long time
national team
defender Nakazawa
Old school players include Striker Masashi Nakayama, who scored Japan’s first World Cup goal, in 1998 and Kunishige Kamamoto, the star at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was who finished as the tournament’s top scorer. Kamamoto is Japan’s all time international goal scorer with 73 goals in 75 international matches.

Midlfielder Shinji Ono was voted Asian player of the year in 2002. He played for Feyenoord in the Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where he regularly scored and set up goals and helped lead the team to the UEFA Cup championship. Although he didn’t score in the World Cup in 2002 he assisted on some and generally played well. He was the captain of the Japanese team that made it to the finals of the Under-20 World Cup. A few months after that he suffered a bad knew injury when he was tackled from behind in a World Cup preliminary against the Philippines. It took him two years to fully recover. Ono was plagued by injuries. He returned to Japan in 2006 and played only a peripheral role with the Urawa Reds. He began playing with the German first division club Vfl Bochum in 2008.

Junichi Inamoto scored Japan’s only goal in the 2002 World Cup victory over Russia and had another goal in the game against Belgium. He played with Arsenal for a year in the British Premier League before moving on to Fulham in the same league. Inamoto scored a hat trick for Fulham in 2002. Inamoto also played with West Brom and Cardiff in Britain, Galatasary in Turkey, Eintracht Frankfurt in the German League and Rennes in the French League Inamoto played with Gamba Osaka before leaving for Europe and played for Kawasaki Frontale when he returned to Japan in 2010.

Allessandro “Alex” Santos is the only non-Japanese-looking member of the national team. He is black and has dreadlocks and came to Japan from Brazil in 1994 as an exchange student at a soccer-oriented high school in western Japan. He became a naturalized citizen shortly before the World Cup in 2002 so he could play on the Japanese national team.

Kazuyoshi Miura

Kazuyoshi “Kazu” Miura is arguably the most popular player in Japan. At the age of 15 he dropped out of school and spent his own money to move to Brazil and live in a dormitory there to develop his skills. He scored 13 goals in the qualifying rounds for the 1994 World Cup. Later he married a celebrity, appeared regularly on television doing clothing ads for a company called Dandy, and played in Italy, Croatia and Australia. He was still playing in the J-League ing 2007 at the age of 40 and still doing ads for fashion companies. He scored 55 international goals and earned 89 caps but never got to play in a World Cup. He was of the last people cut in from the 1998 World Cup team.

“King Kazu” was still playing at age 43 in 2010, with the J-2 team FC Yokohama. With that team and at that age he became the oldest Japanese player to score a goal for a division two club. In 2011 at the age of 44 Kazu was still playing with FC Yokohama. Masashi “Gon” Nakayama was still playing at the age of 43 in 2011 with the J-2 team Consadole.

Kazuyoshi Miura, better known as Kazu in Japan, was the 1993 Asian Footballer of the Year and striker on Japan’s national team. In 2012, at the age of 45, he was the oldest J-League player. That year he made his debut in the World Cup — in the five-a-side version of futsal. The Yokohama FC striker played on Japan’s 14-strong squad at the Futsal World Cup in Thailand November 2012.

In March 2012, Kazuyoshi Miura became the oldest player to appear in the J-League with a 13-minute cameo in Yokohama FC's 2-0 defeat by Ventforet Kofu in the second division. Miura, at 45 years and 28 days, came off the bench in the 77 minute to play. .

Hidetoshi Nakata

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Nakata ad poster
The most highly-regarded soccer player in Japan for many years was Hidetoshi Nakata, a mid-fielder and former math whiz who turned down entrance to Japan's most prestigious universities to play soccer professionally. He was a key player on the national team and was a star player in the Italian league, playing for the several teams there.

Nakata was named Asian player of the year in 1997 and 1998. At the 2000 Olympics, Nakata missed a penalty kick in a quarterfinal match with the United States, preventing Japan from making the medal rounds. At the World Cup in 2002 he scored a goal against Tunisia and a watched a 25-meter shot against Russia skid off the crossbar.

Nakata was a highly recruited star at Nirasaki High School in Yamanashi prefecture. He dyed his orange and said he liked the Sex Pistols. At the height of his popularity in Italy, an ice cream was named after him.

Nakata was the world 6th highest paid soccer player in 2002. He earned over $10 million. He did advertisements for Canon and was so popular in Japan that Japanese travel companies offered “Nakata tours” in Italy.

Nakata’s Club Teams

Nakata played on the J-League Bellmare Hiratsuka from 1995 to 1998. After moving to Italy he played five teams in Series A, Italy’s top league: for Perugia from 1998 to 2000; for AS Roma from 2000 to 2001; for AS Parma from 2001 to 2004; Bologna in 2004; Fiorentina from 2004 to 2005. In he England he played with the Bolton Wanders 2005-06.

Nakata began playing with Perugia in 1998. He was standout player on basically a pretty bad team. In his Series A debut he scored two goals against Juventus and had a several spectacular goals, set up passes and assists. Nakata had 10 goals at Perguria in 1998-99, a record for a Japanese player in Europe.

In 2000 Nakata was transferred to Roma, where he played a role as their super sub midfielder and contributed to Roma's capturing the Series A championship. He didn’t like being a substitute however and was transferred for fee of $26 million in 2001 to Parma, where he was given an important role but was a disappointment but still managed help Parma win an Italian League Cup in 2001-02 and earned around $3.5 million a year in salary and endorsements.

