As they celebrated Naomi Osaka’s victory in the final of the US Open in New York City’s Flushing Meadows on Saturday, Tokyoites were eager to embrace their heroines’ stand against racial injustice.
Osaka, who won her third Grand Slam title with a victory over Victoria Azarenka, has used her platform to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, wearing a mask bearing the name of a different African American before each of her seven matches in the championship.
She had donned masks bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
On Saturday, she walked onto the court wearing a mask with the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014.
Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, has become the face of a changing Japan coming to terms with challenges to its image as a racially homogenous society.
Her efforts on and off the court in New York City were yesterday welcomed by Tokyoites.
“I jumped for joy [at her win],” said Kazuyoshi Hosoya, who was looking to buy an edition of a newspaper celebrating Osaka’s victory. “I know she is protesting and I have heard on TV that she was doing her best to use all the seven face masks [by reaching the final].”
“I think this is amazing that she actually accomplished using all the seven masks,” Hosoya said.
Osaka’s strident views on social media have made her an icon for many young Japanese.
“I am very happy that Naomi, who is an influential person, said ‘Black Lives Matter’ in a public place,” 16-year-old Mari Maeda said. “I am happy that her message was received not only in the US, but also the world, including Japan.”
A report in Japanese newspaper Mainichi on Friday cited unnamed sources at one of her sponsors as criticizing her BLM stance, saying they would prefer her to concentrate on tennis.
With her US Open win, Osaka cannot be accused of letting her activism become a distraction and going by the comments of those in Tokyo, the sponsor might have misjudged public sentiment.
“Including myself, I think there are many people who are not interested in a topic like racism, but [Osaka] has created an opportunity to open the topic,” said Masateru Tanimoto, an office worker. “I think it is a good thing that the issue has become a topic of discussion.”
Additional reporting by AFP
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