Naomi Osaka at centre of 'whitewashing' racism storm

Noodle company Nissin has pulled a series of commercials after ‘whitewashing’ Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, causing outrage around the world.

Osaka, who is half-Japanese and half-Haitian, appeared in anime form to advertise the brand’s products – but her character was white with caucasian features.

Kei Nishikori, Japan’s 29-year-old top-ranked male player, also featured in the advertisement with light skin.

The campaign was launched this month ahead of the Australian Open, where Osaka has reached the semi-finals while wearing a Nissin logo on her clothing.

“There is no intention of whitewashing,” a Nissin spokesperson said.

“We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issues in the future.”

The advertisement was pulled from YouTube yesterday as Nissin went into damage control.

Naomi Osaka in real-life versus Naomi Osaka in Nissin’s commercial. Pic: Getty/Nissin

African-American writer Baye McNeil, writing for the Japan Times, was among those to put pressure on the company.

“I’d been anticipating Osaka’s appearance since it isn’t often that a high-profile woman of colour is featured in a major Japanese ad campaign,” he wrote.

“So when I cued it up on YouTube I was truly disappointed to see that there was no woman of colour to speak of in the commercial.

“Instead, I found a whitewashed representation of Osaka.”

Osaka’s family moved to the United States when she was a toddler but maintained their connection to Japan and their culture.

When she broke through to win the US Open last year, many hoped her rising star would help change Japan’s idea of racism.

“Nissin might consider this an embarrassment instead of an opportunity to learn something about their customers both here in Japan and around the globe,” McNeil wrote.

“If you don’t address the mindset that created the ad, you’re doomed to make the same mistakes again.”

Japanese writer Lisa Tanimura said the country is “nowhere as aware about racism” as in the US and other countries.

“When I read about Osaka’s whitewashing, I wondered how much this would resonate. Probably not much,” she wrote.