who is half-Japanese, half-African-American, won the Miss Universe Japan pageant. She used her fame to discuss the plight of “hafus,” but some in Japan were unwilling to accept her as a model of Japanese beauty.

In interviews, Ms. Osaka has embraced her multicultural background.

“Maybe it’s because they can’t really pinpoint what I am,” she said in 2016, “so it’s like anybody can cheer for me.”

ENDS
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Baye, mentioned above, commented as follows:

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Someone lost their noodle making this new Nissin ad featuring Naomi Osaka
BY BAYE MCNEIL
The Japan Times, JAN 19, 2019

This month, cup noodle maker Nissin served up its animated “Hungry to win” ad campaign, drawn by “Prince of Tennis” artist Takeshi Konomi and featuring actual tennis prince Kei Nishikori and our newest bona fide global star, Naomi Osaka.

I’d been anticipating Osaka’s appearance since it isn’t often that a high-profile woman of color 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 color to speak of in the commercial. Instead, I found a white-washed representation of Osaka that could’ve easily been based off a TV personality like Becky or Rola. Everything that distinguishes Osaka from your typical Japanese anime character was gone, and what was left? Your typical Japanese anime character.

Come on, Nissin. Was this a business decision? Did you have concerns that your customers might be forced to uncomfortably ponder issues of race or ethnicity while slurping down a bowl of U.F.O. Yakisoba?

Sure, anime fans aren’t used to seeing women of color in the genre so … a few shades lighter on the skin here … a debroadening of the nose there … the de-exoticization of her hair … and, voila! The perfectly palatable girl next door. Not for this fan, though. Osaka’s de-blackening is as problematic to me as a Bobby Riggs tirade against female tennis players…

Rest at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2019/01/19/our-lives/someone-lost-noodle-making-new-nissin-ad-featuring-naomi-osaka/

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Nissin apologizes for skin color of Osaka in ad
The Japan News/Jiji Press January 23, 2019
http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0005497740

NEW YORK (Jiji Press) — Nissin Food Products Co. has apologized in an email for depicting the skin color of tennis player Naomi Osaka in an anime-style advertisement as lighter than her actual pigmentation, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The online edition of the U.S. newspaper said that the ad depicting Osaka, born to a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother, has been criticized in Japan for whitewashing.

“We accept that we are not sensitive enough,” a spokesman for the Nissin Foods Holdings Co. unit was quoted as saying.

The Osaka character used in the anime ad for the company’s Cup Noodles was designed by manga artist Takeshi Konomi, known for his comic series “The Prince of Tennis.”

The ad also features Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori, who, like Osaka, is sponsored by Nissin.

The New York Times reported that the Osaka figure depicted in the ad “bears little resemblance to her real, biracial self,” adding, “Her skin was unmistakably lightened.”
ENDS

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Sponsor of Naomi Osaka retracts ad videos over skin color dispute
January 24, 2019 (Mainichi Japan)
http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190124/p2g/00m/0bu/009000c

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A Japanese food company which is a sponsor of 2018 U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka removed video advertisements from YouTube on Wednesday following a dispute over the skin color of a character featuring the tennis star.

Nissin Foods Holdings Co. created two pieces of animated video aimed at promoting its signature product Cup Noodle featuring characters of Osaka as well as Kei Nishikori, another Japanese tennis player the Tokyo company supports.

But Nissin chose to stop running them at the request of Osaka’s management agency in the United States following controversy in which some questioned Nissin’s creations, saying the color of Osaka’s character was lightened.

Nissin denied it had intended to make the skin color white and apologized for having caused confusion.

“We will be more mindful of the issue of diversity,” an official of the company said.

The dispute emerged as Osaka, a U.S.-based 21-year-old athlete whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open.

According to the official, Nissin consulted with the Japanese arm of Osaka’s agency in making the anime pieces but failed to communicate properly with its U.S. parent.
ENDS

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COMMENT:  And, as the Guardian reported from an interview with Osaka:

Osaka:  “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.”

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Not on purpose?  Really?  This was what I was alluding to back in my Japan Times column on this last year:

====================================

It is a well-established phenomenon that Japanese children overseas, if absent from Japanese primary or secondary schooling for even a short time, can face ethnic and cultural displacement when they return. There’s even a special word — kikoku-shijo — for “repatriated children.” And this crisis of identity happens even to native Japanese speakers.

