Asking Expats in Japan: Who Are the Most Famous Japanese Athletes?

Asking Expats in Japan: Who Are the Most Famous Japanese Athletes?

Update: 30 March 2017

Baseball, soccer, figure skating – Japanese athletes compete in various sports all over the world! But who are the most famous ones, those that are recognized far beyond passionate fans, those with an international reputation?

The LIVE JAPAN editors have taken it upon themselves to find an answer to this question and asked twelve expats living in Japan one single question: “So, what about Japanese athletes?” Some people immediately thought of Japanese nationals that are active in their home country, others thought of those who are famous in the sport they like best – but let’s find out about the international who’s who of Japan’s athletes!

Typically American? The Fascination with the Japanese Major League

Typically American? The Fascination with the Japanese Major League

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people from the birthplace of baseball, American citizens, can immediately think of one or the other famous names of the Japanese Major League.

“When talking about Japanese players the ones who come to mind immediately are Ichiro and Matsui (Hideki Matsui). American people are most familiar with players in the Major League,” explains an American man in his twenties.

“Since I am from Boston, I do know quite a lot of successful Japanese players. I especially like Uehara (Koji Uehara) and Daisuke (Daisuke Matsuzaka). Some of my friends in Boston cheered for him by holding up ‘DICE-K’ signs, “says a woman from the States in her thirties.

Ichiro, Matsui, Matsuzaka, and Uehara – the day on which people will start recalling the names of their successors in the Major League sure isn’t far!

Japanese Athletes Conquering the World of Soccer

Japanese Athletes Conquering the World of Soccer

Soccer is one of the world’s biggest sports so it is only natural that athletes from Japan have also managed to gain an international reputation as excellent soccer players.

“Oh, I really like Honda (Keisuke Honda). I think he’s the best Japanese soccer players at the moment, isn’t he? And I think, as far as Japanese names go, ‘Honda Keisuke’ is very easy to remember!” (French man in his 20s)

“Soccer is really, really big in my country, but I actually don’t know much about it… I do know Kagawa (Shinji Kagawa) though, he is known and loved by a lot of people and some of my friends.” (German woman in her 20s)

“I’m not really interested in sports besides cricket, so I have no idea about Japanese athletes. The only one that I can remember is Kagawa.” (Nepalese man in his 20s)

Those that are known even by the people who don’t care much about sports at all, aren’t these athletes the most famous stars?

Kei Nishikori and his Many Fans in Europe

Kei Nishikori and his Many Fans in Europe

Speaking of famous athletes, the one name that has to appear on this list as the one tennis start that represents Japan is none other than Kei Nishikori. Especially people from Europe show their support for him:

“He’s one of the top tennis players, so of course I know him. He is incredibly famous in Italy as well!” says an Italian man in his 20s.

“Kei is an amazing tennis player. My brother is also a tennis fan so we often talk about his games and plays.” (French man in his 30s)

Europe itself has a lot of superstars to show in the world of tennis such as Rafael Nadal from Spain or Novak Đoković from Serbia – that’s probably why European people are quite aware of the international tennis elite!

The Prince of Figure Skating – on the Way to International Stardom

The Prince of Figure Skating – on the Way to International Stardom

There’s one name that has turned the world of men’s singles figure skating upside down: Yuzuru Hanyu, the winner of numerous gold medals in the last years, and particularly popular with the female population.

“I generally think about sumo wrestlers when hearing ‘Japanese athletes’ but Yuzuru Hanyu is exceptional. He looks like a prince from an anime.” (German woman in her 20s)

“Yeah, he’s amazing. I wouldn’t mind going on a date with him.” (Canadian woman in her 20s)

Yes, Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t only conquered the hearts of Japanese women but has admirers all around the world. We’re looking forward to another exceptional performances by him during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang!

Meet the Japanese Queen of Table Tennis: Ai Fukuhara

Meet the Japanese Queen of Table Tennis: Ai Fukuhara

A name that was often dropped by the male participants of our little survey was Ai Fukuhara. She was recently in the news as she got married to the Taiwanese player Chiang Hung‑Chieh and a lot of Japanese people said “She became even more stunning!” – an opinion that also seems to be shared internationally.

“She’s incredibly beautiful. And she also played extremely well in Rio!” (American man in his 30s)

“Japan is a rival country when it comes to table tennis but Ai-chan is just too adorable, so I’ll easily forgive her” (Chinese man in his 40s)

Of course, Ai Fukuhara is not just beautiful but also an incredibly talented athlete and one of the world’s top table tennis players. Even non-Japanese people follow her success with excitement!

Other names that have sprung up in the conversations were the swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, golf’s Ai Miyazato, and the baseball star Hiroki Kuroda who currently is an active player in the Major League. Who is your favorite Japanese athlete?

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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