We Didn’t Intend To Whitewash Tennis Star, Says Noodle Maker

We Didn’t Intend To Whitewash Tennis Star, Says Noodle Maker
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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 criticised 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.

日清食品グループ公式チャンネル" loading="lazy" > Screenshot: 日清食品グループ公式チャンネル

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 colour to speak of in the commercial” after looking forward to the spot. In Japan, it’s uncommon to see women of colour in major ad campaigns, but the result was just a typical anime character.

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

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

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

This meme-type image has also been circulating online.

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.”


  • How did Naomi Osaka feel about the commercial because really that is the only opinion that actually matters here. Not some jackasses on the other side of the world looking for a new crusade to sell papers.

      • You miss the fact that his comment, and your comment, are the armchair warriors fighting. His battle is to (wrongly) claim that nobody is allowed to talk about the issue except the one person directly involved. You are piling on with a vague insult.

        Plot twist buddies: YOU are the “I’ll fight / hold my fedora” comments.

        Racism and colorism is a problem in the world. This kind of thing happens all the time in illustration, often subconsciously but sometimes not. It’s bad.

    • Since the story is from the Japan Times and is about a japanese thing I don’t know where you’re getting jackasses on the other side of the world from.

      • Looks like the Kotaku mod deleted my original comment. The author of the Japan Times article is an American living in Japan who mainly writes about racism towards black people in Japan. So it isn’t really a Japan thing at all, just a guy living in someone else’s country complaining about their society when really they could just go back home instead.

    • Lol. “Only one person in the world is allowed to talk about one have an opinion about something that is part of a larger problem.” No.

      So you’re the opinion police here to restrict the discussion of racism. Sorry buddy but the one person directly involved in an incident is not the only person allowed and entitled to talk about what it means. As the article (READING SKILLS) points put, a big ad for a public audience INVITES this discussion and criticism.

      Look in the mirror and ask yourself why you have a problem with a person talking about or bringing up something that is a larger problem (colorism and racism).

      Lazy angry denial: The Internet. “Racism and colorism isn’t a problem….people TALKING about it is my problem!”

        • “Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

          Research has found extensive evidence of discrimination based on skin color in criminal justice, business, the economy, housing, health care, media, and politics in the United States and Europe. Lighter skin tones are seen as preferable in many countries in Africa, Asia and South America. ”


          It’s pretty obvious who is making up rubbish to pretend they have a point here.

          • Oh bullshit that is just racism. Let’s make up more words to describe something to make an issue seem bigger. Racism is a terrible thing but this is not an example of it. Anime has a style, she was drawn in that style.

          • I know Japan is racist, but I don’t live there knowing that and then complain about it like the author of the Japan Times article.

          • So your entire argument is because someone doesn’t live somewhere then there is zero chance they can understand anything that is going on in that place?

            Do you live in Japan?

          • yes and other studies show that you can rewrite Mein Kampf swapping out Jews for other inter-sectional feminist buzzwords and get published, you can also completely make up a study about rape culture in dog parks and get published, or a study saying that you can cure straight men of their inherent transphobia if you forcibly penetrate them with a dildo.

            There are a lot of studies saying a lot of different crap but simocrates is right discrimination based on skin colour is just racism.

    • On the other hand, the company has admitted that it was insensitive. I’d say that’s an opinion that actually matters as well, much more than that of some jackasses on the other side of the world attempting to downplay the issue in the comment section of every article regarding racism.

      • That is Japanese PR 101. Always bow and say you will do better next time. So again, the only opinion that actually matters here is Naomi’s considering it is meant to be a depiction of her.

        • So by your logic the only people who should be upset by MLK getting killed in ’68 was him, and maybe his family and friends?

        • You are not wrong, but not necessarily right: it’s still an assumption to believe that they do not genuinely agree they dropped the ball.

          Regarding your point: if an older man grooms a teen into becoming a consensual and enthusiastic “lover”, does the fact that the girl will have no complaints mean that there was no statutory rape? Wrong is wrong even if the victim doesn’t care, for whatever reason.

          • i think the idea is that the company already apologised and if Naomi is satisfied with that then it is resolved, there is no reason for anybody else to get involved.

    • thank you for this nuanced take on how we can only ever have one representative subject of racism at any one time. if people want to talk about systemic issues affecting populations larger than the individual they’re just gonna have to get in line and wait their turn.

    • Tennis player Naomi Osaka downplayed a dispute Thursday over the skin color of an anime character depicting her but called for a consultation in a possible similar case in the future.

      “For me, it’s obvious, I’m tan…I don’t think they did it on purpose to be, like, whitewashing or anything,” Osaka said at a press conference at the Australian Open, referring to a pair of controversial anime advertisements which were created by one of her sponsors, Nissin Foods Holdings Inc. in Tokyo.

      “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,” said the U.S.-based player whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese.


      • I think it was more of a comment on the fact the last time Naomi was in the news was because Serena Williams had a dummy spit at the umpire while getting beaten by Naomi. There is no ignorance there except yours.

      • First, I didn’t invalidate the issue, I didn’t even comment on it.
        Second, when did I say I didn’t know who she is?

        Some nerve calling people ignorant mate…..

      • who is ranked 4th in the world for darts……number 1 ranked polo team???