Nakata and the Japanese National Team

Nakata was regarded as the leader of the Japanese national team in the late 1990s and early 2000s and deserves as much credit as anyone for turning a team that never made it to a World Cup around in to one wthat made to the second round in the World Cp in 2002. He earned 77 international caps and scored 11 goals in international matches as a player for Japan’s national team.

Nakata was impressive at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and was instrumental in Japan finally qualifying for the World Cup in 1998. He set up the three goals in 3-2 win over Iran that allowed Japan to qualify. He scored a goal at the 2002 Wolrd Cup and help set up others.

Nakata retired after the World Cup in 2006. After his last game — Japan World Cup 4-1 loss to Brazil — he openly wept and lay on the field for 10 minutes before walking off and waving a final goodbye as a player to Japanese fans.

After retiring Nakata devoted himself to charity work and social causes. A total of 63,143 people came out to see Nakata and a team made up of Japanese stars play a team made of world all-stars coached by Jose Mourinho with money going to Myanmar cyclone victims and Take Action!, a 2008 initiative that Nakata hopes will inspire young people to take positive action to change the world.

In February 2010 a pair of cleats worn by Nakata in a 2006 World Cup game were auctioned off for $1.5 million to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. In March 2011 a pair of boots and two jerseys worn by Nakata were auctioned off for $300,000 in Taiwan to raise money for Japan earthquake relief.

Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura is arguably Japan’s best active player. He was left off the 2002 World Cup team even though he was clearly one of the best players in Japan at that time because he was regarded as too much of an individualist. He scored the first goal for Japan in the 2006 World Cup

Nakamura is a left-footed midfielder. Dubbed the “Beckham of the Far East,” he is known for his pinpoint passes and accurate free kicks. He played three years with Series A Reggina in Italy but came into his own playing for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.

Nakamura played with Yokohama F Marinos in the J-League beginning in 1997. As of August 2009, Nakamura had played with the national team 87 times and scored 23 international goals.

Nakamura at Celtic

Nakamura helped Celtic win the Scottish Premier League title in 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. He scored a hat trick in October 2006. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was scoring a goal on a curling 25-meter free kick in the 81st minute, that gave Celtic a 1-0 victory over Manchester United and allowed them to advance to second round of the Champions League in 2007.

Nakamura was named the best player in Scotland in 2006-2007 hours after leading Celtic to the Scottish Premier League title with a game-winning, injury-time free kick. After he set up a late goal and scored a goal himself with 10 minutes to tie a game that looked like Celtic would lose, Celtic manger Gordo Strachan said, “He is a genius...I don’t known what more he can do apart from carrying the players on his shoulders and playing at the same time...He’s just a fantastic player.”

Nakamura also helped Celtic make millions from merchandise sales in Japan. After Nakamura scored the goal against Manchester United, Celtic shares soared 12.4 percent.

Celtic won three Scottish Premier League titles in the four years that Nakamura was there. Nakamura was named Scottish Player of the Year in 2007. With Nakamura at the helm in 2006-2007, Celtic won the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Cup double, and made it to the last 16 of the Champions League. Celtic lost to AC Milan, which went on to win the championship, 1-0 in extra time. Nakamura had two stunning free kicks in the league in the 3-2 defeat and 1-0 victory against Manchester United. In 2007-2008, Celtic with Nakamura made it to the last 16 of the Champions League and lost to AC Milan again.

Nakamura had injury problems in 2007-2008 and missed many games and was brought in late as a substitute. In October 2007, he was sidelined with a knee injury and scored a goal in his return in January 2008. In the summer of 2008 there was some talk that Nakamura might be transferred to the Italian club Bologna but Celtic dismissed the reports as “erroneous” and insisted Nakamura was “staying put.” In 2008 Nakamura was busy going back and forth between Scotland and Japan fulfilling his duties with Celtic and the Japanese national team

Nakamura scored a hat trick in 7-0 Celtic wins driver St. Mirren in March 2009 but had a relatively lackluster season and had injury problems in 2008-2009. He hurt his left knee and played much the season with a groin injury plus suffered from some fatigue, playing in Scotland on the weekends and flying to Asia for midweek World Cup qualifiers, . Celtic didn;t do so good either. It finished in last place in it Champion League groups and was second to the Rangers in the Scottish League.

Nakamura’s contract with Celtic expires at end of 2009. He considered a return from his old club Yokohama F Marinos but ended up signing a two year deal with Espanyol, paying about $1.65 million a year. Espanol which finished 10th in the Spanish League in 2008-2009.
Hundreds of fans showed up to greet him when he made an appearance for a physical. Thousands showed up for team introductions. Nakamura played an unexceptional half season or so with Espanyol in the Spanish League. He returned to his old J-league team, the Marinos, in March 2010. He was on the 2010 World Cup but didn’t play much in South Africa. After the World Cup he said his international career was over. He earned about $1.55 million in 2010 playing for Yokohama.

