We Didn't Intend To Whitewash Tennis Star, Says Noodle Maker [Update]

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Last year, US Open champ Naomi Osaka signed a deal to appear in Nissin Cup Noodle commercials. The latest one, an anime version, has been criticized for whitewashing the biracial tennis star.

Prince of Tennis manga artist Takeshi Konomi drew the ad, which also features fellow Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori.

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Update January 25 - 7:00 am: Nissin has pulled the commercial. Reuters published comments from Osaka, who said, “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.”

All the characters are done in a Prince of Tennis anime style, but Osaka’s representation raised eyebrows.

In a Japan Times article, writer Baye McNeil wrote how he was “truly disappointed to see that there was no woman of color to speak of in the commercial” after looking forward to the spot. In Japan, it’s uncommon to see women of color in major ad campaigns, but the result was just a typical anime character.

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“Well, when you sponsor a top tennis pro, and one of the most popular athletes of color in the world, you’ve got to expect the world, particularly the people of color in the world, to take notice of how you utilize her,” McNeil added.

[Full disclosure: I write a monthly column for The Japan Times.]

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On Twitter, folks expressed their displeasure at Osaka’s anime rendition.

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This meme-type image has also been circulating online.

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Nissin issued an apology, telling Justin McCurry at The Guardian, “There is no intention of whitewashing. We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issues in the future.”

You can watch the full commercial below. [Update - January 23 - 7:58am: The clip has been pulled, it seems!]

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About the author

Brian Ashcraft

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored five books, including most recently, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit.