With just 2 rounds of J1 action remaining this season and the league currently on a mini-hiatus, I thought now was the appropriate time for this article which is a look at some of the top performing rookies in Japan’s top flight in 2022. I’ve divided the players into 3 categories, university rookies, high school rookies and youth team rookies, highlighting the three different ways players gravitate directly from amateur, age-level football to the senior ranks. There’s also a bonus section at the bottom where I stare into my crystal ball and name-drop some of the most exciting talents who’ll be linking up with J1 clubs next season.
Thanks again to everyone who has supported my work over the past 3 years, it really means the world to me. This article isn’t about Gamba, but I guess it’s probably as good a place as any to make this announcement. From 2023 I will be stopping doing my weekly (sometimes twice a week) Gamba match previews. I know these definitely fit into the niche category, so I’m beyond flattered that they have become as popular as they have. Honestly, I think I’ve run into a creative dead-end and the toll writing them has taken on me across the past few years exceeds what my body is currently ready to give towards a hobby that ultimately doesn’t pay the bills. With that said, this is not the end of the @BlogGamba Twitter handle or indeed this blog and I’m looking to re-focus my efforts into something new, possibly articles similar to the one you’re about to read in addition to my regular pre-season predicted lineups post. What form exactly the blog takes from here, I don’t know yet, but rest assured the Kashima vs Gamba match preview won’t be the last you hear from me. I’ll continue writing about topics I believe to be interesting, you’ll likely still be able to listen to me on the J-Talk Podcast from time to time and I may collaborate with other J. League related creators in the future too. Deep breath…anyway, with that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this article and my upcoming J1 round 33 and 34 previews and I’ll see you in some shape or form in 2023.
J1 2022 Top 5 University Rookies
Just as a quick preface to this section, it’s probably worth noting that the 2022 university rookie class is quite shallow compared to it’s predecessors with just 2 real stand-outs (Mitsuta and Yamahara) and, in fact, only 10 players eligible for this category actually started any J1 games this season. Consider for a moment that 2020 brought us, Kaoru Mitoma and Reo Hatate (Kawasaki), Daichi Hayashi and Ryoya Morishita (Tosu), Shunta Tanaka, Tomoki Takamine and Takuro Kaneko (Sapporo), Yusuke Matsuo and Tatsuki Seko (Yokohama FC), Shuto Abe and Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo) and Yuki Yamamoto (Gamba) among others, while 2021 delivered, Kento Tachibanada (Kawasaki), Tomoya Fujii (Hiroshima), Atsuki Ito and Tomoaki Okubo (Urawa) as well as Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Sapporo), and it’s easy to see the 2022 crop as largely being something of a disappointment. Oh, and one final thing, 4 of the 5 players selected below are graduates from Ryutsu Keizai University, I’m in no way affiliated with that institution, it’s just a reflection of the good work they are clearly doing there!
Hiroto Yamami narrowly missed out on selection
Name: Taichi Kikuchi
Club: Sagan Tosu
Born: 7 May 1999 (23 years old)
Position(s): shadow forward / winger / centre-forward
History: Ryutsu Keizai University Kashiwa High School, Ryutsu Keizai University
Transfermarkt Value: €250,000
2022 Stats: 31 apppearances in all competitions, 0 goals, 0 assists
Profile: Sagan Tosu clearly anticipated the coming storm of all their best players being taken off their hands at the end of the 2021 season and pro-actively went about acquiring 6 talented youngsters from various universities prior to the conclusion of the campaign. Rather disappointingly, only two of that cohort started in the league this term, with 3 of them parked out on loan in J2 by mid-season. The only player to make more than 2 starts in J1 has been versatile attacker Taichi Kikuchi, who’s become something of a favourite of Kenta Kawai’s due to his intelligent passing and movement, work-rate, and tenacity. While that is yet to translate into tangible attacking outcomes, in the shape of goals or assists, those will surely arrive in a matter of time if the former Urawa Junior Youth attacker keeps up his present endeavours (he currently ranks 14th in J1 for through balls).
Predicted Career Path: With Kawai confirmed as being on-board for 2023 it’s unlikely we’ll see Kikuchi doing anything other than pulling on a Tosu jersey. He’s performed well in his debut season for a solid top-half team and if he can add a consistent end product to his game then higher ranked sides will surely take note, but as for now, he’s good where he is.
