Three Japanese Sports Stars Who Have Made It Internationally

newsonjapan.com -- May 19
Japanese people love sports. Some live and breathe their chosen game, dedicating their lives to their passion.

With natural ability in abundance and an in-built desire to succeed, it is unsurprising to find dozens of Japanese sportsmen and women who have made it to the top of their profession on the global stage. The following trio of Japanese sportsmen are shining examples of elite athletes.

Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa may be nearing the end of his illustrious career, but he will go down in history as one of the best-ever Japanese footballers. Kagawa, now aged 33-years-old, plays for Belgian team Sint-Truidense alongside fellow Japanese players Daniel Schmidt, Daichi Hayashi, and Taichi Hara, but he has represented some of Europe’s biggest teams.

Kagawa turned professional in 2006 when he signed a contract with Cerezo Osaka, aged only 17. He was the first Japanese player to sign a professional contract before graduating from high school, and Cerezo Osaka’s gamble paid off because Kagawa scored 55 goals in 125 appearances from midfield. His obvious talent did not go unnoticed, and Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga paid €350,000 for him in 2010. Dortmund are regular favorites for glory with the best online sports betting sites, so it was unsurprising to see Kagawa walk away with a Bundesliga title during his first season at the club.

He stayed at Dortmund until the start of the 2012-13 season when Manchester United paid €17 million for his services. After scoring six goals in 38 league games, Kagawa returned to his beloved Dortmund. He has since played for Real Zaragoza in Spain and PAOK in Greece before heading to Sint-Truiden of Belgium.

The technically and creatively gifted midfielder has scored 131 games in 467 games in all competition, in addition to scoring 31 goals in 97 appearances for the Japanese national team.

Shohei Ohtani

Baseball is huge in Japan, and Japanese baseball players do not come much better than Shohei Ohtani. The 27-year-old is already a superstar, with experts and pundits comparing Ohtani to the legendary figure Babe Ruth. If that is not a stellar endorsement, we do not know what is.

Ohtani is a rare breed of baseball player who is amazingly good at batting and equally superb at pitching. Two-way players are a rarity; two-way players of Ohtani’s ability are almost unheard of.

He started his professional career with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and it was evident from when he first picked up a bat and ball that Japan had a potential world-beater on their hands. Ohtani won 15 awards in five years for the Fighters, including being selected as an NPB All-Star for five consecutive seasons and the Pacific League MVP in 2016.

Ohtani agreed to a deal with the MLB’s Los Angeles Angels in December 2017. Because Ohtani was under 25-years-old, MLB rules meant his salary was restricted, but the Angels paid him a $2,315,000 signing bonus. His development continued remarkably, leading to the Angels offering Ohtani an $8.5 million two-year deal in February 2021.

The new contract was perfectly timed because Ohtani enjoyed his best season yet as a professional player. On April 26, 2021, he started the game against the Texas Rangers on the mound while leading the Majors in home runs. That had not happened for almost 100 years when Babe Ruth did it for the New York Yankees in June 1921.

Ohtani was crowned the AL MVP, AL Triples Leader, was named an All-Star, named in the All-MLB First Team, and secured the Edgar Martinez Award and the Silver Slugger Award in 2021. The future is bright for the man from Oshu, Iwate.

Yuzuru Hanya

Yuzuru Hanya is a two-time Olympic champion in the sport of figure skating. Born in Sendai, Miyagi, the now 27-year-old is regarded as the best male figure skater in history. Skating is in Hanya’s blood because his entire family has a skating background.

Hanya has two Olympic gold medals in men’s singles, winning in 2014 in Sochi and 2018 in Pyeongchang. He also has two golds, three silvers, and two bronze medals at the World Championships. Add Hanya’s medal tally up, and it stands at an impressive 12 gold, eight silver, and four bronze.