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6 modern women redefining what it means to be Japanese

By Brooke Larson

Sometimes it seems like Japanese women and femmes share the exact same characteristics. This is, of course, a myth, but in the face of pervasive kawaii culture, the overwhelming social pressure to be thin, and the uniformity of idol groups like AKB48, it’s not hard to see how this damaging idea gets perpetuated. 

The “ideal Japanese woman” is relentlessly depicted as adorable, fashionable, organized, submissive, straight, soft-spoken (think lovable Japanese darling, Marie Kondo), and above all else, of pure Japanese descent. While there’s nothing wrong with this image, painting it as the definition for all Japanese women is.

Despite this, these six modern women are evolving on the work of the renowned women who helped shape Japan’s history by shaking up the stereotype and redefining what it means to be Japanese.

1. Naomi Osaka: The title-winning tennis star representing Japan

Flip on the TV and nine out of ten times you’ll see a commercial featuring professional tennis player Naomi Osaka. 

Representing Japan, Osaka has risen to worldwide stardom in recent years for her mad skills on the court. At just 22 years old, she’s the first Asian player to hold a top rank in the tennis singles category. In 2018, Osaka shocked the world when she defeated her idol Serena Williams in a controversial match.

Osaka was born in Osaka (of course) but moved to the US when she was three, so she holds dual citizenship. However, because she lacks the pale complexion typical of Asian women—her mother is Japanese and her father Haitian—Osaka has received both praise and hate from her native country. 

An animated ad created by Japanese noodle giant Nissin features a whitewashed version of Osaka. Despite Nissin apologizing and claiming they meant no harm, the ad caused quite the controversy. More recently, a Japanese comedic duo joked her skin “needed some bleach.” Naomi’s excellent Twitter response proves one can care about beauty without being superficial—or racist. 

It’s as if, in order for Osaka to be accepted into Japanese society, some people are trying to change her appearance to force her to fit in. Yet, despite the hate, Osaka has won four titles, continues to be a strong representative of Japan in the world of sports, and is still kicking ass both on the court and in life.

2. Rina Sawayama: The fashion-forward pop star giving a voice to queer Japanese women

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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Ariana Miyamoto is someone that many people should be proud of. She had it really difficult growing up. She chose to stop running and stand up for herself. She wanted to challenge the "you're not Japanese" "you are too dark to be Japanese or beautiful" mantra she has heard most of her life here. She succeeded and still continues to fight even now.

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Where's Priyanka Yoshikawa?

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I think Ariana and Priyanka would have much more interesting stories and experiences to share than Naomi.

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I think the reason she isn't mentioned here is because she's become somewhat of just another face. She hasn't been critical of anything since winning. Instead, she has gone on to do modeling and beauty commercials in Japan and she has recently been pushing whitening products.

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She has recently been pushing whitening products.

Both of Yoshikawa's cultures push skin whitening products! In both cultures, having dark skin is seen as bad. I'm glad that she wasn't added.

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A lot of men are afraid of these new Japanese women

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3 look Japanese and 3 not.

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Naomi Watanabe is not redefining anything. She is perpetuating the myth that wearing bright colours and shouting whilst being overweight is the same thing as being talented - which it simply is not.

Except on Japanese "variety" shows, every night, for at least 25 years to my certain knowledge.

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