Keisuke Honda’s signature for Melbourne Victory marked another page in the chapter of Japanese players who have played the beautiful game down under. The Football Sack’s Ngau Kai Yan took a look at five other Japanese players who featured in the A-League.

Jumpei Kusukami / 楠神 順平

The most recent Japanese player since Keisuke Honda to grace the A-League, attacker Jumpei Kusukami signed a two year deal contract with Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2016/17 season.

The then 28-year-old arrived with seven years of experience in the J1-League, chalking up nearly 150 appearances in Kawasaki Frontale, Cerezo Osaka, and Sagan Tosu colours. As inconsistent as his squad was in the 2016/17 season, Kusukami only managed three goals and one assist in 26 starts, despite displaying bouts of brilliance.

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It was the Japanese’s sudden death miss in a penalty shootout against Brisbane Roar that saw the Queensland side boot the Wanderers out of the finals series in the opening week.

Kusukami’s presence as an Asian visa player in the AFC Champions League provided the Wanderers with a fourth import slot. However, his performances and two goals did little to salvage the calamitous performance by Tony Popovic’s side in the group stage, and they finished rock bottom with a negative goal difference of 12.

Kusukami netted the second goal of the Wanderers’ 2017/18 A-League campaign but drew blanks in his other 14 starts for the club. Fans saw the last of Kusukami after his famed handshake snub with new manager Josep Gombau. Unable to fit into Gombau’s tactics, Kusukami departed the club early in the January transfer window.

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Where is he now?

Kusukami signed for Shimizu S-Pulse after departing the Wanderers, but after clocking only 25 minutes on the pitch in two substitute appearances, was loaned out to second-tier Montedio Yamagata in that same season. 31 years old now, Kusukami is no longer a starter, and has yet to find the back of the net for mid table dwellers Montedio, in five substitute appearances.

Ryo Nagai / 永井 龍

Picked up by Perth Glory on loan from Cerezo Osaka, the attacker linked up with Ian Ferguson’s squad for the 2012/13 A-League season. Having featured for Japan’s U19 side, the pacy, versatile winger was unable to find his form under the very coach that recruited him. After Alistair Edwards took over the managerial reigns in mid-February, things started to look up for Nagai.

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He slowly eased his way into the Glory’s starting 11, which played some of the more attractive football throughout the 2012/13 season. Despite only scoring one goal in the regular season, the fan favourite helped Glory in their late push to reach the finals series.

Nagai was the sole goalscorer in their 2-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory in the first hurdle of the finals. After extending his loan deal for a further season, Nagai picked up where he left off, delighting fans with his individual attacking flair.

However, Nagai’s adventure down under was cut short by a hamstring tear in a match up against Adelaide United. A mutual contract termination between Glory and Nagai’s parent club was understood to have proven most beneficial to his recovery.

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Where is he now?

After his recovery, Nagai endured a tumultuous season with Cerezo Osaka, and was relegated to J-2. He has unfortunately been unable to fulfil his dream of playing in European leagues and has since bounced around J-2 outfits Oita Trinita, Nagoya Grampus and V-Varen Nagasaki. The 27-year-old is now plying his trade at Matsumoto Yamaga FC, who look set to enter promotion playoffs to Japan’s top flight.

Hirofumi Moriyasu / 森安 洋文

Having only played at J-3 level, 24-year-old Hirofumi Moriyasu’s stint at Sydney FC was a result of one last shot at football glory. Arriving in Australia uncontracted, APIA Leichhardt was willing to give the defensive midfielder minutes in the lower rungs of the Australian football, in the NSW Premier League. He did more than that, propelling Leichhardt to final contenders with his combative performances. After impressing in trials with Sydney FC, he signed for the Sky Blues for the 2010/11 season.

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A shoo-in starter for most games, Moriyasu was commended for his work-rate, but performances were merely satisfactory for an Asian visa player, and his side finished a low 9th.