Shinji Kagawa

In November 2012, Kagawa was named the Asian Football Confederation's inaugural international player of the year. At the AFC Annual Awards where Japan hauled in nine awards, Kagawa was chosen over his Japan teammate Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan and Fulham's Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. The international player of the year was hatched by the AFC to recognize players who are good enough to be nominated for the regular Asian player of the year award, but cannot attend the ceremony itself — which is a prerequisite to win the award. Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini accepted on Kagawa's behalf. "I believe Kagawa will be very happy to receive this award in Manchester," Daini said. [Source: Kyodo, December 1, 2012]

Kagawa has been a key player in Japan's national team, scoring goals in World Cup qualifiers. Kagawa represented Japan at the 2008 Olympics, but missed out on a place in the World Cup squad two years later.

Shinji Kagawa won a starting position with Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and scored goals in early games in the 2010-2011 season. By early January he had scored eight goals in 17 games and was one of the top scorers in the Bundisliga and was one of the main reasons Dortmund was in first place. Unfortunately he broke a metatarsal bone in his foot in the Asian Cup semifinals against South Korea in the Asian Cup in Qatar in January 2011 and missed much of the rest of the season. He said the injury was self-inflicted and occurred when he put too much weight on his foot. He had the same injury two years earlier with his Japanese team Cerezo Osaka. Dortmund ended up winning the 2010-2011 Bundisliga champion. Kagawa had recovered enough from the injury to play in the final game. Kagawa played for Borussia Dortmund in Germany in 2011. He scored in a 3-0 Japan victory in a friendly against South Korea in August 2011.

Shinji Kagawa Goes to Manchester United

In June 2012, Kagawa was picked to play for one of the world’s most famous soccer teams, Manchester United in England’s Premier League. The BBC reported: “Manchester United agreed to a deal reported to be worth an initial $18.6 million to sign Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa from German side Borussia Dortmund. It is thought the fee could reach $26.3 million depending on success and appearances. The amount of money paid by Manchester United to Borussia Dortmund. Is thought to be $18.4 million. [Source: BBC, June 5, 2012]

His arrival is likely to excite United's vast Asian fanbase, while the future of South Korea midfielder Park Ji-Sung is uncertain. United have claimed their fanbase had almost doubled in the past five years to reach 659 million "followers" globally. Asia accounts for 325 million of those.

Sir Alex Ferguson was present when Kagawa scored in Dortmund's 5-2 win over Bayern Munich in the German Cup final, with the player able to play wide or in a more central role. Despite Kagawa's obvious appeal in Asia, United commercial director Richard Arnold has previously denied any suggestion that players are signed to boost profits. He said: "Our popularity in certain countries or regions may depend, at least in part, on fielding certain players from those countries or regions.

'Shinji is an exciting young midfielder with great skill, vision and a good eye for goal,' said Ferguson. 'I am delighted he has chosen to come to United. I believe he will make an impact upon the team very quickly as he is suited to United's style of play. "We don't sign players to sell shirts. We are reliant on 25 players and they are all massive stars. We have 25 George Clooneys. "When you look at the success we've seen in that part of the world [Asia], it isn't down to any one player or person."For Manchester United it's more than any one player. It was more than George Best, it was more than Bryan Robson, it was more than David Beckham, it was more than Cantona, than Park."

"No doubt, it will truly be a big challenge for me, and I realise that mistakes will not be tolerated," the attacking midfielder told reporters in Japan, after returning from a World Cup qualifier in Australia. "I have to work harder than ever. I have to take this step with that sort of resolve," the 23-year-old said. [Source: AFP, June 12, 2012]

Kagawa is the first Japanese national to play on Manchester United. Kagawa revealed that Ferguson told him the transfer would be a huge challenge but wanted him to feel he could put his trust in his new manager. "I was grateful to hear that from such a great person," Kagawa said. Other big name clubs including Chelsea, AC Milan and Arsenal had been linked with Kagawa ahead of the signing. In the end, he said: "Manchester (United) was the club that I most wanted to go to."

Kagawa at Manchester United

In May 2012, Ferguson took time out from title shootout to watch Kagawa shine in German Cup final. The Daily Mail reported: “Kagawa certainly did himself no harm, scoring the opener as Dortmund cruised to victory over Bayern Munich to complete the German domestic double. The player has opted not to sign a new contract with his current club and has said he would make a decision about his future after the game. Ferguson's presence - less than 24 hours before his own side will try to defy overwhelming odds and retain their Premier League crown - does seem significant. [Source: Daily Mail, May 12, 2012]

The Red Devils chief has been under pressure to bolster his midfield for some considerable time now and missed out on Samir Nasri last summer when he was outbid by Manchester City. Kagawa would appear to be the perfect solution, having proved his worth during two outstanding seasons in the Bundesliga. His age also fits the United profile of buying young players who are still to reach their peak. After the game, Kagawa said: 'For sure Manchester is a great club, but what the future holds I do not know yet.'

In October 2012, Goal.com reported: “Shinji Kagawa started and scored as Manchester United lost 2-1 at home to Tottenham. It was the first time in 23 years that United lost to Spurs at Old Trafford. Kagawa was largely anonymous in the first half as United seemed oddly uninterested and fell behind 2-0. However, in the second half Kagawa was instrumental as United dominated play and had Spurs on the ropes. He scored an excellent goal, taking a pass from van Persie and turning deftly away from Kyle Walker before finishing with his left. He was substituted in the 79th minute for Danny Welbeck as United searched for an equalizer. [Source: Goal.com, October 5, 2012]

Not long after scoring that goal Kagawa injured his knee. In November 2012, Reuters reported: “Kagawa has been ruled out for another four weeks after making slow progress following a knee injury. Kagawa was expected to be sidelined for up to a month after picking up the problem in the October 23 victory over Braga in the Champions League but Ferguson said the 23-year-old's recovery had been slower than expected. "He's not started any outside work and we're looking at another four weeks away, which is disappointing," he told reporters"Originally we thought three or four weeks - now it looks like seven or eight weeks," Ferguson added on United's website. [Source: Reuters, November 19, 2012]

Kagawa in Germany

Kagawa cost Dortmund just 350,000 euros when he joined from J-League side Cerezo Osaka in 2010. He has scored 21 goals in 49 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, helping them win back-to-back league titles. As for total Dortmund total appearances he played in 56 games and scored 24 goals.

