Are there black Japanese
Suddenly one of us
The new world number one in tennis is Japanese and dark-skinned. If Naomi Osaka weren't a guarantee for Japanese world success, she would probably not be celebrated as much as a Japanese woman. But now you are very flexible.
Only a day passed before the new heroine had her own museum. The city of Nemuro in Hokkaido, Japan's North Island, quickly cleared space in the town hall to display 30 objects by the 21-year-old tennis player. In addition to training jackets, training balls and training rackets, Naomi Osaka's importance is also explained: she is the first number one in the world to come from Japan and all of Asia. The museum is located in the 30,000-inhabitant city on the northern edge of the country because her 74-year-old grandfather lives here. For an icon with the meaning of Naomi Osaka, such an indirect connection can be enough to benefit a little from world fame as a small place.
Since Naomi Osaka won the final of the Australian Open against the Czech Petra Kvitova in three sets (7: 6, 5: 7, 6: 4) on Saturday, she is definitely a huge star in Japan. It wasn't until the fall of last year that she won the first slam of her career at the US Open. Now she has not only succeeded in the fastest storm in tennis history to the top of the world rankings, but also the first such placement of a Japanese athlete, whether male or female. So the excitement in Japan is now great. The daily Tokyo Shimbun asked: "Should Naomi Osaka be Japan's flag bearer at the Olympics?"
After all, Osaka's success is also of great patriotic value for Japan: on the one hand, the demographically shrinking and economically stagnating country has recently lost international prestige in many areas, from the market for electronic products, where Korean and Chinese manufacturers are now more successful, to the automotive industry. In the traditional Japanese sport of sumo, too, the Japanese have not dominated for a long time; the best wrestlers come from Mongolia. At the same time, Japan is getting in the mood for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. A compatriot who is the best in the world in any sport is just right.
Only one thing is remarkable: Naomi Osaka would hardly have received anywhere near as much fame and honor if she were only second, although that would have made her the best Japanese tennis player of all time. It is not unlikely, however, that then many voices would have found fault with her. For example, that she almost always answers in English instead of Japanese in interviews, that her Japanese is hardly fluent, that as the daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, she only spent the first three years of her life in Japan. So that she is actually only half-Japanese. In short, that she is actually not really Japanese at all.
In Japan, where barely two percent of the population has a foreign passport, there is a rigid notion of what it means to be Japanese. Last but not least, the country is based on the narrative of a homogeneous society in which the vast majority follows very similar norms, thinks and looks similar. Everyone knows that both the people from Okinawa in the far south and the Ainu in the far north had their own cultures until mainland Japan annexed the areas at the end of the 19th century. The Korean community, which has been settled here since the times of the Japanese Empire, which lasted until 1945, does not quite fit into the strict criteria. After all, Japan should be such a harmonious and safe society because the country is homogeneous.
Appearance can become a bigger problem. Not the only, but probably the most prominent example in recent years is Ariana Miyamoto, who was named Miss Universe Japan in 2015. In a competition that is almost exclusively about appearance, dark-skinned Miyamoto, the daughter of an American father and a Japanese mother, was criticized for why she won the competition in the first place: her looks. "Is it okay to make a half-Japanese Miss Japan?" Asked a Twitter user. When Miyamoto then entered the international Miss Universe competition for Japan, which she did not win in the end, but finished historically well in the top 10 for Japan, another user said: "I am uncomfortable that she is competing for Japan." Miyamoto himself reported that she received far more interest from foreign media than from Japanese.
Even with Naomi Osaka, skin color was obviously perceived as a problem. Since her parents decided at an early age that Osaka would compete in international tournaments as a Japanese, it was soon foreseeable that sponsors would be interested in her because of the rapid successes. For example, the noodle manufacturer Nissin, who recently started using them for its campaigns. For an animated commercial, the company's strategists made Osaka's skin look significantly lighter, i.e. supposedly more Japanese, than it really is. "I think in the future you should ask me beforehand if you want to portray me in any way," Osaka said of this incident in retrospect. The matter is now settled for her.
For Japan, on the other hand, things could finally get going. Most Japanese should at least now know that Naomi Osaka's skin is dark. The final on Saturday achieved a TV audience rate of 32 percent, which is Japan's previous annual record. Now it would also depend on the athlete herself whether she uses her appearance offensively and makes a facet that has long been there clearly visible to Japanese society. That this supposedly homogeneous country is actually a diverse one and that it would never have climbed first place in a tennis world rankings anyway.
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