I was born in Osaka in 1997 to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father. Japan has always been in my heart and soul.
My memories of Japan in those early days are hazy as we moved from Osaka to New York when I was 3 years old. However, I do hold some vivid ones, for example walking in the park with my mom, and eating nikuman (steamed meat buns) from 7-Eleven. In fact, we used to walk around Osaka's Utsubo Park, which turned out to be the venue where I won the tournament for the first time in Japan in 2019.
Sometimes life takes you full circle. I cherish those early memories so much and they shape who I am today.
When we returned to the U.S., it was actually tough for me in elementary school because I did not speak English -- only Japanese. The teachers and pupils couldn't communicate with me at all for a while, which was not easy as a young child. But soon I learned English and it's now my first language.
However, I enjoy watching a lot of TV and movies and reading manga in Japanese. I liked anything shojo (girly) -- "Sailor Moon," "Shugo Chara!," "Full Moon wo Sagashite," "Tokyo Mew Mew."
I actually sometimes speak Japanese with my sister, Mari, my physio Nana (physical trainer Natsuko Mogi) and my mom, but I'm apprehensive to speak in much detail in public. I feel like people analyze every word I say so I am cautious not to be misinterpreted or taken out of context. That's why in my press conferences I listen to the questions in Japanese (which I understand) but answer in English.
I love the food and so many of my favorite restaurants in the world are in Japan. My favorite things to eat are sushi, katsudon (pork cutlets on rice), chirashidon (sushi in a bowl) and yakiniku (barbecued meat). Mari and I also like to sneak out for karaoke -- though we are not especially good singers! We sing Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Anaconda.
As far as I can remember, our household was an eclectic mix of cultures and influences -- Japanese, Haitian and American. We thought it was normal -- it was our normal -- but on reflection, I guess it's kind of rare. For example, we would eat a lot of Japanese meals prepared by my mom and always with chopsticks. We had to take our shoes off at the door and we learned to bow rather than shake hands where appropriate.
Since I have spent a lot of time in Japan in my teens and early adult life, those memories are clearer than my early childhood. It's a bit more difficult to go out publicly in Japan than it used to be. So sometimes I disguise myself in a cap and wig. Fashion is a huge passion of mine, and so I love shopping in places like Harajuku and Shibuya. My own style is also heavily influenced by Japanese designers and fashion. I like to take risks when it comes to fashion and that is definitely inspired by Japan.
I give credit equally to all those cultures for shaping me into the person I am today. I credit my Japanese side for my discipline, good manners, cleanliness and sense of style. My mom's work ethic, working two jobs a day to support my tennis, has rubbed off on me too. My American side has allowed me to be more open-minded and progressive. And my Haitian side has given me the courage to push through when things get tough.
Japan is such an important part of my life and my makeup. I am proud of who I am and no one will be prouder than me when I compete for Japan in the Olympics later this year -- hopefully with your full support!
This is the first in a series of articles by Naomi Osaka on her personal reflections.