Kagawa scored 13 goals in 31 Bundesliga games as Dortmund won a league and cup double in the 2011-12 season. He scored 10 goals in 24 appearances during his first term at Dortmund, earning a place in the Bundesliga's 2010-11 team of the season despite a spell on the sidelines with a broken metatarsal. The midfielder took a more prominent playmaking role, after Mario Gotze suffered a hip injury, in the second half of the following campaign as he helped his side to back-to-back league titles.

Describing one game in which Kanagawa played, ESP reported: “Borussia Dortmund extended their unbeaten run to a Bundesliga record 20 games with a 1-0 win over Werder Bremen. Shinji Kagawa scored the only goal of the game in the eighth minute, although Dortmund should have won more comfortably given the number of chances they created. Dortmund took the lead when they broke from a corner with Kevin Grosskreutz lifting the ball to the far post to Ilkay Gundogan, who selflessly and intelligently lifted it back across goal for Kagawa to nod in from close range. [Source: ESPN, March 17, 2012]

Bremen's reaction was a shot from 25 yards by Mehmet Ekici, but apart from that effort, it was a one-sided encounter at the Westfalenstadion. The only surprise was that Dortmund failed to add to their opening goal in the remaining 82 minutes. Kagawa himself could have had a hat-trick. He was denied a second by Sebastian Mielitz's fingertips as the Bremen goalkeeper pushed the Japan international's 20-yard shot onto the post. Kagawa then missed the best chance of the second half in the 54th minute when he pounced on a loose ball in the six-yard box, but somehow shot wide of the post when it seemed easier to hit the target. Kagawa had another effort deflected wide as Dortmund dominated.

In February 2012, Gyo Araiwa and Dan Orlowitz wrote on Goal.com “In Germany, things cannot currently go wrong for Shinji Kagawa who had another match to remember when Dortmund visited Nurnberg for the Bundesliga's game. The 22-year-old was a decisive factor in the champions' 2-0 win as he not only provided the assist for the second goal by Lucas Barrios, but kept his side from falling behind clearing the ball off the line in the 11th minute. [Source: Gyo Araiwa & Dan Orlowitz, February 6, 2012]

In what started out as a difficult game against a spirited Nurnberg side, Kagawa created numerous chances throughout the 90 minutes. Having nearly scored with a backheel in the 36th minute himself, his pass to Sebastian Kehl could have led to another goal, but the play was controversially ruled offside. The result propels Dortmund to the top of the table as no other team in the top four was able to win.

In March 2012, Goal.com reported: “Kagawa, “who was on international duty for Japan's 1-0 home loss to Uzbekistan, returned to Germany to score a 77th-minute winner against Mainz. But despite the winner, Kagawa told reporters he wasn't in great condition after his midweek journey and recent injury. “Personally it was very hard for me to switch over mentally in preparing for this match. I had various problems with my condition, so in a way I went into this game not fully prepared mentally,” he told reporters after the game. [Source: Christian Rizzitelli, Goal.com, March 4, 2011]

The 22-year-old said Dortmund's lack of usual quality and the "lukewarm atmosphere" made the match more difficult. “I had several misses myself, and in general we lacked our usual quality. The atmosphere was a bit lukewarm, especially when they pushed,” he added. “In that way it was a tough match, but to win under those conditions is really important." Kagawa also said he felt happy after scoring the decisive goal of the match. “If I say it went as I thought it would sounds strange, but I just met the ball well," he said. "The shot went a little high so I was worried that it wouldn't go in, but it did and of course I'm happy about that”.

Kagawa Says First Champions League Goal Is 'No Big Deal'

In November 2011, Dan Orlowitz wrote on Goal.com: Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa was disappointed following his team's 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the Champions League despite achieving a new career milestone. The Japanese attacking midfielder was a bright spot for his squad, salvaging some pride in stoppage time with his first goal in Europe's most elite club competition. [Source: Dan Orlowitz, Goal.com, November 24, 2011]

"I didn't think they'd get the better of us but perhaps we started out on the wrong foot," Kagawa told reporters after the match. He blamed his team's poor pace on injuries to Mario Gotze and Sven Bender, both of whom were substituted before the half-hour mark. "Because we had those injuries, to some extent we couldn't get a rhythm started. "I thought that if I turned well I wouldn't have the ball taken. I didn't think there was that much pressure, but when I had possession everyone's reactions off the ball seemed a bit slow," the 22-year-old said. "When Arsenal's players came close to me they were able to exert their strength, [Alex] Song in particular."

When asked about his goal, he found little difference between the 2-0 result that could have been and the 2-1 result that was. "If you just look at the result zero and one are different, but I don't know, I'm not exactly jumping for joy about [the goal]."

