Football Fantasy – Yamanashi

“Sliding doors” may be an over-rated concept, but sometimes it makes you think. Think about how things could be different seen from another perspective, especially in a country like Japan, where football is young and pro-football is even younger. J. League has gifted us wonderful histories, but how could this league become if regional criteria would come into play?

We’ve always heard that Kansai and Tokyo metropolitan area are the strongest in this country (with the risk of overpopulation in these areas), but is this true also in football? Looking at which clubs won the title in the last years, you would say “no”: Hiroshima and Ibaraki Prefecture looked good. And a Saitama-based club brought home the continental trophy after being the last one to win it, a decade ago. But it would be the same with Prefecture-based squads?

So we came up with this little fantasy league, where every player is chosen due to his birthplace and so due to his prefecture. It was a strange game, but it led us to a different view of Japanese football. In every episode, we’ll try to visit Japan for what it is, a land with different landscapes and scenarios. We did it also to value everything that this nation can offer: we’re no travel guides, but we may add here and there some general tips for every prefecture, besides their football history until now.

A few rules:

  • Every squad features from 11 to 23 players, depending on the depth of the Prefecture;
  • Not every Prefecture has its own squad, since not everyone of them was able to feature the needed players to form a team;
  • You will find many surprises.

After Ehime, Aichi, Miyazaki and Sapporo, let’s go with episode no. 5, where we’ll talk about Yamanashi Prefecture.

Yamanashi Prefecture isn’t exactly a place full with glamour. In Japan, this region – located anyway near Kanagawa, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Saitama – relies between the mountains, landlocked by the nature. Both Mount Fuji and Mount Kita are indeed within the borders of the Prefecture, well-visible when you look over to Shizuoka. Yamanashi isn’t neither so populated (41st in the ranks) nor big (32nd), but sure can count on a beautiful landscape (78% of the land is covered by forests). The Japanese government is thinking of empowering the links to the place for 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the ultimate goal of bringing more tourists to the region.

In fact, the closeness to Tokyo and Yokohama pushes visitors to explore this part of Japan. A quiet place to find some relax and practice hiking or visit the inner regions of the Prefecture. The capital, Kofu, is indeed a fundamental place for Japanese football, because it’s the birthplace of one of the legends of this sport: Hidetoshi Nakata started from there and conquered first Japan and then Europe, playing three World Cups and featuring with success in Italy (cultural fun fact: the city is also the birthplace of Naoko Takeuchi, creator of Sailor Moon).

Football-wise, the Prefecture has probably overachieved. In this matter, Ventforet Kofu have played a huge role, since the Yamanashi-based club first got promotion to J1 League in a dramatic way in 2005, when they trashed Kashiwa Reysol in a famous relegation/promotion play-off. They managed to survive in 2006, but got back to J2 the next season. Three years were needed to snatch another promotion: despite having Mike Havenaar as centre-forward, they got relegated again. But the real miracle came in 2012, when they won J2 by a landslide (with Davi scoring 32 goals. 32!) and then managed to stay in J1 for another five seasons.

Miraculous, I’d say. And I’d confirm that opinion by looking at the squad we would have by taking only Yamanashi-born players. In goal, we can find Kazushige Kirihata (class ’87), a senator of Kashiwa Reysol, where he grew, debuted as a pro-footballer and where he has recently played, subbing in during the absence of Kosuke Nakamura. In front of him, there’s a mixed defensive line. Two players came from Ventforet Kofu – which is a vital hub of this prefectural squad: three of 11 starters played there, currently or in the past –, but they’re young blood.

If Keita Irumagawa (’99) debuted last year in J. League, Yuta Imazu (’95) actually impressed a lot this year since Nobuhiro Ueno became the new head coach of the club. Who knows, he might become a good asset for the future. Alongside them, there’s J3-defender Ryo Hiraide (’91) and most of all Yoshifumi Kashiwa (’87), column of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and former Ventforet man. To shield the defence, there are two holding midfielders like Tomomitsu Kobayashi (’95) and Yoichi Naganuma (’97), supported by new kid in town, who is Tokyo Verdy’s Kanya Fujimoto (class ’99), raised in the youth sector and then launched by Miguel Ángel Lotina in this season.

On the flank, you can raise a little the quality with Yusei Kayanuma (’93) and Yuki Horigome (’92), who both could have been higher in the Japanese football pyramid. IMHO, especially the latter has a great potential and maybe he’ll find a way to flourish under Ueno. As a centre-forward, you have to pick Yu Hasegawa (’87), current member of Shimizu S-Pulse and the most classic of the no. 9s. Not the greatest team you’ll witness in these series, but definitely one of the biggest pride to participate.

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