Since the dawn of the Premier League in 1992, the competition has played host to elite players from around the world. Typically, it’s stars from across Europe that have filled title-winning squads, including Spaniards, Germans, Italians, Dutchmen, and Frenchmen in particular.
But, in more recent years, the net has been cast further and players from beyond Europe have landed in the UK, including stars from Africa and Asia. And, in this article, we will focus on some of the best japanese players to play in the Premier League.
The Best Japanese Players To Grace The Premier League
The growth of soccer in Japan
The J1 League is Japan’s elite club competition, established in 1992 and today contested by 18 teams. It is recognised as one of the most successful competitions in Asia, attracting average attendances of around 18,000 in recent seasons.
The staging of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea provided a boost to the sport in the Land of the Rising Sun, and brought traditional western sporting culture to the far east. And, increasingly, Japan’s entertainment industry is being influenced by the west.
Professional wrestling, imported from the USA, is a multi-million-dollar industry, with brands like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah boasting big followings. The casino industry is also on the rise in the country, and is now worth an estimated $15bn globally, illustrating that the sector is proving to have a wider effect on the entertainment industry, especially Japan. For example, tailored websites like Casino Wings help new Japanese players find their way in the online marketplace, displaying helpful reviews and bonus offers available to those in the country.
Among these casinos, some offer betting on live sports and eSports, so, it’s no surprise that sports like baseball and soccer have also experienced an uplift in popularity, both virtually and in physical sports. This surge in popularity has hence resulted in several of the nation’s top stars heading overseas to test their talents against the world’s best.
This includes the five Japanese soccer players on our list, who succeeded in making a big name for themselves in the English Premier League.
Junichi Inamoto – Arsenal, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion
First arriving on loan at Arsenal in 2001, Inamoto was the first Japanese player to play in the Premier League. Though he didn’t make an impact at his first club, he was victorious in the Intertoto Cup with Fulham and helped blaze a trail for others to follow.
Hidetoshi Nakata – Bolton Wanderers
A household name in Japan, Nakata made a name for himself in Europe in Italy, where he played for several Serie A sides for a period of seven years. He turned out for Bolton in the Premier League during the Wanderers’ best ever spell in the competition, helping them to an eight-placed finish.
Maya Yoshida – Southampton
Yoshida holds the distinction of being the Japanese player with the most Premier League caps, having made more than 150 appearances for Southampton. Yoshida quickly became a firm fan favourite in England, before gaining experience in Italy on a loan spell.
Shinji Okazaki – Leicester City
Although Yoshida holds the record for appearances, no Japanese player has enjoyed the success that Okazaki has. The striker has made more than 100 appearances for Leicester and, in 2016, was a Premier League champion, scoring five goals as his club upset the form book to lift the title.
Takumi Minamino – Liverpool
Having only signed for Liverpool in 2020, Minamino’s story is still to be written. He arrives in the Premier League after having made more than 130 appearances in Austria for Red Bull Salzburg, where he scored 42 goals. Big things are expected of the 25-year-old.
In total, nine Japanese players have graced the Premier League, but it is the five above who have arguably made the biggest impact. As the popularity of the English competition continues to grow globally, it’s likely we’ll see many more given the opportunity to shine.