Naohiro Takahara

Naohiro Takahara is a striker who was regarded as Japan’s best goal scorer in the early 2000s. He missed the 2002 World Cup because he developed economy class syndrome (deep vein thrombosis), a pity because he was the J-League’s top scorer with 26 goals in 27 games that year and Japan might have even done better than it did with a few more goals. On flights around the time of 2006 World Cup he was flew in first class.

Takahara played with the Boca Juniors in Argentina for a year and play for two teams in the German the Bundesliga for five years. His stint in Argentina was disappointing. In 2002, Takahara joined Hamburg SV in the Bundesliga from his J-League team, Jubilo Iwata, where he was the J-League’s top scorer with 26 goals in 27 appearances. At Hamburg Takahara played well his first couple years and then slacked off and missed many easy goal opportunities.

Takahara transferred to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2006. He seem reborn at Frankfurt, scoring . He had 11 goals by the end of 2006, breaking a record for a Japanese player in Europe (Nakata had 10 goals at Perguria in 1998-99) . He scored twice in a UEFA Cup match and scored a hat trick in a Bundesliga game, one of three Japanese players to get a hat trick in European competition. .

Takahara injured his knee in September 2007. Before that he made four league appearances for Frankfurt, all as a substitute, and didn’t score. In 2008, Takahara returned to Japan to play with the Urawa Reds with a contact worth ¥189 million a year, making him the highest paid player in Japan.

Takahara was the highest paid Japanese player in 2010. He earned about $1.80 million playing for Suwon in the Korean League. After that stint he returned to Japan and played fro Shimizu S-Pulse.

Gamba’s Yasuhito Endo, Japan’s Most-Capped Player

In the October 2012 game against Brazil in Wroclaw, Poland, Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo became the most capped player in Japan national team history with his 123rd appearance. The 32-year-old Endo had tied former captain and defender Masami Ihara's record by playing against France a few weeks earlier. "My target is 200 [games]," the Gamba Osaka player said with a grin after his club's recent win over Urawa Reds. "But that's impossible so 100 and...I don't know, just lots. [Source: Sean Carroll, Daily Yomiuri, October 12, 2012]

Endo was named Asian player of the Year in 2009. Sean Carroll wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “It started with a substitute appearance against Argentina in Saitama nearly a decade ago. His first appearance came under Zico just after the high of the Japan and South Korea cohosted World Cup in 2002, even though he struggled to establish himself as a regular starter under the Brazilian.

His position on the fringes reached its lowest point at the 2006 World Cup when he was called into the squad but failed to make it off the bench in Germany. Despite not enjoying the happiest of times under Zico, Endo had no hesitation when asked about his best memory as a Japan player. "My debut against Argentina," he replied in a flash. "We lost but they had very good players," he added of the Argentinean side that boasted such talents as Javier Zanetti, Juan Sebastien Veron and Hernan Crespo.

"Also, the [2010] World Cup in South Africa. In Germany I couldn't play so I have good memories; it was a good tournament with good games." As well as starting every game for Takeshi Okada at those finals Endo was able to fully lay the disappointment from the previous tournament to rest when he scored with a trademark free-kick in the 3-1 victory over Denmark. That competition is seen as something of a watershed moment for Japanese soccer, being the first time the country made it to the knockout stages of an overseas World Cup finals.

Sanfreece’s Hisato Sato Named J-Leagues 2012 MVP

Sanfreece’s Hisato Sato was named J.League MVP after leading Sanfrecce to its first title and scoring a J-League high 22 goals. Sean Carroll wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: "A super contribution," was how Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu described Hisato Sato's season, and they were queuing up at Monday night's J.League Awards to pay tribute to 2012's outstanding performer. "It was a day for Sato," former teammate Tomoaki Makino said of the striker. "He's popular and he thinks for the team. He puts the team before himself. He plays with that attitude and the things he says also reflect that. I really respect that about him." [Source: Daily Yomiuri, December 5, 2012]

True to form, Sato himself--who was named player of the year as well as receiving the top goalscorer gong, individual fair play award and being selected in the Best Eleven--refused to bathe in the limelight. "I'm just a representative," he said. "The MVP is usually chosen from the club that wins the league, so really it was due to everyone's efforts that I was able to get this award. I want to share the prize money amongst everyone.

"It wasn't just me. I want to enjoy this moment with everyone. It's fantastic. "I don't really like it when I'm given prizes in this way because it makes it seem as if the triumph was all down to me. But really the award for top-goalscorer was the result of everyone in the team." Four teammates joined Sato as selections on the Best Eleven: goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, defender Hiroki Mizumoto and midfielders Toshihiro Aoyama and Yojiro Takahagi.

Kashiwa Reysol's Leandro Domingues J-League’s 2011 Player of the Year

Ben Somerford wrote on Goal.com: Newly-crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol walked away with the lion's share of honours at the J-League awards in Yokohama. Kashiwa's Brazilian midfielder Leandro Domingues took home the big award of the night after being crowned the competition's Most Valuable Player. Among the other honours taken home by Reysol was Nelsinho Baptista winning best manager, while defender Hiroki Sakai won best young player. [Source: Ben Somerford, Goal.com. December 5, 2011]

Four Kashiwa players Naoki Kondo, Hiroki Sakai, Jorge Wagner and Leandro Domingues were also named in the 2011 J-League team of the year.

