What to watch for in 2023: Who will be Japan’s next superstar?

What to watch for in 2023: Who will be Japan’s next superstar?

A new season of Meiji Yasuda J1 League football is upon us!

The best teams in all of Japan will battle for the crown of the country’s top team, not to mention AFC Champions League places, city or prefecture bragging rights and, for an unfortunate few, the right to just stay in the top flight.

Here is one thing you definitely want to keep an eye on:

Who will be Japan’s next superstar?

The 2022 FIFA World Cup was a terrific advertisement for the Meiji Yasuda J.League. Every player in the Japan team that beat Germany and Spain to qualify for the knockout stages either played in or made their professional debuts in the domestic league, further proving that it is the breeding ground for the Samurai Blue’s best and brightest.

So, as we head into 2023, who could be the next star to come from the J.League?

Shuto Machino is the easiest place to start. His 13 goals in 2022 weren’t just second-most in the league and helped drag Shonan Bellmare out of the relegation places, but his breakout season also earned the 23-year-old a place on Japan’s World Cup team.

Machino will be the star man for Bellmare again this season and could very well establish himself as the top forward in the entire league, but he’ll have competition from a few other young Japanese players.

Mao Hosoya had a terrific 2022 campaign for Kashiwa Reysol, helping pace their thrust to the top of the table in the first part of the season. Unfortunately, he did not have a lot of help up front and his impact waned towards the end of the year, but it was clear to everyone that he is a massive talent.

Not only does Hosoya score, but the 21-year-old is an intelligent player who makes runs for teammates and his hold up play is excellent. If he takes another step forward and Reysol give him a bit more help, this could be the year that Hosoya proves himself to be the all-around forward that teams dream of.

Ryotaro Araki only managed 13 games for Kashima Antlers last season due to injury, but the year before he became just the second-ever teenager to put up double digit goals in J1. The talent is clearly there and with a year of health, he could very well make good on the oodles of optimism that he earned with a spectacular 2021 season.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima's Makoto Mitsuta is also one to watch after the 23-year-old scored nine goals and added eight assists. His ability to tear defenses apart from the left wing, but also come inside and become a force in the box as an inside forward makes him a special player.

Further back on the pitch, Joel Chima Fujita will continue pushing for time in the Yokohama F·Marinos midfield despite being just 20 years old. His skill is undeniable and that the Tricolor trusted such a young player in 29 league matches despite being in a title race is a sign of how highly they rate not just his ability, but his maturity as well.

Another midfielder to watch is F.C.Tokyo's Kuryu Matsuki, who spurned interest from some of Europe's top clubs and decided to begin his career in Japan. The 19-year-old proved why clubs all around the world wanted him with a standout campaign last season, playing 31 matches as a tone-setting, tempo driving man in the middle of the pitch who can be one of the league's best at a shockingly young age.

The journey to the 2026 FIFA World Cup is right around the corner and European clubs are keenly aware of the special talent throughout the J.League. There are stars in the making all over.

Who will be the next Wataru Endo, Takuma Asano or Kaoru Mitoma? Tune into the Meiji Yasuda J.League and find out.

Four more things to watch for in 2023:

-Will it be a two-team title race?

-ASEAN stars across the J.League

-J.League clubs dreaming big in AFC Champions League

-Who will be best newcomer?