Top 10 Best Japanese Soccer Players of All Times

Japanese soccer players only started to be recognized about 20 years ago but it seems that every year people start to realize more and more what the Japanese are really capable of. I love football and have been fascinated by the Japanese leagues for years, with more people becoming aware of some of the Japanese talents I finally got around to creating this list for you guys…

Based on skill, performance, and achievement the 10 best Japanese soccer players of all time are listed below –

Player NamePositionStill Active?Club GoalsKnown ForYear born
Kunishige KamamotoForwardNo250+Top scorer1944
Kazuyoshi MiuraForwardYes220+Oldest player1967
Shinji KagawaMidfielderYes130+Full of potential1981
Hidetoshi NakataMidfielderNo53Model1977
Yasuhito EndoMidfielderYes135+Most capped player1980
Shunsuke NakamuraAttacking MidfielderNo135Most assists1978
Keisuke HondaVersatile MidfielderYes100+Most versatile player1986
Yuji NakazawaDefenderYes40+Incredible amount of assists 1978 
Junichi InamotoMidfielderYes30+Internationally recognized1979 
Yuto NagatomoDefenderYes20+Top team player1986

Below I’ve given you a brief layout of each player and what makes them so special. All of them are incredibly impressive players but there always must be the best. I’ve ranked them from 1-10, and I hope this article helps you to learn a bit more about how skilled some Japanese players can be.

Kunishige Kamamoto: 1964 -1977

Taken from Ogiyoshisan – Flickr

Kunishige was truly the master of goal scoring, he had 80 goals for Japan and scored over 250 goals for his club. In 13 years of playing that is an incredible amount, and seeing him glance at a goal before he takes a shot is a beautiful thing.

As well as being individually impressive he was also known for being a very good team player and keeping his teammate’s spirits high. He was a large part of Japan’s success in the 1968 Olympic Games and helped his team walk away with a bronze medal.

Kazuyoshi Miura: 1990 – Present

Taken from Michael Mrugalski – Flickr

Anyone who’s a fan of Japanese soccer will agree that Kazuyoshi is one of the original Japanese legends. Still playing today at the ripe old age of 53, this makes him the oldest footballer, and oldest goalscorer to be playing in a professional league in the entire world.

Not only is he persistent with his sport, but he’s incredibly skilled too. While he’s a good goal scorer he’s most well-known for his incredible skill at dummying opponents with his trademarked ‘Kazu Feint’. What I love even more is that when he scores he always whacks out his signature dance, the ‘Kazu dance’ making sure everybody knows exactly who got the goal in.

Having been internationally noticed early on in his career he became the first-ever Japanese player to play in Serie A. He found it difficult to adapt to the European style of play though and so before long he returned to Japan to continue his success there.

Shinji Kagawa: 2006 – Present

Taken from Football Gallery – Flickr

Shinji is still young and could very well become one of the most successful Japanese soccer player who’s ever lived. Still only 25 years old he has a lot of potential, and plenty of his career ahead of him.

That’s not to say he hasn’t achieved a lot already. An aggressive midfielder Kagawa started his career playing for his home team Cerezo Osaka but was quickly scouted by Borussia Dortmund. Performing incredibly for the team, he helped them win the Bundesliga twice in a row on the consecutive seasons that he played for Borussia Dortmund.

Next, he signed a 4-year contract with Manchester United, finishing his time with Borussia Dortmund perfectly by winning the DFB-Pokal final against Bayern Munich, having himself scored a goal, and assisted another.

Shinji continued to perform with United, scoring a hat-trick in a match against Norwich City, and helping them win the Premier League trophy. He now holds the current record for the most games played, and goals scored, by a Japanese player in UEFA club competitions.

Two years later, he returned to his team Borussia Dortmund and helped Japan to win the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, later being nominated ‘Asia’s International Player of the Year’.