Awards list: 1) MVP: Leandro (Kashiwa Reysol); 2) Golden Boot: Joshua Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus); 3) Best Young Player: Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa Reysol); 4) Manager of the Year: Nelsinho (Kashiwa Reysol); 5) J2 Most Exciting Player: Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo)

Best XI: GK - Seigo Narasaki (Nagoya); DF - Naoya Kondo (Kashiwa), Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya); MF - Jorge Wagner (Kashiwa), Leandro Domingues (Kashiwa), Jungo Fujimoto (Nagoya), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Cerezo Osaka); FW - Mike Havenaar (Kofu), Joshua Kennedy (Nagoya)

Yuto Nagatomo

The 2010 World Cup team defender Yuto Nagatomo got a job with the Italian Series A club Cesena, which had only advanced to Italy’s top division in 2010. He played well when Cessna upset Italian heavyweight A.C. Milan. In Japan, Nagatomo played for FC Tokyo.

In 2011 Nagatomo was recruited to play for Inter Milan, the defending champions of Europe, after Japan’s national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni recommended him to the Inter coach Leonardo. He scored his first goal for the team in March and played for Inter Milan in a Champions League quarterfinal. He also scored on the last day of the season. The Inter fans really liked Nagatomo and the relentless way he played, which more than made up for his small size. For a while fans were fascinated by Japanese pickled plums, which Nagatomo said were an indispensable part of his diet.

The Yomiuri Shimbun described him as “small but speedy and full of stamina.” He is currently an important member of Serie A giants Inter Milan, and unshakable from his defensive position on the national team.” He has come a long way in a short time. Four years before the 2010 World Cup “Nagatomo was a second-string member of the soccer team at Meiji University, often attending games as a spectator, beating a drum to fire up the regular first-team members. At first glance, his story could be that of a "male Cinderella." However, in reality, Nagatomo earned his place on such a prestigious team as Inter Milan through great effort and an unyielding spirit. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 15, 2011]

Born in Ehime Prefecture on Sept. 12, 1986. Nagatomo started playing soccer as a primary school student . After failing to be selected for Ehime FC, a despairing Nagatomo began hanging out at amusement arcades and did not practice soccer enthusiastically. But his passion for the game was reinvigorated after he met with Hiroshi Inoue, the coach of his middle school soccer club. Nagatomo then went on to Higashi-Fukuoka High School in Fukuoka Prefecture. He then advanced to Meiji University, where he changed his position from midfield to defense. As a senior player at Meiji, Nagatomo signed a professional contract with J.League outfit FC Tokyo. A move overseas to Italian Serie A side Cesena ensued, where he did enough to capture the attention of Inter Milan, which signed him on loan from Cesena in February of this year. Nagatomo completed a permanent move to Inter Milan on

Nagatomo dislocated his right shoulder playing in a friendly with Inter Milan in July 2011. He was back playing in September.

Nagatomo is known for racing down the field from his defensive position and attacking and having a hand in goals. In December 2011, he scored goals in tow successive games. AFP reported: “Inter Milan's Japanese defender Yuto Nagatomo, who has scored twice in the last two Serie A games, said he felt in a trance when he hit the target. "It was like I was in a trance, I knew where the pass from Ricky Alvarez was going to end up," said Nagatomo of the header which gave Inter a 1-0 win over Genoa and pushed his side into seventh place in the table. Nagatomo had also scored in the 2-0 weekend win over Fiorentina. It was the 25-year-old's fourth goal for Inter since joining the club in January 2012 and what's more it was a rare header for the former Cesena and FC Tokyo player, who stands at just five feet, seven inches tall. [Source: AFP, December 16, 2011]

The Japanese international said he is relishing his opportunities to shine for Inter after the club's difficult start to the season. "I suffered a right shoulder injury at the end of July," he told Gazzetta dello Sport as he explained his slow start to the campaign. He also had problems with the tactics of former coach Giampiero Gasperini who was sacked after just five matches. "And when things started to improve, I injured my calf."

Away from the pitch, Nagatomo said he likes to link-up with close friend Takayuki Morimoto who plays for Novara. "We often meet up and watch Japanese films," he said.

Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda is a midfielder who is on Japan’s national team and played several seasons with the Dutch team VVV Venlo. VVV Venlo won its division and Honda was named MVP and captain. Several top European teams are said to have been interested in him, including Liverpool.

In December 2009, joined the Champions League contender CSKA Moscow on a four-year contract. He was the first Japanese national team player to platy in Russia’s Premier League. His Dutch club VVV Venlo received a $12.9 million transfer fee. He earned about $1.25 million in 2010.

Honda can fire long range free kicks with no spin. He was a star in the 2010 World Cup (See 2011 World Cup) Some though that Honda thought a little bit too much about himself after the World Cup. He began sporting sunglasses in airports and at press conferences. His teammates called him Johnny Depp. Even before the tournament he had reputation for being something of a prima donna.

Honda was the first Japanese player to appear in a Champions League quarterfinal and for a couple years was the only one. Now three Japanese players have got that far and one played in a semifinal.

