charmed by 'new heroine' Osaka after Grand Slam breakthrough
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[September 08, 2018]
By Malcolm Foster
TOKYO (Reuters) - Naomi Osaka is
hogging the headlines for all the right reasons in her native land
after she became the first Japanese player to reach a Grand Slam
singles final, with one major newspaper hailing her as "a new
heroine Japan can be proud of".
The 20-year-old, who faces idol and 23-times Grand Slam champion
Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final on Saturday, is also helping
break new ground in Japan due to her multiracial identity: the
daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother.
She's one of several young mixed-race athletes who are challenging
Japan's traditional self-image as a racially homogenous country,
including sprinter Asuka Cambridge and baseball player Yu Darvish.
Osaka was born in Japan but left when she was three years old and
raised in the United States. She holds both Japanese and American
citizenship, and is far more adept in English than she is in her
Yet many Japanese appear to have embraced the endearing Osaka,
charmed by her off-court genuineness as much as her on-court
"Her Japanese isn't that good, right? But the way she tries to speak
in Japanese is so cute," said Yukie Ohashi, a 41-year-old Tokyo
resident. "My impression of her is that she sticks to her beliefs
and is powerful."
The Asahi newspaper described how Osaka's unpretentious, sometimes
humorous responses in post-match interviews and news conferences
have won over spectators and journalists alike.
Sometimes critical of her own post-victory speeches, Osaka admitted
to being teased on social media for crying after her quarter-final
win, prompting her to keep a straight face after her semi-final
triumph over home hope Madison Keys.
Osaka also has a strong attachment to Japanese culture, describing
her visits to the country as like a "super-awesome extended vacation
that I don't want to leave", according to media reports.
"The combination of her strength and childlike innocence is her
charm," said the conservative-leaning Yomiuri, another major daily.
Tennis is not as big in Japan as baseball, soccer or sumo, but
Osaka's 6-2 6-4 semi-final win over Keys made the front pages of
major local newspapers on Thursday -- although it was dwarfed by
news of the earthquake that struck the northern island of Hokkaido
earlier that day.
While Japan is becoming more ethnically diverse -- one in 50 births
is to interracial couples -- there is still plenty of prejudice
against "haafu", or half-Japanese, including cases of bullying
against mixed-race children.
[to top of second column]
Naomi Osaka of Japan hits a forehand against Madison Keys of the
United States (not pictured) in a women's semi-final match on day
eleven of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean
King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY
When Ariana Miyamoto, the daughter of an African-American man and
Japanese woman, was selected to represent Japan in the 2015 Miss
Universe contest, the move was widely criticized on social media,
with some saying she did not look truly Japanese.
Public attitudes are slowly changing as Japanese society becomes
more integrated with the global economy, however, and the emergence
of more ethnically mixed celebrities, especially in sports, is
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Mashu Baker won a gold medal in judo and
sprinter Cambridge anchored the silver medal-winning 4x100 meters
"For sure, we will have more athletes like her who are half-Japanese
as athletes become more international," said Hiroshi Nakamura, a
65-year-old fan of Osaka, who works at a real estate asset
management firm and plays tennis regularly.
Osaka is probably the most prominent mixed-race Japanese female
athlete to enter the limelight and playing Williams, who is 16 years
her senior, in the U.S. Open final was a dream come true, she said.
The pair have met just once before, with Osaka stunning Williams 6-3
6-2 at the Miami Open in March.
The final will be played at 5:00 a.m. Japan time on Sunday and even
if she fails to pull off a stunning victory, the Asahi newspaper
believes Osaka's U.S. Open run could hail the beginning of a
generational shift in women's tennis.
"She's a new heroine that Japan can be proud of," the Yomiuri said.
(Reporting by Malcolm Foster; Editing by John O'Brien)
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