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Naomi Osaka is Changing Japan

By Sophia Mao

Naomi Osaka, the current world number two tennis player in the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association), is well recognized in the tennis and japanese community. No, it’s not just because she’s won 4 grand slams or beaten Serena Williams 3 times. The US-raised daughter of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father is influential for her support of issues that many athletes are too afraid to talk about.

When she was young, another japanese girl she was playing against didn’t know she was japanese, and called her “black girl.” Despite her name, the girl still said “I don’t think so” when her friend asked her if Osaka was supposed to be japanese. Today, she is representing Japan in the olympics. Osaka’s mother explained that Naomi has strong cultural ties to Japan and that she has always felt more Japanese.

However, she hasn’t completely disregarded the Haitian blood she shares. During the 2020 U.S. Open, which she had won, Osaka wore a different mask for each match she attended. Each mask displayed the name of a black American that died because of racist or police violence. “It is a subject that Japan, one of the least ethnically diverse nations on earth, still struggles with,” writes the author of the bbc news article.

Another issue among athletes that Osaka has been trying to spread awareness on is mental health.

Last month, she decided to drop out of the French Open because she didn’t want to talk to the media. She was willing to pay the $15,000 fine for refusing to speak to the press, but after the French Open decided to threaten her with suspension from the tournament, she dropped out. She also skipped Wimbledon, another grand slam held in London.

Despite backlash, she continued to release an essay regarding mental health. In her essay she stated that sports should change to be able to help athletes with mental health issues. She also thanked many people who supported her, naming Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, and the current world #1 male player Novak Djokovic.

So, how is she changing Japan? Hiroaki Wada, a reporter for a newspaper in Japan, said “looking back as a kid, 40 years ago, it was shameful if you or a relation had a mental health problem.”

Today, more people in Japan are open about their issues with mental health. There’s no doubt that Osaka has something to do with it.


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