Osaka is not. Nikkan Sports on Sept. 10 reported her language abilities to be what I call “kitchen Japanese,” i.e., “somewhat able to audibly understand, but speaking is not her thing” (nigate). Yes, the media has dutifully noted her love for Japanese anime, manga, unagi (eel) and sushi. But “liking things” does not make up for lacking an important skill set.

Even with a Japanese mother, without standalone abilities to communicate and control her own fate, Osaka will expend a lot of energy navigating adult Japanese society, with all of its tripwires of courtesy and protocol.

====================================

So, the Nissin ad is the first clear tripwire — she didn’t even get consulted on her own image.  And she got Whitewashed like a number of other celebrities in Japan of mixed heritage who can’t be accepted as “Japanese” unless they “look like Japanese”.

Consider what happened to singer Crystal Kay (who is Afro-Zainichi Korean, but it’s the same phenomenon).  Excerpted from a chapter I wrote for book The Melanin Millennium (2013):

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A more subtle example of the marketing of skin color can be witnessed in the evolution of Japanese pop idol Crystal Kay (1986- ).  The child of an African-American military serviceman and a Japan special permanent resident (zainichi) South Korean mother, Kay was raised as an English-Japanese bilingual in Japan (Poole 2009).  Beginning her career from age thirteen, Kay as of this writing has released nine studio albums, with an appreciable lightening of her skin on her album covers as her popularity in Japan increased.  A sample from earliest to latest:

C.L.L. Crystal Lover Light (2000), her debut album.

Almost Seventeen (2002)

4Real (2003)

Natural (2003), despite the similarities, is a separate album from 4Realwith different tracks, remixes, and English covers.

Call me Miss… (2006)

All Yours (2007)

Color Change! (2008)

Spin the Music (2010)

Best of Crystal Kay (2009)

ONE (Single, from Color Change!, alternative Pokemon edition) (2008)

====================================

So, you think Ms. Osaka is going to be immune from this Whitewashing?  She already isn’t.  If she’s not happy about this sort of thing, she’s going to have to take active measures to prevent it.  Or not.  But the default visual standard of “Japaneseness” is already out there.  And it’s not (yet) her skin color.  Dr. Debito Arudou

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25 comments on ““Nippon Claimed” multiethnic tennis star Osaka Naomi gets “whitewashed” by her sponsor. Without consulting her. Compare with singer Crystal Kay.

  • The thing about this is, though, will Naomi make any claim about it? It always seems to me these mixed people never speak out against racism from Japanese or just seem to make excuses for it, like its no big deal, while embracing their Japanese half

    Reply
    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Ahh, but Miss. Osaka isn’t even ‘half’ (ハーフー) right now, is she? All week the TV News has been calling her ‘Japanese’ (Nihonjin) and she just won a tournament today, so they even call her ‘Nipponjin’!
      Lived in Japan for 3 years, can’t really understand or speak Japanese…
      Meanwhile, my teenage daughters who lived here all their lives and speak perfect Japanese get labeled as ‘half’ every goddam day.
      SMH.

      Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I had to laugh when I read this;
    https://japantoday.com/category/sports/Tennis-fans-in-Japan-Abe-hail-Naomi-Osaka#

    Look at the headline! ‘Tennis fans in Japan and (!) Abe’! What’s with this urge to insert him into every damn piece of good news? It’s like they’re trying to build a N. Korea style personality cult!

    In the article;
    ‘Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led his nation’s congratulations, hailing an “impressive victory in a very tight game”.

    “I’m so proud of the birth of the new world queen,” tweeted Abe.’

    Did he? Did he lead his (his?) nation? He didn’t get in touch with anyone I know about it. And why is it ‘his’ nation, and not ‘her’ nation congratulating her for winning?
    Proud of a ‘world queen’, but deeply resisting a Japanese Empress. Oh the irony.
    I bet he doesn’t even write his own tweets! After all, this is the man who stood up in the Diet and said ‘Yes. Yes, I always pay my Facebook membership fees’, not knowing that FB is free (unless he’s got a business account and is paying to promote content, which would be worth disclosing, don’t you think?).

    This comment applies equally to this thread, and the thread about the undue influence the Japanese right-wing is exerting on the English language Japanese press in order to act as a propaganda tool of the state.

