On August 27, Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka briefly suspended her participation in the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in the United States following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Osaka’s “new voice” against racism drew accolades and, predictably, criticism in Japan.
Jacob Blake’s shooting in Wisconsin on August 23, 2020, part of a historical pattern of violence against Black and BIPOC people by police in the United States, has provoked massive criticism and civil disobedience across the United States.
Numerous athletes and sports teams staged wildcat strikes to protest Blake’s shooting. In a tweet on August 27, Osaka stated she would withdraw from the Western & Southern Open tournament to “get a conversation started in a majority white sport” (tennis):
Following Osaka’s announcment, tournament organizers announced a pause in play on Thursday, August 27, with play to resume on Friday, August 28. Osaka then announced she would rejoin the tournament, returning to the tennis court wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
In a statement to multiple news outlets, Osaka said:
As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. […] I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent. However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) and USTA (United States Tennis Association), I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.
Naomi Osaka, widely considered the top women’s tennis player in the world, is a Japanese citizen with both Japanese and Haitian heritage, who grew up in the United States speaking Japanese and Creole. In order to conform with Japanese citizenship requirements, which do not permit dual-nationality, and represent Japan in the 2018 Olympics, Osaka relinquished American citizenship.
Osaka is a popular figure in Japan, thanks to her winning record on the tennis courts, and her playful online persona. However, Osaka has endured racist online attacks, sometimes for seemingly innocuous tweets, at other times for supporting and raising awareness about #BlackLivesMatter in Japan.
One popular Twitter user, who describes herself as a “Japanese-American Hapa” (a person who is partially of Asian or Pacific Islander descent), in a tweet shared tens of thousands of times rounded up the various criticisms made against Osaka in Japan:
The Japanese-language comments about Naomi Osaka’s decision to boycott her tennis matches are absolutely terrible:
“I guess she isn’t really Japanese, after all.”
“Think of the hardship her sponsors are facing.”
“Boycotting the matches doesn’t do anything.”
“The guy who got shot by police deserved it.”
Yamaoka Tetsuhide, a prominent ultra-conservative commentator, chided Osaka in English, going so far as to use the diminutive and condescending honorific “chan” when addressing the global tennis superstar:
However, many more people in Japan showed their support of Osaka, including Fukuyama Kazuhito, a prominent lawyer and mayoral candidate in Kyoto.
Ms. Naomi Osaka:
“Before I’m an athlete I am a black woman. And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”
Probably a tough choice. I support Naomi Osaka.
Huffington Post: “Naomi Osaka announces boycott of match to protest police shooting black man”
Ishigaki Noriko, a municipal councilor from Sendai and member of a prominent opposition party in Japan:
Thanks to Naomi Osaka’s protest and activism, the tournament was postponed by tournament organizers as a “statement against racism and social injustice.” Osaka is not contradicting herself when she agreed to resume participation, since the tournament responded (to Osaka’s message).
I stand in solidarity with the protest against all structural racism.
NHK article: “Naomi Osaka resumes participation in tennis tournament.”
When Osaka resumed play on Friday, August 28, she was forced to quickly withdraw once again, due to a pulled hamstring.