Japan’s Diverse Olympic Stars Reflect a Country That’s Changing (Slowly)

Japan’s Diverse Olympic Stars Reflect a Country That’s Changing (Slowly)

Japan’s Diverse Olympic Stars Reflect a Country That’s Changing (Slowly)

Japan’s Diverse Olympic Stars Reflect a Country That’s Changing (Slowly)

But Tokyo itself remains remarkably monochromatic. Only about 4 percent of residents were born outside Japan, according to the city government — about twice the national figure. (By contrast, more than 35 percent of London and New York residents were born abroad.)

Marie Nakagawa, a Sengalese-Japanese former model, said she felt like an “alien” growing up in Japan. Even today, she regularly endures catcalls from men who say she is a ringer for Ms. Osaka, whose racial justice advocacy has forced the country to confront an issue that many here think does not apply to them.

“I hear experts say all the time that things have changed since Naomi Osaka, but the bullies are still the same,” Ms. Nakagawa said. “They have not been re-educated.”

In 2019, as Ms. Osaka was winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open, Nissin depicted her with pale skin and brown hair in a marketing cartoon, prompting accusations of whitewashing.

“It’s obvious I’m tan,” Ms. Osaka responded. Nissin apologized.

Takeshi Fujiwara, a sprinter who specializes in the 400 meters, grew up in El Salvador, where his Japanese name raised eyebrows. His mother is from there, and his father is Japanese. Even after Mr. Fujiwara competed in the Athens Olympics for El Salvador, the whispers about his nationality continued.

In 2013, he switched his allegiance to Japan and moved to his father’s homeland. The welcome was not immediate, he said, even if people commented favorably on his “macho macho” muscles.

“When I came to Japan, I thought, ‘Hey, I’m here in my country.’ They would say, ‘Hey, where are you from?’” Mr. Fujiwara said. “It has gotten better, but we’re still a long way to getting to a place where multiracial Japanese are seen as normal.”




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