Naomi Osaka is the top female tennis player in the world right now, and she just grabbed another victory in the Australian Open. Born in and representing Japan, she is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father who met at university in New York.
It is true that nations tend to place an exaggerated importance on athletics, and the reason for this is because it is a form of national pride and often times is regardless of the sport in question. However, in Osaka’s case there has been considerable “controversy” because of her Haitian background, with some advertisers going so far as to “whitewash” the color of her skin.
Osaka’s elevated international presence representing Japan in a favorable way yet the reaction of the Japanese to her, which seems to be one of silence and even covert shame, has raised to discussion again the state of “gaijin,” or “foreigners,” in Japan, who often times say they believe they are ostracized by law and social contract from society, and how Japan needs to address this for the future as in spite of Japan’s image as a “homogenous” nation, it is very diverse and becoming more diverse due to migration, an increase in foreign labor, intermarriage, and the refusal of the Japanese people to reproduce:
This week, Naomi Osaka became the face of Japan to the world. By capturing the 2019 Australian Open, she has raced to No. 1 in the tennis world rankings, becoming the first Asian to ever achieve that honor.
But even as this exceptionally talented biracial, multinational and (as she phrased it) obviously tan woman was displaying why she’s a champion, one of her sponsors, the Japanese food brand Nissin, released an anime-style advertisement portraying Osaka as essentially white. The company would spend most of the end of the Australian Open apologizing for the backlash over its whitewashed depiction of the athlete.
In her response to the controversy, Osaka said, “I don’t think they did it on purpose to be ‘whitewashing’ or anything.” But I disagree. In my 15 years in Japan, I have seen the same racialized carelessness when it comes to people who are not traditionally Japanese on many occasions.
Nissin might not have intended to offend, but the company’s executives likely believed that a commercial campaign targeting Japanese consumers would be well-received if it featured a light-skinned talent — and that they could get away with replacing Osaka’s Haitian features with more typical Japanese anime characteristics.
Unfortunately, Japan has a track record of squandering opportunities to embrace the country’s growing diversity. As with Osaka, the Japanese public has often discounted the Japanese-ness of mixed-race people — but hypocritically claims their successes when they rise on the global stage.
Osaka is not the first brown woman who has risen to prominence in a country that unabashedly worships “bihaku” (skin whitening). In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto, the daughter of a Japanese woman and a black American man, was crowned Miss Universe Japan. The following year, Priyanka Yoshikawa, another brown-skinned woman of Japanese and Indian descent, was crowned Miss World Japan. Both women faced unreasonable criticism on social media for not appearing “Japanese enough.” Courageously, they both used their platforms to speak out about their identities and concerns. With their wins, even those of us with biracial, multicultural families and friends living in Japan began to feel more optimistic that our voices were finally being heard.
Yet time and time again, our optimism was eroded by disturbing instances of narrow-mindedness and insular thinking. For example, blackface continues to be a recurring issue. In 2015, the groups Rats & Star and Momoiro Clover Z decided to team up and perform on national television in blackface. Though there was a successful petition that preempted its airing, it failed to make inroads into public discourse.
But, when another disturbing blackface incident occurred in 2017, something changed. Instead of the criticism being ignored, there was finally public discourse on blackface on television, in print media and on the Internet. The Tokyo Broadcasting System even invited me to teach the staff and executives about the history of blackface in Japan and to counsel them on what measures the company could take to increase diversity and representation in the media. These were positive steps forward.
Now, after Osaka’s win and the response to the Nissin ad, I’m hopeful that there will be an even stronger response. The consensus, even on Japanese social media, is that Nissin deserves at least some of the criticism it has received. Osaka herself gently rebuked the company when she said, “I definitely think that, next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it.” Her rise and dignified response to this incident has elevated the issue and catalyzed an important conversation.
Japan is at a critical juncture in its history. It must decide how the country will face the future. Will it move forward and acknowledge with respect the vast array of races, ethnicities and cultures that call this country home? Or will it move backward and continue to maintain the myth that it is homogeneous?