Name: Makoto Mitsuta
Club: Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Born: 20 July 1999 (23)
Position(s): shadow forward / attacking midfielder / wing-back
History: Sanfrecce Hiroshima Youth, Ryutsu Keizai University
Transfermarkt Value: €450,000
2022 Stats: 43 appearances in all competitions, 11 goals, 13 assists
Profile: Hiroshima fans may not want to be reminded of last weekend’s Emperor’s Cup final, but the fact that just minutes after seeing a late spot-kick, that would surely have won his side the trophy, saved, Makoto Mitsuta was once again stood over the penalty spot, this time making no mistake when a miss would have seen Kofu crowned Tennohai champions. Ultimately it made no difference to the eventual outcome, but I think it speaks volumes for his character, which is why I’m mentioning it here. Without doubt the breakout star of J1 2022, Mitsuta’s trickery, link up play and emphatic finishing have lit up the division and propelled Sanfre to a likely top 3 finish, something that was pretty much unthinkable 12 months ago.
Predicted Career Path: If he starts next season anything like he did this one then he’ll surely be on the plane to Europe come summer time. I’m working on the Kaoru Mitoma 18 months in J1 scale as Mitsuta is clearly the most promising university graduate to enter the league since the current Brighton and Samurai Blue left winger. For Viola supporters all I can say is, hopefully the club and kantoku Michael Skibbe have a decent replacement lined up.
Name: Yuta Miyamoto
Club: Urawa Red Diamonds
Born: 15 December 1999 (22)
History: Ryutsu Keizai University Kashiwa High School, Ryutsu Keizai University
Transfermarkt Value: €150,000
2022 Stats: 21 appearances in all competitions, 1 assist
Profile: Prior to turning pro, all the information I had on Miyamoto suggested that he was a holding midfielder. However, instead he’s enjoyed a steady, if unspectacular, debut season deputising on occasion for Hiroki Sakai on the right-hand side of Reds’ generally solid backline. Injuries aplenty in the early and mid part of the year saw Miyamoto pick up numerous minutes and grow into his role, before the return of Sakai in recent months curtailed his playing time, meaning that at the time of writing he hasn’t been on the field since Urawa’s 1-0 home reversal to Cerezo back on 14 September.
Predicted Career Path: Sakai is not getting any younger, though a potential international retirement after Qatar 2022 may help prolong his club career. While that may not aid Miyamoto in his quest to get the additional game time I’m sure he craves, at least he’s got a couple of excellent defensive role models to learn from in the shape of Sakai and Alexander Scholz. I can actually see him featuring a fair bit next season, though if he struggles to build on the foundations laid this term then a loan move to a promotion chasing J2 side could be in the offing.
Name: Asahi Sasaki
Club: Kawasaki Frontale
Born: 26 January 2000 (22)
Position(s): full-back (mainly left-back)
History: Saitama Heisei High School, Ryutsu Keizai University
Transfermarkt Value: €275,000
2022 Stats: 27 appearances in all competitions, 1 goal, 2 assists
Profile: I was perhaps a tad harsh on Sasaki when I said Mitsuta and Yamahara were the 2 stand-outs in this category as he has featured regularly this term for a genuine title contender. Frontale reportedly beat Gamba, Tosu and others to the signature of the man labelled the best full-back in the university class of 2022. I’m guessing his greater defensive solidity when compared to Reon Yamahara is what won the judges over. Perhaps his versatility too, as although he’s spent most of the year ably covering for the injured Kyohei Noborizato at left-back, he’s filled in on the opposite flank in the absence of Miki Yamane on a couple of occasions as well. Overall, he’s suited up far more in his debut season than a number of recent Frontale recruits from university and high school and can look back on this campaign pretty favourably, regardless of whether or not his side go on to three-peat.
Predicted Career Path: With Noborizato ageing and injury-prone, Kurumaya seemingly preferring to play at centre-back and Frontale head-scratchingly reluctant to sign defenders, all signs point to plenty more game time for Sasaki in 2023. The next entry on this list appears to have overtaken him to be the number one young left-back in the country and reclaiming that crown would be a good personal goal for next term. Firmly establishing himself on the left-side of Kawasaki’s back four and helping them win more silverware will also potentially help to put him in the frame for national team selection and onto that well trodden path to European football.
