It has been a relatively muted off-season in Japan, with most of the Asian football headlines spotlighting the eye-popping signings made by the super rich clubs of the Chinese Super League. But that isn’t to say that Japanese football doesn’t have its own story-lines and points of intrigue this year, and why not start this site & this season off with a positive spin? Here is a just a selection of the things that I’m looking forward to this year.

The Ascent of “The Jaguar”

Champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima have lost their top scorer from last year, with Brazilian forward Douglas headed to warmer, not to mention richer, climes in the middle east. The reigning champs brought in Peter Utaka on loan from Shimizu S-Pulse, but most people have their eyes on rising star Takuma Asano.

Manager Hajime Moriyasu will hope that Asano, with his combination of searing pace and strength, can assume the mantle of primary goalscorer in Hiroshima. Hisato Sato will almost certainly break Masashi Nakayama’s record goal total this year, but if Sanfrecce are to win a fourth title in five years, one imagines that Asano will have to be at the forefront of their charge (although there is always the danger that he performs too well, leading to richer clubs looking to take him elsewhere during the summer). In limited time, 2015 J.League MVP Toshihiro Aoyama showed he had no hesitation feeding Asano, arrowing laser like balls over or through opposition defences, giving Asano ample change to stretch his legs and outpace defenders. Teams will defend high against Hiroshima at their peril.

Gamba Osaka’s brand new home

Gamba Osaka & Sanfrecce Hiroshima have been two of the pre-eminent, trophy chasing clubs of the last few years in Japan. But while Sanfrecce are having to deal with flip-flopping politicians in their quest for a football specific stadium, Gamba are set to unveil their brand spanking new Suita City Stadium next weekend.

It’s not that Gamba’s old Banpaku stadium was without charm – the supporters behind the goal created a fine atmosphere despite being a huge distance from the action.

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The view from behind the goal at Gamba Osaka’s old Banpaku Stadium

But Gamba will be playing in a stadium where the supporters are much closer to the pitch, and sound will stay in the stadium thanks to the make up of the stands. This year in J1, there will be at least ten teams with football specific stadia – but all eyes will be on the opening of Gamba’s new cathedral of football, and how they and opposing teams adapt the new, salubrious surroundings (see image below)

The potential logjam at the top of J2

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Will Cerezo Osaka get the power and the glory this year?

Just look at the names: Shimizu S-Pulse, Cerezo Osaka, Matsumoto Yamaga, Consadole Sapporo, JEF United Chiba – all at one time heavy hitters in J.League terms. And look at some of the players on the rosters of these clubs:

  • Chong Tese, Genki Omae & Mitch Duke – S-Pulse
  • Yoichiro Kakitani, Keiji Tamada – Cerezo Osaka
  • Shinji Ono, Ken Tokura – Consadole Sapporo
  • Takayuki Funayama, Kazuki Nagasawa, Ado Onaiwu – JEF United

And all these teams/players are before we even reach last year’s play-off participants Ehime FC and V-Varen Nagasaki. Can Kyoto Sanga get their woeful 2015 season out of their system and return to the business end of the table? Will Giravanz Kitakyushu push for promotion as they prepare to welcome a new stadium in 2017?

There’ll be more than a few twists and turns in J2 this year.

The widening of the Japanese football family

This year J2 says a big “konnichi wa!” to Renofa Yamaguchi, as their reward for winning the 2015 J3 title (in the most dramatic way imaginable) are trips to the aforementioned star turns of J2. Meanwhile, J3 welcomes a brand new member club in Kagoshima United and the team with the volcanic Sakurajima on their team crest will be looking to make a big splash in their debut professional season.

Lots of eyes will be on these clubs in to particular because they, not the J-U22 selection or the U-23 teams that have infiltrated the third tier, are the blueprint for the future expansion of Japanese football.

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As watchers of Japanese football, what are you looking forward to, if anything, this year? Let us know in the comments, or Tweet us at @jleagueregista

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