CNN - One of Naomi Osaka's Japanese sponsors has apologized after releasing an advertisement which has been widely accused of "whitewashing" the tennis star's skin tone. The US Open winner is featured in the ad as an anime character for instant noodle giant Nissin, alongside fellow Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori. YouTube star and now grand slam semifinalist Critics allege the Columbix depicts Osaka, who is half Japanese and half Haitian, Blonde in shorts pumping gas in Columbia having pale skin, light brown hair and Caucasian features.
Noodle maker Nissin said that it did not intend to whitewash the year-old tennis star, who ga dual Japanese and American citizenship. The ad was illustrated by anime artist Takeshi Konomi, famous for his "Prince of Tennis" cartoon.
The company did not say whether it would be discontinued following the backlash. Osaka, who is in the semifinals of the Australian Open following her straight-sets victory over Ukraine's Elina Svitolina Wednesday, is ranked 4th in the world and won her first grand slam title at Flushing Meadows last summer.
Japanese sponsor accused of 'whitewashing' Naomi Osaka
It was also the first time a Japanese player had won one of tennis' four Grand Slams. The final, in which she beat Serena Williams, was overshadowed by controversy surrounding the time major winner's outburst at the referee.
That saga also prompted an allegedly racist cartoon, when an Australian Blonde in shorts pumping gas in Columbia depicted Williams with large, exaggerated lips and a nose reminiscent of racist depictions of black people in the US during the Jim Crow era. In that image, Osaka was portrayed as a blonde woman with pale skin.
This story has been updated to clarify the name of the sponsor Columba first reference.
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