Hidetoshi Nakata: 1997-2006

To say people were disappointed when Hidetoshi decided to retire football and focus on modeling would be an understatement. He was only 29, at the peak of his career, and was having a big impact on the Italian leagues. With success seeming to come from everywhere no one expected him to suddenly stop playing, but that’s exactly what he did. He’d been passionate about the sport since he was a child but claimed that he was seeing football turn into more and more of a business and didn’t like how the focus had shifted from fun to money.

After ten years of success, he put the towel up and handed in his resignation. Now Hidetoshi is often referred to as the ‘International David Beckham’, he spends his time immersed in the world of fashion, and can often be seen at runway shows, dressed in expensive designer clothes.

Yasuhito Endo: 2002 – Present

Taken from Martin Del Aguila – Flickr

Yashuito is an interesting player because although he’s had nothing but success in Japan he has avoided going international with his playing. However, he has still managed to gain himself an international reputation from his performance at the Asian Cup in 2004 and 2007 (both of which he won), and for his role in the three World Cups.

Having earned himself over 150 international caps, he is officially the most capped Japanese soccer player that there has ever been.

Shunsuke Nakamura: 2000-2010

Taken from Parisbhoy – Flickr

Shunsuke’s one of those midfielders that you’ve got to keep a watch on because before you know it he’ll have dribbled his way past the defense and lined someone else up with an easy shot. He won the J.League Most Valuable Player’ in both 2000 and 2012, making him the only person to have ever won the award more than once. He was also named Scottish Player of the Year in 2007 and was the first-ever Japanese footballer to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League.

With almost 750 assists, I’d definitely want him on my team, and he’s also commonly thought of being one of the best Japanese free kickers. Steve Perryman once perfectly described Shunsuke, saying he “could open a tin of beans with his left foot.”

I wouldn’t want to be that tin of beans, but he has more accomplishments than just his bean opening skills.

Playing for Celtic, he helped win Scottish Premier League for three years running, and also bought back the Scottish League Cup in ‘06 and ‘09, and the Scottish Cup in ‘07.

Keisuke Honda: 2008 – Present

Taken from Oliveroliu – Flickr

Not only is Keisuke the most versatile player on this list, but he’s also the manager and coach of Cambodia’s national team. Keisuke is an all-round great player, he performs consistently well in midfield but I’ve also seen him play some killer games as a winger.

He’s also just a really interesting person to watch playing the game. Even when he’s a dribbling a ball he still maintains his speed, and he’s damn good at tricking opponents with his dummies.

Fifa also awarded Keisuke the ‘Japanese Player of the Year’ in 2009.

Yuji Nakazawa: 1999-2010

Taken from rsaudiarabia – Flickr

Yuji’s got a look that you don’t forget, one which got him the nickname Bomber. He captained the Japanese national team, and had over 100 caps in international games, something not many Japanese players have done.

He’s the first defender on my list because normally midfielders have more opportunities to shine in the game. But Yuji played his position to a point, he gained over 700 assists, and the fact that he played 178 consecutive games without missing a single one just shows how dedicated he is to the game.

Junichi Inamoto: 2000 – Present

Taken from I3o_ – Flickr

Junichi played some really impressive soccer at the beginning of his career. So impressive that he got scouted by Arsenal and went over to play in Europe. He had a few games for Arsenal that went well but overall he didn’t perform as well as he should have. I don’t know if it was the pressure or being away from Japan but something didn’t click for him.

He eventually moved over to Fulham and seemed to settle in there much better but just as he was he broke his leg. Injured and unable to play for a while he seemed to have lost his spark and eventually returned to Japan. Since being back he seems to be much more focused on the field and is now playing for SC Sagamihara. 

Yuto Nagatomo: 2002 – Present

Taken from Alfatstone – Flickr

Yuko is another one on my list who has played an impressive amount of matches for his country. Yuko has 121 caps, making him the third most internationally capped Japanese player.

He now plays as a defender for Galatasaray, a Turkish team, and of course, still plays for Japan’s national team.

Want to know about the other top sports they play in Japan? Click here

Eli Civil

A software engineer, entrepreneur, and Japanese culture enthusiast. I travel the world while working from my laptop and try to visit Japan as often as I can. About Eli Civil

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