In March 2010, Honda scored a goal on a free kick for CSKA Moscow against Sevilla to advance his team into the Champion League quarterfinals. He told AFP, “The first goal in the Champion League is a realization of my schoolboy dream. When I started playing I was watching TV and dreaming that I will also score one day. I’m happy to fulfill it in just my second match.” On the goal which came from a shot straight at the goalie, Honda said, “I didn’t expect to get the goal; I thought the keeper would get it, but the ball was a bit wet and maybe it surprised him...Perhaps I got a bit lucky.

At CSKA Moscow Honda was is used as a defensive midfielder and doesn’t get a chance to attack or score very often. In his Russian League debut Honda scored an injury time winner. After the World Cup he didn’t score a goal until mid October 2010 when he scored with CSKA Moscow against Terek Grozny. He scored again in November but didn’t scored after that until May when he struck twice in the first half ina 3-0 victory over Kryliya Sovetov.

Honda scored goals in two successive matched for CSKA Moscow in August 2011.

In October 2012, Honda scored one goal and set up another in CSKA Moscow's 2-0 victory over Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League on Sunday. Honda set up Ahmed Musa for CSKA's first in the 15th minute before doubling the lead himself in the 52nd minute with his fifth strike of the season. Moscow are on 24 points from 11 games, two points off the pace of Anji Makhachkala. Honda scored twice in September 2012 in a 2-0 victory over Alain Vladikavkaz [Source: House of Japan, October 9, 2012]

Japanese Soccer Players in Europe

Midlfielder Daisuke Matsui has played in the French League 1 with the teams Le Mans and St. Etienne. He occasionally scored goals, including one that defeated six-time French champion Lyon 1-0 in January 2008 and advanced LeMans to the semifinal of the French League Cup. He played with Kyoto Purple Sanga in the J-League before going to Le Mans n 2004, where he scored 15 goals in 119 appearances and helped the club to win promotion to the first division, In 2008 he joined St. Etienne’s, a 10 time French champion.

Yoshito Okubo is a striker on the national team, with five goals in 33 matched between 2003 and 2008, He played with Real Mallorca from January 2005 to July 2005 and scored five goals in 39 La Liga appearance but was dogged by injuries. In Japan he plays with Visage Kobe in the J League and has had 64 goals in 149 J League matches. In 2009 he joined the Bundesliga team Wolfsburg.

Akihiro Ienaga played for Real Mallorca in the Spanish League in 2011. He scored his first goal in April and followed with another a few weeks later, The latter came off a header Ienaga scored after coming off the bench in the 67th minute. Ienaga played for Gamba and Cerezo in Osaka. He was 24 when he signed the deal to play with Real Mallorca.

The 2010 World Cup team goalkeeper Eji Kawashima played the 2010 season with Belgian club Lierse SK. He played with Kawasaki Frontale in Japan.

2010 World Cup team members Daisuke Matsui and Yuki Abe played respectively for FC Tom Tomsk in the Russian Premier League and English championship club Leicester City. In 2010-2011 three Japanese players played in the Russian League: Honda, Abe and Seichiro Maki. Matsuo played for years with Le Mans before playing at Saint-Etiennne and Grenoble in the French League. In June 2011, Matsui married actress Rosa Kato.

Takayuki Moritomo has had some success playing for Catana, a Series A club in Italy. He has scored several goals and played well enough to earn a spot on the national team. Moritomo made his professional debut with Tokyo Verdi when he was 15. The 2009-2010 season was his forth in Italy. In January 2008, he scored a goal that lifted his team to a 2-1 victory against Udinese and advanced Catania to the semifinal n the Italian Cup. In 2004, Morimoto became the youngest scorer in the J-League when he scored with Tokyo Verdy two days before his 16th birthday. Morimoto scored two goals for Japan in a friendly against Guatemala in September 2010, giving him three goals in eight games with the national team. He was on the national team that went to the World Cup in 2010 but didn’t play. He missed the Asian Cap in January because of a knee surgery. In April 2011, Morimoto said he wanted to leave Catania because of lack of playing time and the dismal performance of the team. He started only three games and scored one goal in the 2010-2011 season,

Japanese striker Ryo Miyaichi began playing forward for the Dutch team Feyenoord at the age of 18 in the 2011. He scored his first goal in his second game in February. In a 6-1 victory in April he scored one goal and set up two others. In December 2010, the English Premier club Arsenal signed Miyaichi. He had trained with the team in the summer.

In August 2011, Ryo Miyaichi finally got a British visa, allowing him to jooin Arsenal. The 18 year old was signed by Arsenal in January 2011 but spent the rest of the season on loan to the Dutch club Feyenoord because he couldn’t get the visa. Miyachi made his debut in September and was given high marks for his play.

Japanese midfielder Daigo Kobayashi played with The Norwegian first division team Stabak.

Japanese Players in Italy in 2011-2012 included Yuto Nagatomo (Inter) and Takayuki Morimoto (Novara).

Japanese Players in England in 2011-2012 included: Tadanari Lee (Southampton) and Ryo Miyaichi (Bolton). Both were often on the bench.

Japanese Players in belium and the Netherlands in 2011-2012 included: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse in Belgium); Maya Yoshida (VVV in the Netherlands); and Yoshiaki Takagi (Utrecht in the Netherlands).

Japanese Soccer Players in Germany

Japanese striker Yohito Okubo and midfielder Makoto Hasabe played on the Wolfsburg that won the Bundesliga title for the first time in 2009. Hasabe played for Wolfsburg in Germany in 2011. He scored a goal in August. In 2011, 19-year-old striker Takashi Usami joined Bayern Munich on loan from Gamba Osaka.