        I’m sure there are sports you don’t follow and are therefore ignorant of

  • have a look at the people surrounding her in the anime to. Anime is damn near universally found to portray definitively asian people with white skin. have a look. the foreigners in anime often have the same skin tone just slightly different feature sets and usually are blond with blue eyes or so. fairly often at a glance there is no difference.

    Now as for whitewashing… maybe but, I’ll lean towards them just not honestly seeing the problem in the production process.

    • This is almost certainly the case. That doesn’t make it not a problem, but I believe the production company when they say it was accidental. Japan does this in anime A LOT.

  • Obligatory ‘anime was a mistake’ comment.

    Seems more like a cultural/artistic issue, I don’t know if they really intended to be racist. That is awfully far from her actual skin tone though.

    • Both her skin and hair color are completely different. There’s no excuse for this.

      This is how racism operates. People say “ah it’s a cultural/artistic issue!”. No, it’s racism and colorist, that’s why the “culture” and “art” subconsciously or consciously prefer and lean toward whiteness (plus lighter hair in this case).

      • I don’t disagree that the skin tone is different and I don’t know why they did that, but the hair is clearly an abstraction. I’m not defending it – I’m more curious why they did that.

        I’m not going to assume racist intentions because this isn’t a western culture (regardless of ibfluence) but you can draw whatever conclusion you like. “Colourist” isn’t a thing – a colourist is one who uses colour, stop trying to appropriate it as another buzzword for racism.

        • They did it because Japan is a monoculture with deeply ingrained xenophobia and people just don’t notice when they are being shitty to people from “impure” Japanese backgrounds.

          Like the word for anyone who has a non-Japanese parent is “Half.” You mum is Korean? You are Half.

          • I really thought more people knew about Japan’s deep seated xenophobia but apparently not. While I agree it would be nice to hear how Naomi feels about it all, it’s not a requirement to discuss a portrayal of her that can be considered offensive given the history of caricature and African Americans.

          • I dated an African American woman and a Japanese American woman while I lived in Japan. It could be a pretty crappy time of things for both of them, but I have a feeling that the Japanese American had a tougher time of things.

            We would turn up to something and the person at the front desk would look all shocked and say “Oh! Ojn the phone I thought you were Japanese!” Because, you know… she was. But she didn’t look stereotypically Japanese.

        • Often, yeah. But in Japan it’s a lot more to do with being the “right” kind of Asian, or being of “pure” Japanese descent. Which is hilarious given that the country came from a bunch of Chinese people invading and interbreeding with the native cultures before wiping them out.

          • just out of curiosity are some of these kinds of humour things like racist or anti semetic (think i spelled that wrong) humour, or is that by default not humour and actually hate speech?

            not trying to start a fight just want to know what you think.

          • Those are forms of humour. They’re generally not good ones. It’s also possible for them to be both humour and hate speech.

            The difference between what I said and what you’re comparing it to is the direction. Racist jokes punch down. I was being glib at the expense of those in power. I was punching up.

  • I am upset about the Simpsons representing a white family when they are clearly yellow. Unless they have jaundice. If so, I feel like an idiot.

  • For a lot of Manga/Anime everyone is either the exact same skin tone or ambiguously tanned. Anything more markedly different often results in massively overemphasizing features. It’s generally not intentional, it’s how the style of drawing characters has evolved and become commonplace in Japan and it’s just sort of become a blindspot to a lot of artists in Japan. This kind of thing comes from artistic complacency more than anything else, they just don’t think about it and go “make her an anime character”.
    I agree it would be nice for the medium to break out of that bad habit just because it’s always neat to see mangaka and animators try genuinely new styles but I also rarely expect to see that from a studio pumping out a cup noodle ad.

      • I mean a lot of anime does it. not all of it is bad, plenty of it is forgettable but uninspired character design doesn’t automatically mean the whole thing is bad. I’m also not talking about broad design of characters, I’m talking specifically about the range of skintones that gets used. In the image you linked, Last Exile has a wonderful and diverse character design that is definitely a few steps above what is standard these days (how Range Murata has been given so few shows to design for is beyond me), but the skintone of everyone in that picture could still be described as pale, white or slightly tanned. Not a knock against it, just is what it is.

        • i think i remember an African guy in kuroko something the basketball anime but even though he was in it and not whitewashed like this thinking back now i don’t think he was depicted dark enough.

          Maybe i’m wrong i’m trying to think back to anime depictions of minorities and i’m feeling like even when they are present they usually aren’t as dark as they should be is that just because it’s hard to do the right skintones?

  • In my humble opinion racism and racist events generally fall into two categories – the ignorant, uneducated, unworldly, unexposed type. And the bigoted, hate filled, my race is superior type. Having lived in Japan, all the racism I witness fell into the first category. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s certainly not as bad as the second category, which incidentally I feel is more prevalent in Australia.

    • I have never met a white supremacist in Australia and i have lived here over 30 years. Unless you mean like Pauline Hanson saying stop the boat people and whatever other bigoted crap she says im now realising that i probably just ignored them like i do whenever she opens her mouth….. well this was fun what a useless post :S

      • Never driven behind a ute with a “sorry we’re full” bumper sticker? Never seen the “reclaim australia” marches on the news? Never seen a white person throw bananas onto a footy field?

        • no i haven’t seen any of those things, i do remember a couple times people were racist to Eddy Betts and Adam Goodes was that the banana thing?

          I’m going to assume that a reclaim Australia march is not aboriginal people marching to reclaim Australia. sounds more like the moron shuffle against common sense to me =P

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