His bittersweet first and last taste of AFC Champions League football was short lived, as they bowed out of the group stage, finishing third. In the following season, Moriyasu hardly featured in Vítězslav Lavička’s plans, bar a handful of appearances at the season’s end. He bade farewell to Australia at the end of the 2011/12 season, and returned to his homeland to play for J-2 side, FC Gifu.

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Where is he now?

Moriyasu predominantly featured as a starter in Gifu’s 2012/13 campaign, narrowly missing out on relegation to J-3. In 2014, Moriyasu called time on his playing career. The 33-year-old is now the founder of his own football academy in Osaka, where he also strives to inculcate the English language into young footballers.

Yojiro Takahagi / 高萩 洋次郎

The versatile attacker saw successes in back to back J-1 titles in 2012 and 2013 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, making 279 appearances for his boyhood club. Capped thrice for his nation, the 28-year-old was acquired by the Wanderers in 2014/15 on a short term contract in a bid to retain their miraculous AFC Champions League crown in the earlier season. Despite narrowly missing out on qualification to the round of 16, Takahagi’s performance in a 3-1 victory over Kashima Antlers will not be easily forgotten by the Wanderers faithful.

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Takahagi impressed by opening his account in the A-League and the AFC Champions League on his respective Wanderers debuts. Domestically, all two of Takahagi’s league goals came against Melbourne City, and his iconic sumo celebration with club compatriot Yūsuke Tanaka highlighted the Wanderers affinity with Japanese players.

Despite operating in a deeper midfield role under Popovic, Takahagi left fans purring at his set piece ability and his range of distribution. His performances caught the eye of FC Seoul in the Korean top flight, and he departed the Wanderers just after 11 appearances in the A-League the following season.

Where is he now?

Takahagi was largely involved in FC Seoul’s tussle with Jeonbuk Motors for the 2016 K-League 1 title throughout the season, but eventually lost out. In 2017, he returned to the J-League, albeit with a different side, FC Tokyo.

He immediately cemented his place in the J-1 side, starting in all fixtures in the 2018 season. The 32-year-old has recently succeeded in securing an automatic group stage spot in the AFC Champions League with FC Tokyo, finishing third in the league just behind his former side, Hiroshima.

Shinji Ono / 小野 伸二

This list won’t be complete without the “genius” making an appearance. The well-travelled Japanese superstar set alight leagues with Urawa Red Diamonds in the J-1, Feyenoord Rotterdam in the Eredivisie and VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga, before committing himself to Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2012/13 A-League season in a two year deal. With 56 outings and three FIFA World Cups appearances (1998, 2002, 2006) to boot, Ono became the Wanderers’ inaugural marquee player.

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The then 33-year-old played an integral part in clinching the Premiers for Australia’s newest club, and fell short of the double by crumbling to Central Coast Mariners in the grand final. In the 2013/14 season, Ono continued to delight fans with his natural ability on the ball, and his eye for a pass.

Noticeably slowed down by his age, his performances dipped and he struggled to see out games. But a player of his calibre was enough to propel the Wanderers to a second consecutive grand final (which they lost) and a second place finish in the premiers.

Ono was ever-present in the build up to Wanderers’ AFC Champions League glory, despite not featuring after the quarter finals stage. His contract was not extended by the club, and he left as a league, and club legend. His departure set the bar for Japanese marquee players, and since Honda’s arrival, no Japanese player has managed to reach the highs that Ono did for the Australian game in all of its 14 year history.

Try not to tear up at this, Wanderers fans.

Where is he now?

Returning to his homeland, Ono signed for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the J-2 league in 2014. Within 3 seasons, Ono’s side gained promotion to J-1, and has remained there until the 2018. The 39-year-old has not made a league start since 2015, and has only made a handful of appearances off the bench in the 2018 season. Just look at that beard!

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Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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A journalism undergrad at Monash University, Kai is a multimedia journalist covering Melbourne Victory. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Once "stole" Shinji Kagawa's plane ticket.