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Japanese soccer players have only started to gain recognition in the past 20 years but they have dominated the world soccer stage for quite some time. It seems that at every World Cup, people would start to recognize what immense talent the Japanese had in their team and what they were capable of. The Japanese people love soccer and over the years have been blessed with some truly immense talent in their teams.
You can easily create a list of the most talented and famous soccer players from Japan and that is precisely what we are going to do. Japanese soccer players have played in all the most established and respected leagues around Europe and have left a big impression on many people. The players from Japan that have made it big and have earned a reputation have all done so through their hard work and impressive displays for their club teams and the national side.
So, without further ado, let’s start talking about and looking at the most famous soccer players from Japan. These include the following:
1. Kunishige Kamamoto: 1964 – 1977 “Top Scorer for Japan”
If there is one Japanese soccer player that has epitomized success and being famous, it has to be Kunishige Kamamoto, who managed to score the most goals for Japan in their history. Despite only playing soccer for 13 years, he managed to score 80 goals for Japan in only 84 appearances and managed more than 250 goals in club football.
He was known as an incredible goalscorer and managed to capture the imagination of the Japanese public. His success with the national side is part of the reason why he is so famous, and his impressive soccer skills earned him plenty of plaudits. He was known as a team player and one that others looked for inspiration. Kunishige was instrumental for Japan in the 1968 Olympic Games and helped the Blue Samurai capture a Bronze medal with his efforts. That further cemented his position as one of the most successful and famous Japanese players of all time.
2. Kazuyoshi Miura: 1990 – Present “Oldest Soccer Player”
Anyone who has been a fan of Japanese soccer will attest to the fact that Kazuyoshi Miura is a legend of the game. The midfielder is still playing soccer at the ripe old age of 53 and still dominates most matches, which makes him an inspiration for so many people. He is the oldest soccer player still playing and has been the oldest goalscorer to be playing professionally as well.
He was noticed early on for his incredible skill and was the first-ever Japanese player to play in the Serie A, but it wasn’t meant to be. Kazuyoshi Miura wasn’t able to make a big impression on European football and soon returned back to his homeland, where he is still playing today. An incredibly skilled player, Kazuyoshi is famous for his trademark dummy that he pulls out for an opponent that is known as the “Kazu Feint” and he has his own signature dance as well when he scores a goal.
NOTE: At the time of writing, Kazu is still playing. However, at his age, he could potentially stop playing at any moment. We update these articles regularly, but I thought I’d add this just in case.
3. Shinji Kagawa: 2006 – Present “Full of Potential”
Perhaps one of the most famous soccer players from Japan in the current generation is Shinji Kagawa. He is still quite young and could very well become one of the most famous and successful soccer players from Japan. Kagawa is an aggressive midfielder and started his soccer journey in Japan playing for the Cerezo Osaka before he was scouted by Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga.
He was truly an inspiration for Dortmund in the Bundesliga and helped the team win back-to-back titles in his first two seasons with the club. That got him even more famous, and before long, he was being scouted by teams from all over the world. Shinji Kagawa would go on to sign for Manchester United after beating Bayern Munich in the DFB-Pokal final, where he scored a goal and assisted one. He continued performing well for Manchester United, as he helped them win the Premier League and went on to become the Japanese player with the most goals scored and most games played in UEFA club competitions. That has further cemented his position as one of the most famous Japanese soccer players that are playing the game today.
4. Hidetoshi Nakata: 1997 – 2006 “Model”
Many people were left disappointed when Hidetoshi Nakata decided to retire from soccer at the peak of his career at 29, only to focus on modelling. He was a player that had a big impact on Italian leagues and was spoken about in glowing terms by everyone. The sky was the limit for Hidetoshi as success was coming for him from every direction. However, he claimed that he had fallen out of love with the game as soccer was more and more becoming a business each day.
After achieving more than a decade of success in the sport, he decided to call it a day and put in his retirement. Nowadays, you can find Hidetoshi Nakata in the world of fashion, where he is known as the international David Beckham. He is often spotted on runway shows, where he is always dressed in designer clothes. He may have stopped playing soccer, but he will still remain one of the most famous soccer players from Japan to have played the game.
5. Yasuhito Endo: 2002 – Present “Most Capped Player for Japan”
Yasuhito Endo is truly an inspirational figure in Japanese soccer and has had nothing but success playing for the national side. However, he never went international with his club career and only played in the Japanese league, which is an anomaly of sorts because he clearly had the talent. However, he still managed to achieve stardom and fame despite not playing in any European leagues as he performed admirably for Japan on the international stage.
He was instrumental in helping Japan win the 2004 and the 2007 Asian Cups and played admirably in the three world cups he has helped Japan qualify for. Yasuhito Endo has earned over 150 international caps over his career, which is why he is seen today as the Japanese soccer player with the most caps. That has got him down in history as one of the most famous Japanese soccer players of all time.
6. Shunsuke Nakamura: 2000 – 2010 “Most Assists”
Shunsuke Nakamura is one of those midfielders that you always want to keep an eye on because before you know it, he would have pulled off an incredible piece of skill and laid on an assist for someone. He won international stardom and fame for his displays playing in the Scottish league for Celtic. However, he also performed exceptionally while he was playing in Japan and managed to win J.League most valuable player award on two occasions.
That makes him the only Japanese player to have won the distinction twice and in 2007 also won the Scottish player of the Year award. Shunsuke Nakamura was described as one of the best free-kick takers of his time and was something of a setpiece specialist. That got him immense fame and he used his skills to help Celtic win the Scottish league title for three consecutive years. He also won them the Scottish League cup on two occasions and the Scottish cup once. With nearly 750 assists throughout his career, it can be safely said that there would be no side in soccer that wouldn’t want Shunsuke Nakamura on their team. That was part of his fame and the reason he is still one of the most famous Japanese soccer players of all time.
7. Keisuke Honda: 2008 – Present “Most Versatile Player”
Keisuke Honda is one of the most versatile Japanese soccer players ever and is also the manager and the coach of the Cambodia national team. He is seen as an all-rounder who can dominate any position in midfield or play in the front positions. Keisuke possesses immense skill with the ball at his feet and can dribble past opponents at will. His accomplishments for the Japanese national side have won him plenty of plaudits and he has performed admirably for AC Milan in Serie A as well.
He is a fast dribbler and a good shooter with the ball at his feet and can play in a variety of positions. In 2009 he also won the FIFA best Japanese player of the year award, which further increased his demand among European clubs and raised his fame as well. It can be safely said that a versatile player such as Keisuke Honda would always perform well at any time and he clearly earns his spot on this list for the most famous soccer players from Japan.
The Blue Samurai has had some incredible players represent the national side over the years and Japanese players have clearly made an impression on the global soccer stage. They have played for the biggest European clubs and have set the UEFA club competitions alight with their skills and trickery, which have earned them plenty of plaudits and fame along the way. There are still some Japanese players playing in the biggest leagues today, where they are making their way as soccer players and earning fame as soccer players from Japan that are making their nation proud.