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Naomi Osaka Sponsor Drops Ad after Criticism

2019-1-24

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka says she hopes companies she represents will talk with her about how to present her in future advertisements.

Osaka was asked about criticism of her sponsor, Nissin Foods Holdings. The company produced an animated advertisement that showed Osaka with skin that looked lighter than her real skin color.

Critics said the ad does not represent Osaka’s darker skin, as well as her biracial background. Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father.

Japan's Naomi Osaka answers questions at a press conference following her win over Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.
Japan's Naomi Osaka answers questions at a press conference following her win over Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

Nissin has since removed the advertisement from YouTube.

“I’ve talked to them. They’ve apologized,” Osaka said. “I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious.”

Osaka said she did not think the company’s aim was to “whitewash” her. But she added, “I definitely think that the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it.”

Osaka spoke to reporters in Melbourne, where she is getting ready to play in Saturday’s Australian Open final.

Osaka told the media, “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.”

Osaka will face Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the final. A victory for Osaka would give her the number-one ranking in the world.

It is not the first time that a Japanese company has face criticism for how it deals with issues such as race and nationality.

Baye McNeil is an American who has lived in Japan for more than 10 years. He wrote an opinion article for The Japan Times, a local English-language paper. McNeil wrote, “I found a whitewashed representation of Osaka that could’ve easily been based off a TV personality like Becky or Rola.”

McNeil told the Associated Press that Japanese companies need to become more inclusive if they hope to appeal to a worldwide market. “They are not thinking on that level,” McNeil said. “It may be painful, but Japan is going through growing pains right now.”

Daisuke Okabayashi is a spokesman for Nissin Foods Holdings. He said Thursday the company did not mean to disrespect Osaka’s diversity. The ad also showed Kei Nishikori, another Japanese tennis star, with lighter skin.

Okabayashi said Osaka’s representative approved the ad but later asked to have the ad taken down. He said the company continues to support Osaka and does not want the issue to become a distraction.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on the Associated Press and Japan Times news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sponsor - n. an organization that gives money to an athlete for training, clothes, equipment, etc., in return for the right to use the athlete for advertising

animated - adj. produced by the creation of a series of drawings, pictures

background - n. a person's experiences, knowledge, education, etc...

tan - n. a browning of the skin that is caused by the sun's rays

obvious - adj. easy to see or notice

portray - v. to show or describe someone in a particular way

priority - n. something that is more important

distraction - n. something that makes it difficult to think or pay attention

diversity - n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization