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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):
Ad Showing Naomi Osaka With Light Skin Prompts Backlash and an Apology
The New York Times, Jan 22, 2019
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.
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.”
Baye, mentioned above, commented as follows:
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…
Nissin apologizes for skin color of Osaka in ad
The Japan News/Jiji Press January 23, 2019
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.”
Sponsor of Naomi Osaka retracts ad videos over skin color dispute
January 24, 2019 (Mainichi Japan)
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.
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.”
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”.
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)
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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