On Sept. 22, as tennis great Naomi Osaka was delighting fans with her victory at the Pan Pacific Open in Osaka, a two-woman comedy act called A Masso was performing at an event in which they made racialized jokes about the athlete's skin color. The duo's jokes suggested Osaka's naturally brown skin needed "bleaching" and was the result of being "too sunburned."
In the wake of some apparently unexpected criticism of their remarks, the comedians, Aiko Kano and Ai Murakami, and their management company, Watanabe Entertainment, issued apologies two days later for making "inappropriate, hurtful remarks." Good for them. And on Sept. 29, Osaka tweeted a response to the joke that deftly plugged one of her sponsors: "Little did they know, with Shiseido anessa perfect uv sunscreen I never get sunburned," she wrote. Game, set, match!
When I first got wind of this story, I actually felt optimistic about the outcome. That's because, unlike earlier in the year when noodle company Nissin found itself in hot water for "whitewashing" Osaka in an animated ad campaign — a problem that had to be brought to the company's attention by non-Japanese people (yours truly among them) — this time around the initial outcry against A Masso's set came from Japanese participants at the event where the performance took place. To me, that felt like progress. I'm a firm believer that the only way this country will solve its diversity and discrimination issues is if the Japanese people themselves — not the minority non-Japanese population — come to understand how these kinds of things can be detrimental to societal progress and harmful to Japan's image abroad.