The top 10 Japanese players in Bundesliga history
The German Bundesliga has always been a great platform for global superstars to get adjusted to life in elite European leagues. It has a particularly strong following in the Far East with dozens of Asian footballers appearing in the league down the years. One of the strongest contingent of footballers to appear are Japanese stars with no less than 39 players featuring in the Bundesliga in the past few decades. With some of these players having won Bundesliga titles, there have been some top stars that have emerged from The Land of the Rising Sun. So who are the top 10 Japanese players in Bundesliga history?
There are few trendsetters for Asian footballers quite like Yasuhiko Okudera. A dynamic and technically gifted midfielder, Okudera could not only put passes together but finish off moves too when the time came. His big break came in 1977 when he left Furukawa Electric to join German side FC Koln. He immediately slotted into a Koln side at the top of their game as he became the first Japanese footballer in German history. With Koln, he not only won the Bundesliga title in 1978 but also featured prominently in Europe becoming the first Asian footballer to score in the European Cup back in 1979. After leaving Koln in 1979, he went on to feature prominently for Werder Bremen throughout the 1980s before returning to Furukawa in 1986. Not only was Okudera the first Asian footballer to win a title in Germany, he set plenty of records for others to follow. With a spot in both the Japan Football Hall of Fame and Asian Football Hall of Fame, he is a legend that many look to idolize to this day.
An opportunistic forward who always looked to seize an opportunity, Naohiro Takahara always stole the headlines when the moment arose. After rising through the ranks with Jubilo Iwata, Takahara joined Hamburg in 2002 as HSV rose to become a title-fighting side. During his four seasons with the club, Takahara always pushed for opportunities including a 7 goal season during the 2004-05 campaign. His best form in Germany would come with Eintracht Frankfurt a few seasons later when he scored 11 goals during the 2006/07 season. After struggling to get games with Eintracht in 2008, Takahara returned to Japan signing for Urawa Reds ending his time in European football.
No matter if it was in Japan or Germany, you could bet on Atsuko Uchida to put in a lively performance. The right-back turned heads as he rose through the ranks at Kashima Antlers before moving to join Schalke in 2010. Over the next seven years, Uchida’s performances were some of the most consistent and energetic found anywhere in German football. It was why he was one Schalke’s most popular performers throughout the 2010s. These efforts were solidified by Uchida being named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season in both 2013 and 2014. It came despite the only silverware Uchida claiming was the 2011 DFB Pokal. After leaving Schalke in 2017, Uchida had a brief stint with Union Berlin before returning to Kashima Antlers in 2018.
Gotoku Sakai is a footballer that is no stranger to international football. Born in the USA and raised in Japan, the versatile full-back came through the ranks at Albirex Niigata before initially joining VfB Stuttgart on loan in 2012. After an impressive loan spell with the club, Sakai joined permanently in 2013 becoming a regular at the club over several seasons. His energetic performers saw him leave for Hamburg in 2015 once again establishing himself at his new club. He remained with HSV even after their relegation in 2018. After one season in the 2. Bundesliga, Sakai left to join Japanese powerhouse Vissel Kobe where he remains to this day.
Few Japanese players have enjoyed a quick rise through the ranks quite like Wataru Endo. Serving as an anchor in midfield, Endo’s accurate passing and excellent touch made him one of the top footballers in Japan. After impressing with both Shonan Bellmare and Urawa Red Diamonds, he moved to Belgium in 2018 in Sint-Truiden. His excellent performances caught the eyes of Stuttgart scouts who signed Endo in 2019. Since then, he has hardly missed a beat for the club helping them re-secure their Bundesliga in 2020. After becoming one of their top players, Endo became Stuttgart’s first ever Japanese captain at the start of the 2022-23 season. A dedicated professional through and through.
There are few players that can be as versatile in the middle of the park quite like Genki Haraguchi. Haraguchi can be deployed on the flank or in the middle of the park and create chances with ease. It was this skillset that saw Haraguchi sign for Hertha Berlin in 2014. Since then. Haraguchi has been at a host of clubs including Hannover 96, Union Berlin and Vfb Stuttgart. Haraguchi’s best form remained with Hertha though where he appeared in over 100 games for the club in the German top flight. Having spent a decade in German football, it’s clear that Haraguchi has been a clear asset for sides throughout the Bundesliga.
When it comes to being the ideal forward, few players have a skillset quite like Shinji Okazaki. The striker was not only a clinical finisher but was also an excellent aerial threat making an ideal target for set pieces. Okazaki’s spell in European came initially through VfB Stuttgart signing him from Shimizu S-Pulse in 2011. Okazaki adapted well to life in European football bringing a move to Mainz in 2013. With Mainz, Okazaki slammed in goals with ease notching up double figures in both seasons – with a best of 15 goals in the 2013-14 campaign. After his second season with Mainz, he left Germany to sign for English side Leicester in 2015 starting a career that has since seen Okazaki star in leagues across Europe.
When it comes to skillful midfielders, Daichi Kamada is up there with the best of them. Able to whip in fizzing crosses as well as crafty set-pieces, Kamada is able to unlock defences from anywhere on the pitch. This skillset has seen him become a key player for Eintracht Frankfurt since joining the club in 2017. During his time with Eintracht, Kamada has been one of their stars as the team rose to success in German football. Not only was Kamada a part of the squad that won the 2018 DFB-Pokal and 2022 Europa League titles, he played in both games highlighting his successes with the club. Having hit double figures for the first season in the 2022-23 campaign, Kamada has proven himself to be one of the best midfielders in German football today.
In a long and distinguished career, Makoto Hasebe has shown an immense ability to lead by example on the pitch. A solid defensive midfielder, Hasebe’s excellent tackling, calmness under pressure and varied passing game has seen him shine throughout German football. He first appeared in the Bundesliga when he joined VfL Wolfsburg in 2007. Hasebe was a key player for Wolfsburg in the late 2000s being a regular first-team player when they won the Bundesliga title in the 2008-09 season. After leaving Wolfsburg in 2014, Hasebe found a second wind with Eintracht Frankfurt in 2014. Some of Hasebe’s best form has come with Eintracht including a Bundesliga Team of the Year nomination in 2019. Having played over 400 Bundesliga games, there are no Japanese players with more experience in the German top flight than Hasebe.
When the ball is at the feet of Shinji Kagawa, it’s always just a matter of time before something happens. The dynamic attacking midfielder can change games instantly with quick footwork and the ability to create and convert chances in quick fashion. Kagawa’s rise to superstardom came with Borussia Dortmund in the early 2010s after joining from Cerezo Osaka in 2010. During this time, Kagawa was a magnet for action scoring 13 goals during the 2011-12 season. After a brief stint in England, Kagawa returned to Dortmund in 2014 where he picked up more form with BVB. This included 9 goals during the 2015-16 season. Kagawa would leave Germany in 2019 to join Spanish side Real Zaragoza. However, his record in Germany is formidable having won2 Bundesliga titles, 3 Bundesliga Team of the Season nominations as well as being named one of Asia’s greatest players in 2021. A true talent and one of the best Japanese players to ever appear in the Bundesliga.