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It's easy to see football from a Euro-centric perspective. Europe has the best leagues and the best players, so it's logical to assume it is the centre of the modern game. However, the game is global, which means that many of the men and women who are situated in England, Spain and Germany are from far-flung places.
In recent years, the rise in the number of quality Japanese footballers has been marked. In the past, only a handful would appear on the radar, whereas now, it seems as if every top team has a jewel from the Orient in their ranks. But, out of the vast pool of players, who are the best footballers to come out of Japan?
Before the inception of the J-League, there was Kunishige Kamamoto. For Kamamoto, scoring goals was his bread and butter – he only failed to reach double figures during a season on three occasions, which resembles the prolific records of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If they had existed back then, almost every Japanese gambling guide online would have pointed to Kamamoto to get on the scoresheet, such was his tendency to find the onion bag. Commendably, the legendary Japanese striker was a one-club man, notching more than 250 goals domestically. On the international stage, Kamamoto's tally of 80 still stands as the gold standard for Japanese players today.
Kazuyoshi Miura's goal-scoring stats aren't as impressive as Kamamoto's, although he is the second-highest goalscorer for Japan (55). Also, he once scored six goals in a single game against Macau in a 10-0 victory. However, the thing that propels Miura to the upper-echelons of Japanese football is the path he carved for himself and future footballers. By being signed by Genoa in 1994, he was the first Japanese footballer to grace an Italian football pitch, and one of the first to play in Europe. Miura also played for Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, before returning home to continue playing well into his fifties.
The former Dortmund and Manchester United midfielder is easily the best well-known Japanese footballer outside of his homeland… and it's not hard to see why when you look at his CV. After moving to Germany for a mere £300,000 eleven years ago, Kagawa lit up the Bundesliga alongside the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus and won two league titles and a hatful of cups. He also appeared in two Champions League finals. At United, he didn't have the effect he would have liked, yet he still won a Premier League winner's medal. Kagawa is by far the most decorated Japanese footballer of his era, and for many, of all-time.
Nakamura is another player who has flourished outside of Japan. In 2005, there was a race for his signature, with Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund interested in adding the attacking midfielder to their squads. Celtic eventually won out, and Nakamura quickly showed why he garnered interest from around Europe. Highlights include scoring the winner against Man United to send Celtic to the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2006, as well as numerous domestic trophies as Celtic dominated Scotland. In 2007, Nakamura even made it onto the shortlist of the Ballon d'Or, finishing joint 36th, above names such as Paul Scholes, Raul and David Villa.
There is also an honourable mention for World Cup hero, Keisuke Honda, who was named Japanese Player of the Year off the back of his three Man of the Match awards in four games in 2010.
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