Name: Reon Yamahara
Club: Shimizu S-Pulse
Born: 8 June 1999 (23)
Position(s): left-back (can play right-back if required)
History: JFA Academy Fukushima Under-18, University of Tsukuba
Transfermarkt Value: €300,000
2022 Stats: 37 appearances in all competitions, 2 goals, 10 assists
Profile: After initially being something of a quiet revelation at left-back for an under-performing Shimizu side this year, Reon Yamahara is starting to make quite a bit of noise towards the back end of the campaign with his penetrating forward runs and deadly crosses, both from open play and set pieces. Having rubbed shoulders with the aforementioned Mitoma, Takamine and Yamakawa during his time at the University of Tsukuba, Yamahara was able to turn out 5 times while on a designated special contract with S-Pulse last term, and gave us the briefest of glimpses as to what lay ahead. Quickly forming a hotline with Brazilian hitman Thiago Santana, Kyoto native Yamahara, who spent his secondary school years honing his skills at the JFA Academy Fukushima, has been a light among the gloom for Shimizu supporters in 2022 and they’ll be hoping that the Yamahara-Santana partnership has enough gas left in the tank to steer them to survival.
Predicted Career Path: Excelling in a position where Japan have historically not been strong, there’s been talk of Yamahara becoming part of the Samurai Blue set-up in the post World Cup landscape. That may very well depend on who’s coaching the team after Qatar 2022, however, for now I think we may see Yamahara stay with S-Pulse for another season in J1 or J2, and if he can repeat his outstanding displays from this year then expect the Jupiler Pro League to come calling.
xG for and against values per shot in J1 2022, correct to 19 October 2022.
J1 2022 Top 5 High School Rookies
Name: Yosuke Furukawa
Club: Júbilo Iwata
Born: 16 July 2003 (19 years old)
Position(s): shadow forward
History: Kyoto Sanga Under-15, Shizuoka Gakuen High School
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 11 appearances, 2 goals in all competitions
Profile: He was on my list prior to his winner at Nissan Stadium last week (honestly!) Júbilo supporters’ newest hero Furukawa is actually yet to start a game for the Saxon Blues, but he has already found the back of the net on two occasions, his previously mentioned effort versus Marinos, in addition to a goal against Matsumoto in the early rounds of the Emperor’s Cup. Originally from Shiga, Furukawa sharpened his skills during his three years at the renowned Shizuoka Gakuen High School before opting to remain in the prefecture and sign for Júbilo. How sensible choosing them as his first professional club was will be borne out in the coming years.
Predicted Career Path: Júbilo still have a chance of being a J1 club next season, but if I were a betting man, I’d have my money on them going down. Such a scenario would surely bring heartbreak for their supporters, but could ultimately benefit youngsters such as Furukawa, Kensuke Fujiwara and Kaito Suzuki (currently on loan at Tochigi SC) in the form of increased game-time. Furukawa seems to possess the skill-set to become a regular in a title challenging J2 side as long as he doesn’t allow the magnitude of his strike away to Marinos last week weigh him down.
Name: Rei Kihara
Club: Urawa Red Diamonds
Born: 4 June 2003 (19)
History: Cerezo Osaka Under-15, Kyoto Tachibana High School
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 1 appearance in all competitions
Profile: A few eyebrows may have been raised by my selection of a player who’s mustered a mere 28 minutes of senior competitive action this season, but please hear me out. Urawa have a star-studded forward line with the likes of Junker, Moberg, Linssen, Schalk, Esaka, Koizumi and Matsuo on their books, so, young Rei Kihara would certainly have been exceeding expectations had he played more than that brief ACL outing against Shandong Taishan back in May. He arrived in Saitama highly rated out of Kyoto Tachibana High School, and it was reported that Reds had to fend off a number of teams, including Gamba, to secure his signature. They’ve invested in his future, will the master’s degree course he’s received on the training pitch this season bear fruit in the coming years?
