Nissin apologises for 'whitewashing' tennis player Naomi Osaka in anime ad

Cup noodle company Nissin has apologised after allegedly whitewashing its brand ambassador, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka (pictured left), in an ad released alongside the Australian Open.

Osaka, who is half-Haitian, was portrayed in the ad as an anime character with pale skin, Caucasian facial features and wavy brown hair. A quick check by Marketing found that while Nissin has removed the ad, copies of it are still circulating on the internet.

Nissin said that it had "no intention" of whitewashing Osaka, adding that it was "not sensitive enough" and will "pay more attention" to diversity issues moving forward, reported The Guardian. The company named Osaka its brand ambassador in 2016.

In a statement to Marketing, Nissin's spokesperson said the company operates under the respect of fundamental human rights, ensuring that gender, race, age, nationality, or any other values are taken into consideration in accordance with all its business practices, including its advertisement activities.

The spokesperson added that the campaign was a collaborative one with “The New Prince of Tennis” anime series. "The characters were designed with the intention to replicate the world of the anime series as much as possible, and through Osaka’s management company, IMG Japan, we confirmed with Osaka and her team utilising the original drawings for the campaign," the spokesperson said.

From there, Nissin worked together with relevant members and created its original anime settings. Therefore, it had no intention in relevance with the issues in question. However, at this time, the spokesperson said Nissin was notified from IMG USA (IMG Japan’s parent company) that “the campaign content was not shared between IMG Japan and IMG USA”, and therefore, requested to “delete the campaign anime”.

The current situation creating social controversy is not what we had intended, and therefore have decided to stop the campaign. Furthermore, we cannot affect Osaka’s performance as an athlete. Going forward, we will continue to hold respect for diversity, and will carefully consider campaign contents," the spokesperson added.

Creator of "The New Prince of Tennis" anime Takeshi Konomi also clarified on Twitter that while he did provide Nissin with illustrations of Osaka and Japanese tennis players Kei Nishikori and Yosuke Watanuki, he was not involved in the latest Nissin ad.

Naomi Osaka made headlines last year after the 2018 US Open final after beating American tennis player Serena Williams to win the championship. The final also saw Williams lash out at chair umpire Carlos Ramos for falsely accusing her of cheating.

Since the grand slam win, Osaka has been appointed by Nissan and Shiseido as their brand ambassador. As part of the deal with Nissan, Osaka will be appearing in global promotions and advertising for the Japanese car brand. Meanwhile, Osaka will be the new face of Shiseido’s beauty brands, ANESSA and bareMinerals.