Photo/IllutrationNaomi Osaka makes a speech during the awards ceremony for the Toray Pan Pacific Open Tennis Tournament on Sept. 23. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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Although U.S. Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka is the toast of Japan, some people in her birthplace are embarrassed at how frequently “Japan” and “Japanese” are being used by her supporters and in news reports.

Osaka, 20, was born in Japan to a Haiti-born father and a Japanese mother. Slogans such as “the first Japanese champion” and “let’s support Japan’s new big star” have flooded news media and social networking websites since she defeated American superstar Serena Williams in the finals of the U.S. Open on Sept. 9.

Naomi Iwazawa, a 23-year-old Waseda University student, said she is discomforted by how a festive mood revolves around the “first Japanese champion” description, although she believes the coverage is “happy news.”

Jun Soejima, a 34-year-old actor-cum-entertainer, said while he was not embarrassed by the first Japan champion description, he nevertheless felt uncomfortable on another front.

Soon after Osaka’s U.S. Open win, Soejima went to a bar and was saddened to hear a man saying, “Frankly speaking, a genuine Japanese would have been better if anybody were to become the first Japanese champion.”

He said the man used the word “100-percent Japanese” in explaining how he could not bring himself to be happy without any reservations.

Soejima said he believes many Japanese are probably thinking the same way.

Still, Osaka was feted as a hero on her return to Japan.

Soon after her breakthrough triumph, Osaka made it to the finals in the Toray Pan Pacific Open Tennis Tournament in Tokyo.

Although Osaka lost in the championship match on Sept. 23, she did not forget to smile during the awards ceremony, where she told spectators, “Thank you for coming to watch our match.”

Fans crowded the tournament venue day after day. A message board was covered with remarks of encouragement for Osaka, one of which described her as “Japan’s pride.”

“Her gestures and comments appear more Japanese than those of Japanese,” said a 47-year-old male office worker from Higashi-Yamato, western Tokyo, who attended the venue on Sept. 22. “I find her endearing.”

Iwazawa was born to a Japanese father and a Czech mother. She said her parents named her “Naomi,” which is a popular name in both Japan and the West. Naomi is the name of a female figure in the Book of Ruth of the Old Testament.

At the root of her discomfort is a gap with respect to what she is experiencing in her daily life.

Iwazawa has lived in Japan for most of her life since immediately after she was born, and she has Japanese citizenship. When she is overseas, she is perceived as being “Japanese,” partly because of her gestures and expressions, and she thinks of herself as such.

She was, however, once asked in Japan, “What country are you from?” When she replied, “I am Japanese,” she heard the denial, “Oh no, you can’t be.”

A real estate agent once refused to deal with her, saying, “Our business is for Japanese only.”

When she went to a restaurant with friends, a waitperson once asked, “What is she going to order?” without turning to her.

“It feels like I am always on the ‘outside,’ ” Iwazawa said. “There are multiple doors through which you come to be identified as being ‘Japanese.’ How many of those doors are opened for you depends on how you look, what language you speak and so on.”

Iwazawa added, “I want people to face up to others as individuals instead of grouping them by country.”

Soejima’s father is American, but he does not even know how his father looks. He grew up in Japan raised by his Japanese mother.

When he was in elementary school, he was shunned because of the color of his skin, and he asked himself if being different was something bad.

In junior high school, Soejima “ended up acquiring,” in his own words, a knack for replying with a quip, “Oh, I was in a tanning parlor a little too long.”

Sociologist Lawrence Yoshitaka Shimoji, 31, has authored a book titled “‘Konketsu’ to ‘Nihonjin’--Half, Double, Mix no Shakai-shi” (The ‘mixed-blood’ and the ‘Japanese’--Social history of those with half, double or mixed parentage).

Shimoji pointed out the concept of the “Japanese” has been delineated by defining “foreigners” as those who do not fall into that category.

“Mixed- or half-blooded people, whose presence poses ‘problems’ for drawing the boundary have been put onto either one of the sides,” Shimoji said. “That has made the presence of half-blooded people less visible, whereupon it has been assumed there is no discrimination or other problems. That simple dichotomy, however, is at odds with reality.”

The government’s Vital Statistics show that some 2 percent of all children born in Japan in 2017 had either one parent with non-Japanese citizenship.

“The diversity of the ‘Japanese’ is already a reality,” Shimoji said. “(The concept of) the ‘Japanese,’ which has been taken for granted and perceived as stationary, is perhaps being called into question again.”