Predicted Career Path: I’ll be honest, the majority of talented high school students move onto university before entering the professional ranks, making it tricky to come up with 5 legitimate names to fill out this category, otherwise someone possessing clear talent, but few on-field minutes like Kihara probably wouldn’t have made the cut. With Reds likely to remain stacked in attack for the foreseeable future, a couple of productive loan spells, perhaps first to a J2 side such as Mito before leapfrogging to hometown club Kyoto or maybe Sagan Tosu might serve as his best option in order to secure regular playing time at the Saitama Stadium somewhere down the line.
Name: Kuryu Matsuki
Club: FC Tokyo
Born: 30 April 2003 (19)
History: Aomori Yamada Junior High School, Aomori Yamada High School
Transfermarkt Value: €400,000
2022 Stats: 29 appearances in all competitions, 2 goals, 3 assists
Profile: The winner of this category hands-down, Matsuki has made the step up from the Prince Takamado Under-18 trophy to J1 without hardly skipping a beat. After winning the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament in January, the same day as FC Tokyo held their 2022 season kick off event, Matsuki made the transition to professional footballer so swiftly that he was able to play a starring role for the Gasmen in their opening night trip to defending champions Kawasaki 6 weeks later. A slew of age-level international call ups have surely depleted his energy resources as the year has worn on and he will undoubtedly benefit from the extended winter break due to the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
Predicted Career Path: He certainly has the right coach to bring out the best in him and perhaps more importantly give him serious playing time as an advanced midfielder in FC Tokyo’s central triangle, but realistically how long can the capital club hang on to such an outstanding, well-rounded talent? Should he come back refreshed and raring to go following his winter hibernation, then a Kuryu Matsuki ready to build upon the solid foundations of 2022 is likely to be attracting serious attention from Germany, Holland, Portugal etc as early as next summer. I know it’s not what FC Tokyo supporters will want to read, but it’s the reality of supporting a J. League side these days.
Name: Akito Suzuki
Club: Shonan Bellmare
Born: 30 July 2003 (19)
History: Gamba Osaka Junior Youth, Hannan University High School
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 7 appearances in all competitions, 1 goal
Profile: Like Daichi Kamada and Daichi Hayashi before him, Osaka born-and-bred Akito Suzuki spent time in Gamba’s Junior Youth Academy before completing his high school studies elsewhere. In his debut campaign for goal-shy Shonan, he’s been limited to substitute appearances, largely in the cups, netting once against Vertfee Yaita in the Tennohai. Suzuki, who was top goal-scorer in the National High School Championship during his time with Hannan, is best described as a powerful forward with a good dribbling technique and a keen eye for goal.
Predicted Career Path: Honestly, I thought he may have featured a little more this year given Bellmare’s paucity of goals. Should Shuto Machino head for the brighter lights of one of the Kanto giants or the Jupiler League then Suzuki would seemingly fit the profile of the kind of player Shonan will turn to in order to fill the void his 10 goals will leave behind. Though Wellington and Tarik’s best days may be firmly rooted in the past, hopefully Suzuki has found them useful mentors during his first season as a pro and can take the lessons learned on the training field into his second campaign, be that in J1 or J2.
Name: Takumi Tsuchiya
Club: Kashiwa Reysol
Born: 25 October 2003 (18)
Position(s): holding-midfielder / central-midfielder / centre-back
History: Wings SC, Nihon University Kashiwa High School
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 5 appearances, 1 goal in all competitions
Profile: When I wrote my J1 predicted line-ups article way back in late January I felt the starting central midfield berths at Kashiwa were wide open. Subsequently, Keiya Shiihashi, Dodi and Matheus Savio all put their hands up and delivered when required, however, quietly in the background versatile youngster Takumi Tsuchiya has been honing his skills ready to take over in the coming years. Capable of slotting in either as a volante or a centre-back, Tsuchiya may have only played 5 times this year, but all his appearances came from the start and he even managed to notch a goal against Tokushima in the Emperor’s Cup. His adaptability and ability to be both a ball winner and a ball player should stand him in good stead going forward.
Predicted Career Path: He states in his 2022 Soccer Digest Meikan entry that the player he admires most is Wataru Endo and while he’ll have to go some way to match the Samurai Blue skipper’s accomplishments in the game, he’s not a bad role model to have. Reysol generally have a big squad so there will always be plenty of competition for starting spots in the engine room. In 2023 Tsuchiya should look to use the Levain Cup to establish himself worthy of regular game time in J1, failing that, a move to an up-and-coming J2 team might be the fillip his career needs.