The 2010 World Cup team defender Atsuto Uchida plays for the German club Schalke 04. Uchida’s team, the Kashima Antlers, was given a $1. 75 million transfer fee. Uchida signed a three-year contract in 2010 that promised him a salary of $2.4 million a year, a record for a Japanese player. In 2011, Uchida made history by becoming the first Japanese to play in a Champions League semifinal when Shalke 04 beat Inter Milan 5-2 in the quarterfinal. He played in the semifinal in which Shalke was overhelmed by Manchester United. Shalke finished a disappointing 14th in the Bundesliga in 2010-2011 but won the German Cup.

Shinji Okazaki played with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga in 2010-2011. He scored a couple of nice goals at the end of the season. Other teams such as Spain’s Real Mallorca, and England’s Birmingham City also showed interest in him.

In 2011, Osaka Gamba striker Takashu Usami was sent to Bayern Munich on a loan. The same year 21-year-old striker Yuki Otsu joined Borussia Monchengladback in the German Bundesliga. Otsu played for the Kashiwa Antlers in the J. League and was a member of Japan’s Under-22 national team.

Japanese Players in Germany in 2012

Japanese Players in Germany in 2011-2012 included: Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart); Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart); Atsuto Uchida (Schalke); Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg); Yuki Otsu (Borussia Monchengladbach); Takashi Usami (Bayern Munich); Kisho Yano (SC Freiburg); Takashi Inui (Bochum)

Takashi Inui scored his third goal for 2nd division German team Bochum in November 2011. He helped his team by winning a free kick which led to Bochum's opening goal in the 19th minute, but was wasteful on numerous other occasions in the narrow 2-1 home win against struggling Hansa Rostock.

In October 2012, Goal.com reported: “Takashi Inui was at it again as Eintracht kept up their remarkable start to the season, beating SC Freiburg 2-1 at home. While he was kept off the scoresheet for a change, notably being denied a one-on-one opportunity by Oliver Baumann, he caused Freiburg’s right side all sorts of problems. He also had a goal chalked off for offside. He was taken off in the 85th for defender Stefan Celozzi as Eintracht looked to secure the win. [Source: Goal.com, October 5, 2012]

Japanese teen striker Takashi Usami scored his first goal at Bayern Munich in October 2011.

In November 2012, House of Japan reported: “Japan defender Atsuto Uchida scored his first goal for Schalke since his 2010 move from Kashima Antlers, in a 3-2 defeat away to Takashi Usami's Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. Schalke equalized for the second time on 82 minutes when Uchida struck from close range after Hoffenheim goalkeeper Tim Wiese could only push Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's back-heel attempt into his path. "We had got into a good rhythm so it is a real shame (about the result)," said Uchida. It was my first goal, although it would have been nicer if the goal had been a bit prettier." "We had plenty of chances and we could have made things easier for ourselves if we had taken them," he said. [Source: House of Japan, November 5, 2012]

In November 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Shinji Okazaki scored twice and set up Gotoku Sakai's first goal for Vfb Stuttgart as the German club routed Steaua Bucharest 5-1 to keep its hopes alive of advancing to the knockout stage of the Europa League. Okazaki, who scored a late winner for Japan in a World Cup qualifier in Oman on Nov. 14, scored in the 31st and 55th minutes as Stuttgart solidified its hold on second place in Group E. Okazaki, who has been plagued by injuries and seen his chances to start limited, had only one previous goal this season, in a German Cup match. Prior to his first goal, Okazaki sent a cross from the left side to Sakai, who half-volleyed it into the net for the midfielder's first goal since moving on loan to the Bundesliga club from Albirex Niigata this season. [Source: Jiji-Daily Yomiuri, November 24, 2012]

Bayern to Open Japan Academy

In March 2012, the German soccer club Bayern Munich said it would open an academy in Japan. Kyodo reported: “Based in the city of Fukuyama, the school will enroll 320 children ranging from three to 15 years of age, with fees ranging from 270 to 900 euros per term. The four-time European champions are one of the more popular German clubs in Japan, having won the 2001 Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo in addition to a pre-season tour against J.League clubs in 2005. [Source: March 29, 2012]

However, Bayern’s popularity has waned recently; Japanese loanee Takashi Usami has failed to break through to the top team at the same time that stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, and Atsuto Uchida have made waves with their Bundesliga clubs. With even more Japanese players expected to head to Europe after the 2012 London Olympics, the school represents a prime opportunity for the current Champions League contenders to expand their reach into one of Asia’s deepest talent pools.

Other J-League Soccer Players

Mitsuo Ogasawara, midfielder and captain with the Kashima Antlers, was named J. League Player of the year in 2009. He scored three goals and appeared in 32 of 34 games with Kashima, He had played his entire pro career with the club except for a 10-month stint with Messina in the Italian Series A.

Former Arsenal star and Sweden international Freddie Ljungberg was signed by S-Pulse in late 2011.

Seigo Narazaki, former goalie for Nagoya Grampus, was voted the J League’s most valuable player in 2010. He was the first goalie to win the award. He was on all four of Japan’s World Cup teams although is most cases he was the second string goalie.

Goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki was on the roster of all four of Japan’s World Cup teams. He retired at the age of 34 in 2010 with 77 caps.

Image Sources: J-League, Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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