Osaka's Loss Draws Criticism, Questions in Japan

Nation's cultural diversity issues resurface after Olympics match
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2021 4:35 PM CDT
Osaka's Loss Draws Criticism, Questions in Japan
Naomi Osaka of Japan drops a point to Marketa Vondrousova on Tuesday in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Naomi Osaka's third-round loss at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday did more than defy her image as a local tennis star certain to win the gold medal. It shook Japan's notions of its racial and cultural identity, and many people let her know it, the New York Times reports. "Although she says she is Japanese, she cannot speak Japanese very much," a commenter posted on a Yahoo News article about the match. Thousands of users endorsed similar comments. Osaka, who is competing for Japan, was born there; her father is Haitian American and her mother is Japanese. She's been a popular presence in the country, endorsing products and covered closely by the media. On Friday, she lit the cauldron during the Games' opening ceremony, later expressing gratitude for the honor. Her selection reflects one vision of Japan as a diverse culture, though some of its people adhere to a narrower definition.

Even if they were born and raised in Japan, mixed-race residents—called "hafu"—often are not accepted as equal. "I think Japan is very hard on hafus," said a white Australian who said her sons, who have a Japanese father, dealt with the issue in school. Other mothers would attribute any behavioral issues to the fact that they're mixed race, she said. Osaka's support for racial justice and Black Lives Matter figured into other comments. "Her selection as the final torchbearer was wrong," one person posted. "BLM is not the theme. I don't think she was able to concentrate on the match, and she deserved her defeat." There was support for Osaka after her loss, too, with some commentors thanking her for her hard work. "She has her principles about her pride for Japan, and playing for Japan," a lawyer said, per the AP, "while also being proud of her diverse roots." (More Naomi Osaka stories.)

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