Besides breaking glass ceilings on the tennis court, three-time grand slam champion, Naomi Osaka, is also leading a cultural and representation revolution back in her birth country of Japan.
In a very rare move, influential and popular Japanese manga magazine Nakayoshi announced they are set to debut a new manga character inspired by the 23-year-old for their December 28 issue. Named “Unrivalled Naomi Tenkaichi”, the character, who is dark-skinned, was developed with the help of the tennis star’s sister, Mari Osaka, BBC reported.
“Growing up reading manga/watching anime was something that bonded me and my sister immensely so this is really exciting for both of us,” Osaka said about the project on Twitter on Saturday.
In an interview with BBC, a visiting professor of culture, media and society at Waseda University in Tokyo, Roland Kelts, described how monumental the series would be with regards to a cultural shift in manga comics in the Asian country.
“To feature a female character who is half-Haitian and half-Japanese, especially one so accomplished and universally admired, is a major leap forward in manga cultural awareness and representation,” Kelts said. The academic also said biracial characters are seldom featured in manga, adding that on occasions where such characters are developed, they are usually half-White and half-Japanese.
Born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka, who is currently the world’s highest-paid female athlete, moved to the United States at the age of three with her family. She became the youngest number one player in 2010 after beating Petra Kivitova at the Australian Open in January.
And though Osaka has chalked up immeasurable success since then and has risen to become one of Japan’s notable sports and celebrity exports, she has still been a target of racial abuse in the Asian country. During a live event in 2019, a comedy group known as ‘A Masso’, decided to poke fun at her by saying she was “too sunburned” and “needed some bleach.”
Following backlash for their comments, the two female comedians moved to apologize for the “inappropriate, hurtful remarks” though they did not mention Osaka in the apology.
Albeit biracial, Osaka was also featured in a cartoon as a character with pale skin by Japanese noodle company Nissin in a commercial in January 2019. The company later took it down and issued an apology after it was accused of whitewashing Osaka’s looks.