Osaka's US Open win re-opens cultural discussion in Japan

Naomi Osaka's victory in the U.S. Open has added her to a growing list of athletes, Nobel Prize winners, and beauty pageant contestants who have raised the issue of what it means to be Japanese.

The daughter of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Osaka was born in Japan but raised in the United States. But she is being lauded in Japan as the first from the country to win a Grand Slam singles tennis title, which has upstaged most questions about her mixed background.

Some children from mixed race families in Japan often get bullied and demeaned, called "hafu" — from the English word "half" — and are chided that they aren't fully Japanese.

Japan has embraced Osaka, and she — despite barely speaking Japanese — talks fondly of her affection for her adopted country. But her victory also challenges public attitudes about identity in a homogeneous culture that is being pushed to change.

"It is hard to say for sure if the extremely narrow conception, unconsciously or consciously, held by many Japanese of being Japanese, is being loosened," Naoko Hashimoto, who researches national identify at the University of Sussex in England, wrote in an email to Associated Press.

"In my opinion, it still appears that Japanese are generally defined as those who are born from a Japanese father and a Japanese mother, who speak perfect Japanese and 'act like Japanese'."

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