Tokyo: Naomi Osaka’s halting Japanese, her manners – she bowed and apologised after beating Serena Williams in the US Open final – and her simple charm have swelled national pride in Japan and eclipsed many questions about her mixed-race parentage in a famously insular country.
Two days after becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam tennis title, Osaka is still filling the front pages of the country’s three major daily newspapers and leads the discussions on talk shows.
Japan’s largest newspaper, ‘Yomiuri’, called Osaka a ‘new heroine that Japan is proud of’ and characterised her appeal as ‘the contrast between her strength on court and her innocent character off court’. The paper called her an ‘Overnight Queen — Powerful and Stable’ on its front page. The ‘Asahi’ newspaper also called her the ‘New Queen’, picking up on her mix of ‘strength and gentleness’.
In an interview Monday from New York on Japan’s ‘TBS’ television, Osaka was asked what she wants to do now. She replied in Japanese: “Have curried rice topped with a pork cutlet.”
Then she slipped into English and said: “I am very honoured. I don’t know how to say that in Japanese.”
She gave some of the same answers in a similar interview with Japan’s ‘NTV’ television. “She is such a lovable character,” said Seiji Miyane, the ‘NTV’ talk show host.
She smiled through the media pressure, which several newspapers have called a Japanese trait. Her broken Japanese worked as an asset, apologising occasionally for getting the wrong word – or not knowing the Japanese word at all.
“She is not the type of person who asserts herself boldly, but she is shy and humble and that makes her look more like a Japanese,” Junko Okamoto, a communications specialist, wrote in the weekly magazine ‘Toyokeizai’.
Osaka’s 73-year-old grandfather, Tetsuo Osaka, surfaced in several interviews from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, where he heads a fishing cooperative company. He said he plans to meet his granddaughter when she plays next week in a tournament in Japan.
Champion Osaka ‘grateful’ for US Open chance
Osaka meanwhile tweeted she was ‘grateful’ for the chance to take on childhood hero Serena Williams for her first Grand Slam title. “So there’s been a lot going on but I just want to say, I was grateful to have the opportunity to play on that stage Saturday. Thank you,” tweeted the 20-year-old.