Tokyo - Japanese
noodle-maker Nissin apologised on Thursday for an "anime" advert featuring
Naomi Osaka, the tennis star said on Thursday, after the firm's portrayal
of the half-Haitian player with pale skin sparked accusations of
The cup noodle company, which sponsors the US Open women's champion,
found itself in hot water with its cartoon advert also featuring fellow
tennis star Kei Nishikori, as the pale-skinned character bore scant
resemblance to the 21-year-old Osaka.
Speaking at a press conference at the Australian Open on Thursday, Osaka
said the company had spoken to her after the controversy erupted.
"I've talked to them. They've apologised," she told reporters.
"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... I feel like they should talk to me about it."
The adverts have already been pulled from circulation, Nissin Foods spokesman Daisuke Okabayashi told AFP.
"We never had the intention to do what is known as 'whitewashing',
but with this becoming an issue, we will pay more attention to respect
for diversity in our PR activities," he said.
The firm had initially obtained agreement from Osaka via her representatives, the spokesman added.
Osaka, who has a Japanese mother, a Haitian father and was raised in
the United States, has not commented publicly on the issue as she bids
for a second consecutive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
The advert sparked debate on social media, with one user writing:
"Didn't anyone question why her skin colour was so pale? Her identity is
Another Japanese Twitter user complained: "This isn't Naomi Osaka. Isn't this clearly whitewashing?"
However, others noted Nishikori was also portrayed with lighter skin, which tends to be the norm in "anime" cartoons.
The real Nishikori "isn't that light, eyes aren't that round, and
nose is wider. They are both drawn in anime style," said one defender of
Osaka has dual Japanese-American citizenship and often replies to
questions from Japan's media in English, apologising for not knowing the
appropriate word when she speaks Japanese.
Japan remains a fairly homogeneous country, and mixed-race children
can often face prejudice, although attitudes among younger generations
Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam last year after beating Serena Williams at the US Open.
That match also sparked a cartoon/race controversy when a caricature
of Williams, who is black, appeared showing a butch and fat-lipped
player jumping up and down on a broken racquet.
The match was marked by heated exchanges between Williams and the umpire.
Osaka and Williams were on a semi-final collision course at the
Australian Open but the American coughed up a match point to lose to