The reality is that Japan has an expanding biracial population. With more than 20,000 international marriages per year and an estimated 36,000 children with at least one non-Japanese parent born per year, the country is changing — and it’s time to recognize and embrace that.
The days of hiding behind notions of homogeneity are numbered. Japan is a multicultural country, and its diversity — exemplified by women such as Osaka, Miyamoto and Yoshikawa — is rising to the top. The rapidly approaching 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which will spotlight other nontraditional Japanese athletes, in addition to Osaka herself, will present numerous opportunities for Japan to show which direction it has decided to take. And the world will have front-row seats. (source, source)
Japanese nationalism is well-known, and it mirrors in many respects the Germanic nationalist tendencies in Europe. Just as the German sense of nationalism gave way to the massacres of the Slavic peoples and others they deemed “undesirable,” so has Japanese nationalism given way to the justification for exterminating Chinese people and other groups in Asia.
As I have stated before repeatedly, pornography is a evil thing but because it is common in some form to human societies throughout history, its particular manifestation in a society articulates some of the most deeply held and believed but unspoken values of a society. Japan is a particularly interesting case because she has a notorious “sex industry” and produces a significant amount of pornography that is some of the worst forms which exist. Most infamously this includes “hentai,” which is “cartoon porn” that shows sexual cartoon depictions of children, rape, bestiality, and murder. However, there is much more in Japan, so much that what is considered “extreme” and in some cases illegal in the US is not only publicly available, but one could even call it an accepted way of life in Japan. It is not an exaggeration to regard her as having possibly the worst display of pagan hedonism in a “westernized” nation.
Yet in spite of the abundance of sexual perversions in Japan, there are some curious contradictions, most pointedly that while the above-mentioned filth is available for the “Japanese,” the ability of foreigners to access it is greatly limited. The clearest example of this is with the adult industry, where not only are just foreigners, but “non-Japanese” people are barred from access to adult “entertainment” business establishments, and where pornography sold to foreigners and “non-Japanese” must blot out any private parts on the actors. It is illegal to sell uncensored pornography to any non-Japanese in Japan as it is also illegal to export non-censored pornography from Japan.
Why would such a strange law exist? Sex in Japan is infamous and perverse- why is it OK for the Japanese to engage in shameless hedonism of the worst kinds with each other, but a completely different standard applies to “non-Japanese”? The only answer for it must be a sense of innate racial superiority, as the distinguishing factors are based specifically on the possession of Japanese ethnicity or not. It is not a problem if two Japanese engage in degrading acts of any kind, because they are still superior to “gaijin” since they are Japanese and “gaijin” are not, and as such the “gaijin” cannot partake of the same activities which “Japanese” can based strictly on race.
Returning to the issue of Naomi Osaka, this explains why the Japanese want to hide her skin color and why they would seem ashamed that she is representing them on the world level, even though she has done nothing but posit a favorable image for her. The Japanese would rather hide somebody from public accolade who is part Japanese but does not possess the specific “image” they want to portray strictly on the basis of race because they value maintaining their superficial image more than the actual contributions of the members of their society no matter how good they may be. She may be half-Japanese, but because she is “racially impure,” many would rather that she simply did not even exist in the eye of the public than to have realized the accomplishments which she has made.
This attitude is not going away either, and is being propelled by the rise of Japanese nationalism, which is also driving Japan’s return to war as it historically has done.
All men are made in the image and likeness of God. All have their varying strengths and weaknesses, and all are sons of Noah through Ham, Shem, and Japheth, equal in dignity and equally beholden to the standards of right and wrong established by God. While it is good to have one’s own marks for distinguishing oneself and to be happy with one’s person, place of birth, residence, or family lineage, one’s greatness does not come from any of these, but from one’s obedience to God. This example was set by the King of kings Himself, who chose to be born among the poor and the animals and to die the death of a cursed man so to redeem the human race from her sins. It is a lesson from the Almighty to His creation, and as this was so, surely it will be the call of nationalism, racism, and the divisive, cannibalistic tribalism that is too often through history stoked or invoked to justify war, violence, and death that will be the rallying banner of the antichrist and those who would follow in his way.