    Reply
      • Wow, “the rising wasabi” is a really interesting and entertaining website.

        Its both funny and very sad at the same time knowing how ignorant Japanese can be and how many Japanese seem to struggle so hard to understand anything that doesn’t fit their own view.

        That one article where Japanese ask if NJ countries have seasons says quite a lot about the Japanese psych.

        https://www.therisingwasabi.com/local-asks-do-you-have-weather-in-your-country/

        I thought the question was a joke…… until I read the comments that is, to find that this is based on a true story.

        Japanese people has always been world renowned for being highly literate and educated. Not to mention that turning a country from a feudal society into a modern industrialized society in just decades time was no easy task.

        So, given all the achievements of Japan, I am still a little baffled as to how they can struggle so much with common sense. This probably has everything to do with Japan’s education system that teaches students almost exclusively how to memorize and not think or question what they are taught to memorize.

        While I am no psych or neuro expert, I wonder if there is a biological rule that critical thinking and thinking outside the box MUST be taught by a certain age, otherwise its hard to explain why a well educated adult would struggle with basic information.

        Reply
          • Andrew in Saitama says:

            Oh, dear.
            “I am smarter than you because some of my fellow citizens got Nobel prizes”

            Bringing this back on topic, I wonder if Naomi is also allowed to be smarter than me…

        • The Four Seasons question, after pondering this for decades, I think it comes from Japanese who only have visited other SE Asian countries like Singapore, which only have two seasons. So they are trumpeting the point that Japan is the Asian Country that has Four Unique Seasons, unlike all those other Asian countries in the south(?)

          Reply
          • Not to get off-topic, but this ‘four seasons’ thing came up on Debito.org some years ago, and someone more knowledgeable than I researched this obsession back to the Meiji era, and concluded it was a ‘we Japanese are like Europeans, not Asians’ kind of statement, meant (along with a raft of other mumbo jumbo) to justify and reassure Japanese about their perceived place in the world.

          • Not so, Koreans also harp on about their country’s uniqueness because it’s the only country that has four distinct seasons.

            There’s something much darker than plain ignorance about this four seasons dribble. Japanese visit Korea more than any other Asian country,

  • — Before others get to it, here’s another article of note on this issue:

    How Japanese is Naomi Osaka?
    BY KUNI MIYAKE, JAPAN TIMES, JAN 28, 2019
    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/01/28/commentary/japan-commentary/japanese-naomi-osaka/
    Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.

    I replied below it:

    What a confused little article. Let’s play rhetorical Bingo:

    Discount xenophobia in Japan with the standard “Whataboutism”. (What about other xenophobia in other countries? The Middle East! Europe! Even America!) Let’s minimize and draw attention away from what’s happening in Japan with inapt comparisons. Check that box.

    Sit on the fence about whether Osaka Naomi is a “real Japanese” by making it sound as if she’s Japanese in demeanor (rather than by birthright and citizenship, regardless) but kinda not in other ways. Add those asterisks to make her status open to interpretation by the self-proclaimed Wajin Identity Police. Check.

    Dismiss the critics of Japan’s “xenophobia” (complete with scare quotes) by calling them “expat pundits living in Japan” (as opposed to “residents”; the word “expat” has a distinctly temporary feeling of “living here on a special status”, cf. “expat packages”). As if NJ residents should have their voices discounted when talking about how discrimination affects them. (So much for the conclusion of “let them play their role in our community”.) Check.

    Bring in a tinge of fear by noting how Japanese are “minorities” in certain sectors of Japan. Check.

    Then undermine your entire point with the perpetual caveat that “Japan is not a country of immigration”. (Bang goes the “already multicultural nation of Japan” in the conclusion.) Reinforce the monocultural, monoethnic canards. Check.

    Oh, and throw in the (correct) point that Japan should have dual citizenship. Not for the individual’s sake, mind you, so they don’t have to endure the identity sacrifice of being forced to choose a side of an artificial binary. But rather because it’s good for the kokutai. More laurels of superiority for all of us Japanese and all that. Check.

    I think we have a Bingo and then some.

    All of this cognitive dissonance makes for, as I said, a confused little article. If it is an example of how “Japan is learning lessons” (especially as the author is a trained expat diplomat from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), it doesn’t pass the muster of basic critical thinking.

