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Noodle firm drops ‘whitewashed’ ad of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka

The Australian Open finalist said she did not think the ad from Japanese noodle-maker Nissin Foods Holdings was intended to ‘whitewash’ her.

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has said she hopes her sponsors will consult her about how they portray her after an online ad campaign that depicted her with pale skin was taken down following criticism.

Critics said the depiction in the ad from her main sponsor, Japanese noodle-maker Nissin Foods Holdings, does not reflect Osaka’s biracial background.

“I’ve talked to them. They’ve apologised,” Osaka said.

I definitely think that the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it Naomi Osaka

“I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious.”

Osaka said she did not think the ad was intended to “whitewash” her.

“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,” she told reporters in Melbourne.

Osaka was speaking after she beat Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

“I’m just focused on this right now. I’ve gotten to the final of a slam, and that’s sort of my main priority,” she said.

Nissin Foods Holdings spokesman Daisuke Okabayashi said the company meant no disrespect for diversity with the two animation clips, which went up earlier this month and were deleted from the company’s online site on Wednesday.

“We as a company put human rights first, and our stance of valuing diversity is unchanged,” he said.

Mr Okabayashi said the ads were approved by Osaka’s agent, but the company was later asked to take them down.

He said the company continues to support Osaka and did not want the controversy to be a distraction.

Nissin became Osaka’s corporate sponsor in November 2016, joining a list of companies such as Nissan and watch brand Citizen hoping to cash in on a level of stardom that is rare among Japanese athletes.

Osaka’s appeal has grown in Japan since she beat Serena Williams in last year’s US Open.

Her performance at the Australian Open has topped daily news coverage.

It is not the first time Japan has been criticised for insensitivity to diversity issues, including race, nationality, gender and sexual orientation.

She looks totally like a white woman in the ad. It was very whitewashed Baye McNeil, writer

Osaka’s visibility and natural charm are seen as contributions to Japan’s acceptance of racial and other differences.

Baye McNeil, an American who has lived in Japan for more than a decade, said Japanese are often unaware of what might upset a global audience.

His commentary in The Japan Times, a local English-language daily, was among the first to express outrage over the Nissin ad.

“She looks totally like a white woman in the ad,” said Mr McNeil, who writes and lectures about the problem of race in Japan.

“It was very whitewashed.”

Japanese companies need to become more inclusive if they hope to appeal to a global market, he added.

“They are not thinking on that level,” Mr McNeil said.

“It may be painful, but Japan is going through growing pains right now.”

Nissin’s ad was based on a manga and animation series called The Prince Of Tennis, created by artist Takeshi Konomi.

The ad showed characters from the work and also characters meant to depict Osaka and male Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori playing on a court.

Press Association

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