Comparative performances of J1 goalkeepers in 2022
J1 2022 Top 5 Youth Team Rookies
Name: Yuki Kajiura
Club: FC Tokyo
Born: 2 January 2004 (18 years old)
History: FC Tokyo Under-15 Fukagawa, FC Tokyo Under-18
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 8 appearances in all competitions, 1 goal
Profile: Another beneficiary of Spanish kantoku Albert Puig’s desire to lower the average age of the FC Tokyo squad, Yuki Kajiura has dropped hints that he could go on to become a decent contributor for the Gasmen in the coming years. Granted, with just three midfield spots available and plenty of competition, it’ll be tough for him to establish himself as first-choice just yet. He made 3 consecutive appearances in J1 in mid-July and although victories over Sapporo and Iwata would rank as positive experiences, getting taken off at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Urawa may have shown him just how much work is required to succeed at this level.
Predicted Career Path: Although Matsuki might leave at some point in the not too distant future, FC Tokyo have Tsubasa Terayama (Juntendo University) coming in and to be frank are quite over-stocked numbers-wise in central midfield. The Gasmen’s youth system is one of the most prolific in the country, but largely provides talent for clubs further down the spectrum. Kajiura may once again get chances in the cups early doors next season and could follow that up with a loan move to J2 in order to gain further experience.
Name: Sota Kitano
Club: Cerezo Osaka
Born: 13 August 2004 (18)
Position(s): winger / centre-forward
History: Arterivo Yuasa, Cerezo Osaka U-18
Transfermarkt Value: €200,000
2022 Stats: 26 appearances in all competitions, 3 goals, 1 assist
Profile: Sota Kitano started 2022 as a high school 2nd grader preparing for the upcoming Prince Takamado Cup campaign with his Cerezo Under-18 colleagues, and he’ll finish it a fully fledged pro who’s made close to 30 appearances for the Cherry Blossoms’ first team as well as a few for Japan Under-20. After standing out in pre-season, Kitano, who can play either as a central striker or on the right wing, was promoted to the top team by kantoku Akio Kogiku and has rarely looked back since. Kitano, and many of a Cerezo persuasion, must be wondering what could have been had he found the back of the net when clean through on goal versus Kyoto in round 2 back in February, however, he was unable to finish and decide that Kansai Derby in his side’s favour. Despite not yet breaking his duck in the league, he has been on target several times during the Cherry Blossoms’ run to the Levain Cup final and also against Algeria Under-23 during the Maurice Revello Tournament in late May.
Predicted Career Path: Having stepped up to the senior game a year early, one could argue that Kitano is already ahead of the competition, but I’m sure a quick scan through the history books would show that for every teenage wonderkid who goes on to great things, there are many more that fall by the wayside. Kitano has the tools in his locker to make the cut and once his body starts to properly fill out that will make him all the more attractive to European talent scouts. For me, he definitely falls into the category of ‘enjoy him while you can’ for Cerezo supporters and fans of the league as a whole.
Name: Isa Sakamoto
Club: Gamba Osaka
Born: 26 August 2003 (19)
Position(s): centre-forward / shadow-forward
History: JFA Academy Fukushima Under-15, Sorriso Kumamoto, Gamba Osaka Youth
Transfermarkt Value: €100,000
2022 Stats: 15 appearances in all competitions, 1 goal
Profile: The number 32 of Isa Sakamoto adorns the back of my 2022 Gamba Summer Expo uniform and although a solitary strike in 15 outings this year doesn’t appear all that impressive, Sakamoto has certainly served notice, albeit in small doses, of his enormous potential. His first touch, movement, composure and fearlessness all caught my eye and his stepovers and drag-backs have wooed the Panasonic Stadium faithful when he’s made it onto the pitch. After bagging the second in Gamba’s invaluable 2-0 win over Hiroshima back in June, Sakamoto enjoyed a productive summer for both the Nerazzurri and Japan Under-20, however, since Hiroshi Matsuda took the helm in the wake of Gamba’s home defeat to Shimizu in mid-August, Sakamoto hasn’t been sighted in a matchday squad and is hopefully busy at work in training, gearing up for 2023.
