Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka is one of the brightest young stars in tennis today as she is currently ranked fourth in the world and is the reigning US Open champion. She is looking to pick up a second major trophy as she plays eighth ranked Petra Kvitova in the final of the Australian Open. As she is preparing for the final, Osaka has to deal with backlash from her sponsors as she feels they are not portraying her properly.
The 21-year old is facing criticism from an ad done by Nissin Foods Holdings, one of her main sponsors, which portrayed Osaka with pale skin. Critics are calling the ad insensitive as they believe the ad is “whitewashing” and is an inaccurate portrayal of Osaka’s biracial heritage.
“I’ve talked to them. They’ve apologized,” Osaka said of Nissin Foods Holdings’ ad of her, via Sports Illustrated.
“I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious.” Osaka believes that Nissin Foods Holdings had no intention of whitewashing her in the ad, but wants them to talk to her the next time she is being featured in an ad. “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.”
Nissin Foods Holdings is a Japanese company that specializes in instant noodles and did not mean to disrespect diversity in any way with the ad. “We as a company put human rights first, and our stance of valuing diversity is unchanged,” company spokesperson Daisuke Okabayashi said. Okabayashi also said that the ads were approved by Osaka’s agents, but the company was asked to take them down. The ad was based on a Japanese manga series called The Prince of Tennis and depicted Osaka, male Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori and other characters from the show playing on a tennis court.
Nissin Foods Holdings has sponsored Osaka since November 2016 and will continue to pledge its support for the young Japanese tennis star. Her popularity in Japan has skyrocketed since her upset victory over Serena Williams in last year’s US Open final. Osaka’s fame in Japan is huge as the country has previously been criticized for being insensitive to diversity issues in the past.
Her increased popularity can help Japan become more accepting of racial, cultural and ethical differences in the future.