15 Best Japanese Football Players of All Time

Who is the greatest Japanese footballer ever?

Speaking of football world in Asia, we can't simply ignore Japan. The country is regarded as one of the kings of Asian football and has won numerous international tournaments. Not only that, Japan national football team also regularly participates in the World Cup and also has produced many talented footballers.

In the last two decades, the quality football in Japan increases dramatically. There are dozens of Japanese players who play in the European League and won a lot of prestigious achievements, for example, Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Kagawa, Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Ono, Keisuke Honda, and many other great footballers.

15. Shinji Okazaki

Shinji Okazaki is a striker who started his debut in the European League in 2011 with VfB Stuttgart. During two years of joining the club, Okazaki scored ten goals in 63 league games. He created great achievement when his goal scored by an overhead kick in a match against Hannover 96 in the year 2011 was chosen as the Goal of the Month. Okazaki also received an award as the IFFHS World's Top Goal Scorer of the Year 2009 when he played at Shimizu S-Pulse.

14. Yoshito Okubo

Yoshito Okubo is a Japanese striker who was born in 1982 and once played for Mallorca and VfL Wolfsburg. At Wolfsburg, he only joined the team for six months, playing in nine games without scoring a single goal. Incidentally, Wolfsburg played well and became the Bundesliga champions when Okubo was there. This makes Okubo created a record as the first Japanese striker to win Bundesliga.

13. Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi

Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is a legendary goalkeeper who represented Japan in the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Word Cup. He also led his country win the Asian Cup twice and was voted as the best player of 2004 Asian Cup. At club level, Kawaguchi successfully claimed two league titles with Japanese Yokohama F. Marinos. He also briefly played for a British Championship League club, Portsmouth, in the 2002-03 season.

12. Yasuhiko Okudera

Yasuhiko Okudera is a retired midfielder who was born in 1952. He created a record as the first Japanese footballer to play in Europe's top leagues when he joined FC Köln in 1977. Shortly thereafter, Okudera made another record as the first Japanese player to score in the Champions Cup. His debut season at FC Koln went well, where he helped the club win the league. Okudera then moved on to Werder Bremen in 1981 and ended his career at Furukawa Electric in 1988. Throughout his career, Okudera won a German League title, a DFB Pokal, and two Japanese League titles.

11. Shinji Ono

Shinji Ono is the youngest Japanese footballer ever to play in a World Cup tournament, at the age of 18 years. His best career period happened when he joined Feyenoord in 2001-2005, where Ono won a UEFA Cup trophy in 2002. Not only that, in the same year Ono was also selected as the Asian Footballer of the Year. Unfortunately, due to frequent injuries, Ono lost his place in the main squad of Feyenoord and had to return to his home country before joining Western Sydney Wanderers in 2012.

10. Yuto Nagatomo

Yuto Nagatomo is a wingback who gained enormous popularity when he joined Inter Milan in 2011. During his period at Inter Milan, Nagatomo is known for his unique goal celebration: where he runs toward Javier Zanetti and bends over to show his respect. Together with the Japanese national team, Nagatomo won 2011 Asian Cup. He was also elected as Asian International Player of the Year in 2013.

9. Masashi Nakayama

With a total record of 157 goals, Masashi Nakayama is the J-League top scorer of all time. He played for 19 years for Jubilo Iwata in the period of 1990-2009, presented three J-League titles for the club. Nakayama also became a two-time J-League top scorer and once was selected as the MVP of this competition. Together with the Japanese national team, Nakayama scored 21 goals in 53 appearances and led her country win the Asian Cup in 1992.

8. Junichi Inamoto

Junichi Inamoto is a central midfielder who underwent a glorious career at Fulham from 2002 to 2004. He led Fulham win the Intertoto Cup and scored a hat trick in the final match in 2002. His great performances at the club resulted great praises from a lot of football fans. Inamoto was even described "bigger than Beckham" by many Asian media. Throughout his career, he also presented one Asian Cup trophy for his country and became the top scorer of Japan national team in 2002 World Cup.

7. Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda is an attacking midfielder who is famous as a reliable set-pieces taker. He started his career in the European League with VVV-Venlo, moved to CSKA Moscow in 2010, and finally joined AC Milan in the summer of 2014. His best achievement at club level was helping VVV-Venlo win the Eerste Divisie (second division of Dutch football league) in the 2008-09 season and was selected as the best player of the competition. He also won a Russian League titles and two Russian Cup trophies at CSKA Moscow.

6. Kunishige Kamamoto

Kunishige Kamamoto is a former striker who was known for his impressive performances in the 1968 Olympics. In the tournament, he became the top scorer while helping his country claim the bronze medal. Not only that, Kamamoto also holds the record as Japan national team top scorer of all time with a total 80 goals in 84 matches. He spent his entire career playing for Yanmar Diesel and seven times was named as Japanese Footballer of the Year.

5. Yasuhito Endo

Yasuhito Endo is a central midfielder who holds the record for most number of appearances in the Japan national team. He represented his country in the World Cup in 2006 and 2010. One of his best performances happened when he scored a free kick goal that helped Japan beat Denmark 3-1, taking his country into the second round of the 2010 World Cup. Endo was selected as Asian Footballer of the Year in 2009 and nine times in a row included in the J-League Best Eleven.

4. Hidetoshi Nakata

Hidetoshi Nakata is the most popular Japanese footballer in the 20th century. He is regarded as one of the best Asian footballers of all time, along with other great names such as Ali Daei, Sami Al-Jaber, and Park Ji-sung. Nakata earned massive amount of popularity due to his impressive performances playing for various European clubs, especially Perugia and AS Roma in Serie A competition. During his career, Nakata won a Serie A title, a Coppa Italia, an Asian Cup, and twice elected as Asian Footballer of the Year.

3. Shunsuke Nakamura

Shunsuke Nakamura is a playmaker who is famous for scoring a lot of beautiful goals through free-kicks. He also underwent a period of glorious career in Scotland League with Glasgow Celtic, claiming three Scottish league titles and a Scottish Cup trophy. Not only that, Nakamura was also selected as the best player of the Scottish League in 2007. To appreciate his contribution to the world football in Japan, an asteroid discovered by a Japanese scientist was named as "29986 Shunsuke;" a name that was derived from the first name of Nakamura.

2. Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa is famous for his outstanding dribbling skills, vision, and intelligence. Prior to joining Manchester United in 2012, Shinji experienced great seasons with success with Borussia Dortmund. He helped the club win two Bundesliga titles and a DFB-Pokal trophy. His first season at Manchester United also also went brilliantly, where Kagawa secured the Premier League championship.

Kagawa was elected as Asian International Footballer of the Year in 2012.

1. Kazuyoshi Miura

Born in 1967, Kazuyoshi Miura is a retired striker who became a legend in the world of Japanese football. He is a footballer whose story inspires a popular manga (Japanese comic) titled "Captain Tsubasa." At the age of 15 years, Miura went alone to Brazil to pursue a career as a professional footballer. He played for several Brazilian League clubs, among are Coritiba, Santos, and Palmeiras. He also briefly joined Croatia Zagreb and FC Genoa. Throughout his career, Miura won an Asian Cup trophy, a Brazilian League title (with Coritiba), three Japan League titles, and was named Asian Footballer of the Year in 1993. Kazuyoshi retired as a professional footballer at the age of 45 years, and now he is still actively participating in domestic futsal competitions.

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