Predicted Career Path: With Gamba’s managerial situation and league status still very much up in the air, it’s really hard to say what will become of Sakamoto in the near future. Part of me thinks a loan move to his hometown club Roasso Kumamoto would be great for all parties involved, but also the blue and black side of me hopes Gamba stay up and Sakamoto, who has been compared to former Nerazzurri great Masashi Oguro, establishes himself as one of the team’s main attacking weapons next season.
Name: Hayato Tanaka
Club: Kashiwa Reysol
Born: 1 November 2003 (18)
History: Kashiwa Reysol Under-15, Kashiwa Reysol Under-18
Transfermarkt Value: €50,000
2022 Stats: 8 appearances in all competitions, 1 assist
Profile: Yet another graduate of the Reysol academy, which at the time of writing, has the most alumni currently contracted to a J. League club. A couple of weeks shy of his 19th birthday, Japan Under-20 international Tanaka already stands an imposing 188cm and though his side have exceeded expectations this season, defensively they’ve creaked at times, potentially opening up a path to regular minutes for him in 2023. His height and physical presence may be the most easily noticeable features of his game, but his passing range on his favoured left-boot shouldn’t be overlooked and he’s well suited to the back 3 system Nelsinho has operated for much of this year.
Predicted Career Path: After making 3 appearances in last year’s Levain Cup while on a type-2 amateur contract, Tanaka saw action in all 3 domestic competitions this term, including making 4 league starts. Yuji Takahashi remains injury prone and Takumi Kamijima hasn’t got rid of the simple errors that plague his game, which leads me to the belief that Tanaka stands a pretty good chance of being a regular in the Reysol starting eleven within the next 12-18 months.
Name: Riku Yamane
Club: Yokohama F. Marinos
Born: 17 August 2003 (19)
History: Yokohama F. Marinos Junior Youth, Yokohama F. Marinos Youth
Transfermarkt Value: €125,000
2022 Stats: 16 appearances in all competitions
Profile: Looking at Marinos squad from the outside in pre-season, I only expected Riku Yamane to make a couple of brief appearances in the domestic cups this season. I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss him, as the Marinos youth system has a long history of churning out extremely talented youngsters and Yamane appears to be the latest model off the production line. Although club captain Takuya Kida and former Verdy duo Joel Chima Fujita and Kota Watanabe are ahead of him in the pecking order for the 2 volante roles, Kevin Muscat’s rotation system has allowed Yamane to turn out 11 times in J1 and he’s now within touching distance of a league winner’s medal in his rookie season. A fine passer who has been able to hold his own in Marinos’ buccaneering system, he can look forward to a well-earned break at the end of the year, before charging out of the starting blocks in 2023.
Predicted Career Path: A youth international all the way up from Under-16 to Under-20 level with experience captaining his country, Yamane has clearly been on the path to stardom for a few years now and with Joel Chima Fujita seemingly on a similar trajectory, albeit a couple of years ahead, some of the traffic in front of him looks likely to clear shortly. I’d rate him as one of the players born in 2003 best equipped to make a big impact on the game in the coming years.
**A quick shout out to Hidemasa Koda (Nagoya) and Yugo Masukake (Kashiwa) who narrowly missed out on selection for this section.**
Many will be disappointed that Jiro Nakamura didn’t play enough to merit a place above.
J1 2023 Top 5 Rookies to Watch
Name: Yudai Kimura
2023 Club: Kyoto Sanga
Born: 28 February 2001 (21 years old)
Position(s): wide-forward / centre-forward
History: Osaka Toin High School, Kwansei Gakuin University
Profile: There will be a fair bit of expectation riding on Yudai Kimura’s young shoulders next year, regardless of what division Sanga occupy. Having made numerous appearances for the top team while on a designated special player contract this season which resulted in him being called up to the Japan U-21 squad in September, Kimura, who has mostly featured on the left of Kyoto’s front three, will possibly end up finding more of a permanent home as Peter Utaka’s long-term successor in the middle. Hiroto Yamami’s kōhai at Kwansei Gakuin University, Kimura debuted as a sub on the opening day of the 2022 campaign and perhaps made his biggest impression in the 1-1 draw away to Gamba in July, where he hit the post early on and won a late penalty for a Covid-ravaged Sanga, allowing them to earn a priceless point and more importantly take two points away from a relegation rival. Kimura appears to be the kind of precocious talent that doesn’t come along very often at the Sanga Stadium, therefore it may be a case of enjoy him while you can for Royals fans.
