Australian Open semifinalist Naomi Osaka should be focusing on her charge to the No. 1 ranking – instead her Melbourne campaign has been dragged into controversy by a "whitewashed" cartoon advertisement.

Japanese company Nissin has now been forced to apologise for its advertising campaign which features caricatures of Japanese tennis superstars Kei Nishikori and Osaka.

The ad has come under fire for "whitewashing" the skin tones of both Nishikori and Osaka, who has publicly celebrated her gene pool mix of Haitian and Japanese ancestry.

Her dark skin tones are nowhere to be seen in the commercial – and her trademark hair style is also nowhere to be seen in the ad.

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The 90 second commercial has simply gone down like a led balloon.

Nissin, an instant noodle company based in Japan, has released a statement to international media to say that the cartoon is part of an advertising campaign launched in January called "Hungry to Win".

It features the artistic stylings of designer Takeshi Konomi, a veteran manga artist, who is best known for his cartoon "Prince of Tennis" series.

The company claims the depictions of Osaka and Nishikori are simply in-line with the artist's traditional stylings.

Their explanation was simply not good enough for some to swallow.

"I'd been anticipating Osaka's appearance since it isn't often that a high-profile woman of color is featured in a major Japanese ad campaign. So when I cued it up on YouTube I was truly disappointed to see that there was no woman of color to speak of in the commercial. Instead, I found a whitewashed representation of Osaka," Baye McNeil, ann author based in Japan wrote in a column for the The Japan Times.


"Come on, Nissin. Was this a business decision? Did you have concerns that your customers might be forced to uncomfortably ponder issues of race or ethnicity while slurping down a bowl of U.F.O. Yakisoba?

"Sure, anime fans aren't used to seeing women of colour in the genre so … a few shades lighter on the skin here … a debroadening of the nose there … the de-exoticization of her hair … and, voila! The perfectly palatable girl next door. Not for this fan, though. Osaka's de-blackening is as problematic to me as a Bobby Riggs tirade against female tennis players."

His column was titled: "Somebody lost their noodle making this new Nissin ad".

American commentator Darryl Wharton-Rigby said simply that Nissin "blew it".

Nissin spokesman, Daisuke Okabayashi, issued an apology when approached for comment by The New York Times.

"There is no intention of whitewashing," he said.

"We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future."

The growing furore didn't stop Osaka from cruising through to the semi-finals on Wednesday.

The 21-year-old World No. 4 will become the No. 1 player on the planet if she is able to take out the Australian Open crown.

Osaka was pushed to three sets in two of her matches in Melbourne, but it has still appeared like post-match interviews have given her more grief than her opponents.

She shut down her on-court interview with Channel 9 early on Wednesday after being asked to assess her potential semi-final match-ups with Karolina Pliskova or Serena Williams.

"I played them both and they're both very great players," she said.

"Sorry, I know it's going to be tough no matter who I play, but I'm just trying to go inside because it's a little bit hot right now.