Who was your hero when you were a child? Some may say their hero was their father, some may name a movie star or a singer in a rock band. I guess many people call names of great sport players. Now, let me introduce several Japanese sports legends who created Japanese sports history.
#1. Sadaharu Oh – Baseball
If you are baseball fan, you might have heard of his name in the past. Everybody in Japan agrees that Oh is the greatest Japanese baseball player in its history. Sadaharu Oh was originally a excellent pitcher but after switched to first base player, he started making home runs in a amazingly rapid pace and in his career he made 868 home runs. His name Oh’s Chinese character 王 means “king” and he is actually the king of home runs. Oh became the first recipient of the People’s Honor award and entered the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
#2. Kazu Miura – Soccer
In 1993, Japanese professional soccer league (J. League) was founded. Before J. League there was no professional soccer team in Japan so the launch of the J. League pulled huge attention. With the J. League’s first boom, Kazu Miura became the first Japanese super star professional soccer player. The last match Kazu Miura played in Japanese National team was in 2000, and made the second-most career goals in Japanese national team history which are 55 goals in 89 matches. Surprisingly, he is currently 49 year old and still plays as a professional soccer player. He dances every time he made a goal and it is called “Kazu-Dance.”
#3. Ryoko Tani – Judo
Ryoko Tani was female judo player in extra-lightweight (48 kg) class. When she was 15 year old, she got fist major title at the 1990 Fukuoka International Women’s Judo Championships. After this win, she had kept winning this tournament 13 years in a row. She was called as “Yawara-Chan” which is the name of main character of a famous comic book featuring Judo. In Olympic games, she got total 5 medals including 2 gold medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. In 2010, she was elected to the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Japanese parliament.
#4. Kosuke Kitajima – Swimming
Kosuke Kitajima was a breaststroke swimmer. He won gold medals for the men’s 100m and 200m breaststroke at both the Athens 2004, and the Beijing Olympic games. He gave a huge impact on Japanese people’s mind at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Kitajima made a big scream when he won the 100m and 200m breaststroke and got the gold medal. In the TV interview just after he won the 100m, the first word came out from Kitajima’s mouth was “Cho Kimochi-ii!” which is Japanese slang and meaning “I feel really good.” This word was selected as Word of the Year in the end of 2004.
#5. Taiho Koki – Sumo Wrestling
Taiho was the 48th Yokozuna (= the highest rank) of sumo wrestling and his main careers were created in the 1960’s. He was young, super strong and handsome sumo wrestler and became Yokozuna at the youngest age ever at that time. He was supported by his fans among the all generations but especially small kids admired him very much. The phrase “Giants (Japanese baseball team name), Taiho and omelet” became the phrase of the minute which means 3 top things kids love.
#6. Naoko Takahashi – Marathon
Photo Credit: iaaf.org
Naoko Takahashi is the first Japanese female marathon runner who got the gold medal in the Olympic Games (2000 Olympic Games in Sydney). Marathon is popular sport in Japan and it is said that there are around 10 million marathon runners. Therefore, Naoko Takahashi’s win at the Sydney Olympic Games realized Japanese people’s long‐cherished wish. She became the first recipient of the Japanese People’s Honor award among the female sport players in 2000.
#7. Kei Nishikori – Tennis
Kei Nishikori is still making his great career but it is for sure that he will become a big Japanese sports legend. Before Nishikori there was no male Japanese tennis player to be ranked inside the top 10 in ATP Singles Ranking. At this moment, his career-high ATP Singles Ranking is No. 4 in March 2015. The strong shot he creates while his body is in the air is so unique and it was given a nickname of “Air-K.”