The goal scoring ability Miura displayed enticed Genoa to take him to Italy’s Serie A in 1994, making him the first Japanese player to appear in Europe. He retired a year later. Kagawa was the next to follow suit, moving to Manchester United after a spell in Germany. His silky dribbling skills often stunned the world.
1. Hidetoshi Nakata
With Miura’s surprise omission from the 1998 World Cup squad, Shonan Bellmare’s Nakata emerged as Japan’s new superstar. The creative midfielder was in top form as the Samurai Blue won their first World Cup.
His bleached blond hair and flamboyant style of play were instantly recognisable. Nakata became the second Japanese player to join Serie A with Perugia and scored 10 goals in his debut season before moving to Roma in 2000. He struggled to gain a regular place in the team due to competition from fan-favorite Francesco Totti.
The 1.88-metre defender plays as either a right or center back for Marseille and has an eye for goal. He models his game on Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano, and is capable of turning defense into attack.
2. Kazuyoshi Miura
The first Japanese player to be named IFFHS Asia’s Footballer of the Year, Miura is considered Japan’s first superstar. His omission from the 1998 World Cup squad sparked a national outcry.
Known as “King Kazu” by fans, the striker made his name in Brazil before returning to lead Verdy Kawasaki to J-League titles. He later played in Italy’s top flight with Serie A club Genoa, and also featured for Palmeiras, Dinamo Zagreb, Sydney FC and Vissel Kobe.
Tomiyasu has been one of the most promising young Japanese players, having starred with the Barcelona academy and making it into their senior side. He is now with Celtic in the Scottish Premiership and has a great chance of making it to this summer’s World Cup. He is a tough-tackling center-back who can score as well.
3. Shunsuke Nakamura
Shunsuke Nakamura is one of the greatest footballers to have come out of Japan. He was a mainstay in the national team and was a top player watched on rojadirecta for clubs like Celtic and Juventus in Europe.
Nakamura is renowned for his vision, touch, and bending shots; Steve Perryman once said that he could open a can of beans with his left foot. He is the only player to have been named J-League MVP more than once, winning the award in 2000 and 2013.
Nakamura was a late bloomer as a professional, joining Nissan Motors F.C (now Yokohama F. Marinos)’ youth setup in 1991 at the age of 12. He honed his dead-ball skills by taking free kicks every day outside of regular team practice.
4. Takumi Minamino
A tough-tackling defender, Minamino is revered in his homeland. He captained Japan at the 2010 World Cup and scored 17 goals – including braces in wins over India and Thailand – before retiring from international football.
A mainstay in the Samurai Blue, he has yet to fully establish himself in Europe, but his many runs are making waves with Brighton fans. He is one of just four players to reach a century of caps and has the talent to become a great European football player.
The playmaker’s composure on the ball and excellent vision made him a standout at the 2004 Asian Championships. He also holds the record for most goals by a Japanese player in Serie A with 83 strikes for Fiorentina and Bolton Wanderers.
5. Shinji Kagawa
Long before the J-League began in 1993 and the plethora of success that has accompanied it, Japan produced its first true superstar in the form of one-club man Kamamoto. The center forward spent his entire career at Yanmar Diesel in the JSL, scoring over 250 goals and earning seven Japanese Footballer of the Year awards.
He was also revered for his national team playing, making 97 appearances and racking up 17 goals. Despite retiring from international duty after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where he captained the side and scored twice in victories against India and Thailand, Kagawa still has a place in the hearts of his native country.
After a brief stint in Europe with clubs in Belgium and Italy, he now plays for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.