    Reply
    • Jim Di Griz says:

      It’s a shocking article full of line by line racism, whattaboutism, and logical fallacy. You are right to call him out.
      What’s shocking is not that the Japan Times in its rightwing revisionist swing published such racist tripe, but that the author is a 20+ year veteran diplomat; no wonder Japan is a joke on the world stage.

      Reply
      • Japan a joke? Stop laughing, shut up! We are the most advanced country in this field!

        Yes, we are going to reuse this quote of Japanese Ambassador Hideaki Ueda at the U.N. torture committee for a looong time.

        N.b. leading country in torture? Is that what he means?

        Reply
      • Loverilakkuma says:

        Seriously, I think critical thinking is not the faculty of Japanese ‘globalist’ elites in the first place. Regarding the magnitude of caveat and paradox in inconsist statements, it’s obvious that this piece is originally written in Japanese, and has his aide or secretary translate into plain English. This is not something that can be treated as common errors Japanese make in English essays. This is a level-5 caveat that needs to be taken seriously. If this is what Japanese government visualizes as an exclusive model of Japanese with English abilities(or gaijin handler) through the adventure of ongoing English Education reform, I am seeing the tail end of internationalism/globalism in Japan if not its entire demise.

        Reply
    • “a “real Japanese” by making it sound as if she’s Japanese in demeanor”
      So, is Miyake a “real” Japanese? or Ishihara Shintaro? Or Sakurai? I mean, these three seem a bit “rude” and “direct”, surely not “real” Japanese traits at all?
      Had a former Japanese American colleague call my Japanese boss “not a real Japanese” because he didn’t think my boss getting angry with him for poor sales was what a “real” Japanese would do.

      The most ironic though, was this dodgy Aussie music agency called DagMusic (sic), which doesn’t have written contracts with NJs as “that is not the Japanese way”. Excuse me? Are you Japanese?

      Lighten up, people. There are many kinds of Japanese. And should be more varieties.

      Reply
  • Excellent response Debito and it so hit the spot. The shocking aspect of the article written by Miyake – although, after 25 years in Japan, it’s not so shocking – is the child like reasoning / excuses of the author, who is meant to be a member of the Japanese political elites. He exemplifies why Japan on the international negotiation stage, whether it’s the Northern Territories, North Korean abductees, whaling or the comfort women issue, do so badly. His reasoning is more deserving of the semi-literate stranger on the adjoining bar stool, who’s had one beer too many, than a member of the Japanese political elite who graduated from Todai.

    Reply
    • “the semi-literate stranger on the adjoining bar stool, who’s had one beer too many, than a member of the Japanese political elite who graduated from Todai.”

      I see them as the same person, i.e. J-political (privileged) elite = barfly logic. Think Bullingdon Club in the UK “wealthy members, grand banquets, boisterous rituals and destructive behaviour, such as the vandalising (“trashing”) of restaurants and students’ rooms. Many local outlets refuse to host these events.” “The club has attracted controversy, as some members have gone on to become part of Britain’s political establishment. These include the former Prime Minister David Cameron, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson,”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullingdon_Club

      Reply
  • Crystal Kay “Color Change! (2008)” ahem, what’s the concept there? I note it was partly produced by Jam and Lewis, but there is no title track and the other titles seem innocuous enough fluff, but the cover makes her look…nothing like Crystal Kay!

    Reply
  • Nissan is desperately trying to show they’re not rscist by featuring Naomi Osaka in their new ad. No wait, she’s ‘Japanese’, and this isn’t a ploy to make them look less racist for throwing Ghosn under the bus? Frankly, she should have done her homework and told Nissan where to get off.

    Reply
  • Well, here’s a downside of being ‘Nippon claimed’- forced inclusion in a patriarchy and vertical hierarchies, as men’s tennis player Nishikori has decided he can speak on Osaka’s behalf and give her advice on success, since they are both ‘Japanese’ now, it’s ok because he is;
    A) a man, and,
    B) older then her.
    Only problem is that Osaka is the number one ranked ladies player, whilst Nishikori is 6th ranked male. What experience exactly is he drawing on to advise a world champion about being a world champion? Kinda Japan/mansplaining thing going on.

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2019/02/24/more-sports/tennis/naomi-osaka-will-learn-deal-fame-says-kei-nishikori/#

    Reply

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