David Blecken
Jan 24, 2019

Nissin pulls Naomi Osaka campaign after ‘whitening’ outcry

Company denies deliberate action, and vows to be more attuned to diversity issues.

Naomi Osaka at the Australian open versus the now-pulled Nissin video. (Upper left image: David Gray / AFP)
Naomi Osaka at the Australian open versus the now-pulled Nissin video. (Upper left image: David Gray / AFP)

Instant-noodle purveyor Nissin has apologised and pulled a campaign that drew criticism for portraying Haitian-Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, whom the brand sponsors, with light skin and Caucasian features.

The cartoon image of Osaka featured in a campaign for its Cup Noodle ramen brand. Social media pundits suggested that Nissin had tried to make Osaka more appealing to a homogenous Japanese audience.

Nissin is reported to have denied that the characterisation, which drew criticism on social media, was a deliberate attempt to “whitewash” Osaka. The company vowed to be more attuned to “diversity issues”.

Despite representing Japan in her profession, Osaka is based in the US and does not speak Japanese fluently. This has led to somewhat awkward interaction with the Japanese media, which some have seen as endearing. Her style also spawned a comedic parody.

Major Japanese brands have been known to make the occasional racial and ethnic blunder. In 2014, ANA pulled a campaign depicting westerners as having bulbous noses after it faced a social-media backlash.

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