The Samurai Blue are one of the strongest teams in Asia, having won the AFC Asian Cup four times, and always progressing to at least the group stage level of FIFA World Cup since 1998. Majority of the Japanese national team members play in the J-League but slowly and steadily the trend of playing abroad is gaining momentum, as more players are following in the footsteps of club legends, Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic) and Hidetoshi Nakata (AS Roma, Parma). In my opinion, the five most famous Japanese footballers playing abroad are:
The 2010 Japanese football player of the year who is currently 29 years old and plays as a forward for AC Milan. Before his move to Italy, he played in Russia for CSKA Moscow where he won the Russian Premier League, Russian Super Cup and Russian Cup (twice) and was also voted the Asian Footballer in Europe 2014. The free kick specialist has not fully blossomed in Milan yet, but he is one of their key players on whose shoulders the burden of a revival of AC Milan rests.
The 31-year-old defensive midfielder is the captain of the Samurai Blue. Hasebe has been playing in Germany at club level since 2008 and is a current first team regular for Eintracht Frankfurt. He won the Bundesliga title with VfL Wolfsburg in 2008-09 season and became only the second Japanese player to win the Bundesliga title (Yasuhiko Okudera won it with Köln in 1977).
The veteran defender was the first Asian player to have ever signed and played for Internazionale. The 29-year-old defender has served as the vice-captain and won the Coppa Italia 2010-11 with them. He has been in Italy since 2010 (came on loan to Cesena from FC Tokyo) and has also been a regular for the Samurai Blue.
The 29-year-old striker has just recently arrived in Leicester City from FSV Mainz 05 for roughly €10 million. While he is yet to establish himself in the Barclays Premiere League, he became the top Japanese goal scorer in Bundesliga history by netting 12 goals last season. His accomplishments also extend to the international level as he is currently the third highest all-time Japanese goal scorer.
The 2012 Asian International Footballer of the Year exploded onto the world stage after being one of the top performers at Borussia Dortmund responsible for two consecutive Bundesliga titles (2010-11, 2011-12) and one DFB-Pokal (2011-12). After his highly successful stint in the Bundesliga, he moved to Manchester United who won the Premier League in 2012-13 and FA Community Shield 2013 but was arguably not properly utilized. Since then he has gone back to Dortmund and has rediscovered his golden form.