Osaka In Olympic Spotlight, But Biracial Japanese Face Struggles

July 24, 2021
Sports
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Emili Omuro was thrilled by Naomi Osaka’s star turn at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, but the biracial teenager says Japan must do more to accept people of mixed heritage.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father Haitian, climbed a replica Mount Fuji on Friday to light the cauldron in the ceremony’s crowning moment.

And she wasn’t the only athlete of dual heritage representing the host.

Japanese-Beninese NBA basketball star Rui Hachimura was one of the flagbearers leading Japan’s team into the Olympic Stadium.

Osaka and Hachimura are adored in Japan, and boast lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals.

But many young people of black and Japanese heritage still struggle in an often conservative and largely homogenous society.

“There were many times when it was hard,” 14-year-old Omuro, born to a Japanese mother and a black American father, told AFP of her childhood in a town north of Tokyo.

“People would whisper behind my back and make fun of me at extra-curricular clubs, or when I was walking down the street.”

Looking to draw attention to the bullying and discrimination faced by some biracial Japanese, Omuro applied and was chosen to be a torchbearer in the nationwide Olympic flame relay before the Games.

She also hoped to highlight the country’s increasing but often overlooked racial diversity.

“Some people say, ‘for mixed people, bullying is inevitable.’ And other people don’t know there is discrimination, or pretend not to see it,” she said.

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Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka holds the Olympic Torch before lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP)
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An overview shows Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka standing after lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Antonin THUILLIER / AFP)

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