Name: Shuto Nakano
2023 Club: Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Born: 27 June 2000 (22)
History: Kiryu Daiichi High School, Toin University of Yokohama
Profile: Nakano is another player who’s already made his J1 debut while on a designated special player deal having come off the bench in Sanfrecce’s 0-0 draw with Sagan Tosu in round 1 of the 2022 campaign. He subsequently returned to Toin Yokohama University and captained them in their agonising 4-3 extra time loss away to Sapporo in the Emperor’s Cup in June. As a player capable of operating as a centre-back, defensive midfielder or even a wing-back, Nakano projects as Tsukasa Shiotani’s long-term replacement in my book and given Michael Skibbe’s record of developing promising, but inexperienced talents this year, I’m looking forward to seeing how Nakano and fellow 2023 rookie Taichi Yamasaki (Juntendo University) get on under the German’s tutelage.
Name: Tsubasa Terayama
2023 Club: FC Tokyo
Born: 10 April 2000 (22)
History: FC Tokyo Under-18, Juntendo University
Profile: Terayama will return to FC Tokyo next season after completing his studies at Juntendo University. Supporters of the Gasmen may have some good and bad memories of the combative midfielder who came through the youth ranks at the Ajinomoto Stadium and played in their Under-23 side in J3 on 14 occasions across 2017 and 2018, but also helped knock them out of the 2021 Emperor’s Cup in humiliating fashion during his time as a student. Later that year he debuted for FC Tokyo in J1 as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Avispa Fukuoka on the final day and the ball winning, box-to-box midfielder then went on to be selected for the Japan Universities side in 2022. Is he the man to finally oust Keigo Higashi from the FC Tokyo starting eleven? Or, will his arrival be the necessary kick up the backside that shakes Shuto Abe from his slumber? I, for one, will be watching on with interest.
Name: Keisuke Tsukui
2023 Club: Kashima Antlers
Born: 21 May 2004 (18)
History: FC Miyashiro Higashi FC, FC Lavida, Shohei High School
Profile: I’ll be honest, as he’s coming into the league directly from high school, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but there does seem to be a fair bit of buzz surrounding this deal so I though I’d include Keisuke Tsukui in here. Currently captaining Shohei High School, one of the top footballing schools in the country, in his native Saitama, 180cm tall, Under-17 Japan High School selection member Tsukui appears made-to-order for a Kashima side crying out for new defensive talent. With Koki Machida now in Europe, Ikuma Sekigawa still highly erratic and Kento Misao forced to fill in at centre-back, Tsukui, who is noted as a ball playing defender that excels in the areas of covering and positional play, may find himself on a rapid ascent into the Antlers top team should he impress in pre-season. Certainly, if the Stags adopt a similar game-plan to 2022 then those covering skills will be tested to the full.
Name: Shin Yamada
2023 Club: Kawasaki Frontale
Born: 30 May 2000 (22)
Position(s): centre-forward / wide-forward
History: Kawasaki Frontale Under-18, Toin University of Yokohama
Profile: It appears that the Frontale attack is on the cusp of a new era with legendary figures such as Leandro Damião, Yu Kobayashi and Akihiro Ienaga nearing the end of their careers and Marcinho potentially headed for fresh pastures. Taisei Miyashiro looks set for a return to his ‘nest’ after a series of successful loan spells and he will be joined by yet another graduate of the Frontale academy, Shin Yamada. Following the well-trodden path taken by the likes of Yamane, Tachibanada, Issaka and Hayakawa from Toin Yokohama University to Todoroki, Yamada should assimilate into the squad quickly and easily. Just how keen Toru Oniki is to throw him into the starting eleven remains up for question, particularly when young Takatora Einaga will also be eyeing further minutes in 2023.
**Note – Ryutsu Keizai University midfielder Kazuki Kumasawa (Kashiwa), Biwako Seikei Sport College winger Toya Izumi (Kobe) and new Shimizu centre-back pair, Takumu Kenmotsu (Waseda University) and Taketo Ochiai (Hosei University) are all worth keeping an eye on too in my humble opinion.**
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading all my ramblings, all the best and please take care of yourself!