Cartoon accused of racist depiction of Australian Open semi-finalist Naomi Osaka.

A Japanese noodle company has responded to complaints it “whitewashed” tennis superstars Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori in its latest ad.

Both Nishikori and Osaka, who is proud of her Haitian and Japanese heritage, appear as unrecognisable cartoon figures with lightened skin tones in the 90-second commercial.

After complaints from many sources, including a columnist in the Japanese Times, the company, Nissin, has apologised and also taken the clip down from YouTube.

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The cartoons do not resemble the tennis stars. Image: YouTube

"There is no intention of whitewashing," Nissin spokesman Daisuke Okabayashi told the New York Times.

"We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future."

The company attempted to explain that manga artist Takeshi Konomi worked on its 'Hungry to Win' campaign, and that the two Japanese tennis stars were drawn in his style.

So far that justification hasn't been received well.

In his column in the Japan Times, writer Baye McNeil gave context to the controversy, explaining that it is rare for women of colour like Osaka to appear in Japanese advertising campaigns.

"I’d been anticipating Osaka’s appearance since it isn’t often that a high-profile woman of colour is featured in a major Japanese ad campaign," he wrote.


"So when I cued it up on YouTube I was truly disappointed to see that there was no woman of colour to speak of in the commercial.

"Instead, I found a whitewashed representation of Osaka," he wrote.

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Both have been playing at the Australian Open. Image: Getty

McNeil pondered whether the change had been a "business decision" to give anime fans what they're used to - anglicised depictions of women.

"Did you have concerns that your customers might be forced to uncomfortably ponder issues of race or ethnicity while slurping down a bowl of U.F.O. Yakisoba?"

This isn't the first time someone depicting Osaka in a cartoon has been accused of turning her into a Caucasian woman.

While most of the controversy surrounding Mark Knight's September 2018 cartoon focused on his depiction of Serena Williams as a Jim Crow-style figure, or at least an angry, black woman, others noticed that Osaka, her opponent, had been turned into a blonde-haired, fair-skinned figure.

Knight's cartoon was drawn as a commentary on Williams' controversial dispute with the umpire during the US Open women's final, who docked points from her in the match she eventually lost.

None of this controversy has put Osaka of her game, fortunately. Yesterday she made it through to the semi-finals, in which today she'll take on Czech Karolina Pliskova.

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