The 2023 Market Report – J3 League

The first relegations, the playoffs ready for 2024, the first season with 20 squads in the third tier: J3 is back and there’s a lot to talk about. After Iwaki FC and Fujieda MYFC got promoted, the promotion battle will be full of surprises and favorites. It’s tough to say if we’ll find out in December that another surprising run went through to enthusiasm the neutral fans.

To introduce this new, marvelous season, “The Market Report” is back for 2023 and the names excluded are of certain relevance:

  • Shonan Bellmare are producing many interesting players, and among them Hikaru Arai left for good, representing a solid add for FC Imabari.
  • Yusuke Muta greatly captained Iwate Grulla Morioka from J3 to J2, so surely FC Ryukyu will need him as a defensive anchor back to the third tier after four seasons in the second division.
  • Azul Claro Numazu, Blaublitz Akita, and now Gainare Tottori: Makoto Fukoin has been a factor in J3, and surely Kim Jong-song can’t wait to rely on him in the midfield, just like Yuta Togashi, who had a massive tracking record of goals under the former FC Ryuku head coach.
  • Ryusei Nose showed some promising bits at Vanraure Hachinohe, now he’ll try to replicate them in Kitakyushu with Giravanz.
  • Kagoshima United FC surely pulled off some interesting hits, including Kazuki Chibu from Tegevajaro Miyazaki and Shuntaro Kawabe from YSCC Yokohama.
  • Kensei Nakashima seemed a positive prospect to follow, but he lost the way a bit in these years: featuring with Nara Club could become a solid restart.
  • After many years in J1 & J2 with Omiya Ardija, surely Shunsuke Kikuchi can be a factor for Ehime FC in the third tier.
  • Same goes for Carlos Duke, who had a nice stint with Nagano Parceiro under Yuki Stalph, and now looks to a starting spot with SC Sagamihara.
  • Last but not least, Koki Matsumura was a bargain for YSCC Yokohama, coming as a free agent after his stint at Fujieda MYFC ended.

But let’s go through the Top 10 transfers we’ve found from this Winter.

10. Keita Tanaka | FC Ryukyu » Gainare Tottori

The objective is clear for Kim Jong-song: after clinching promotion with FC Ryukyu in 2018, he’s slowly building another carnival in Tottori. Sure, he lost Daichi Ishikawa to Roasso Kumamoto and Yuya Taguchi to FC Gifu, but the pieces to have a decent season are there. And among them, there’s an old face who just became again one member of his roster: Keita Tanaka.

Born as a winger, mostly offensively, Tanaka has changed his role in Ryukyu. He scored 20+ goals in J3, but he’s now a right-back, and Tottori could really use some experience in that role. With 33 years old and the ductility of playing three different roles on the right flank – full-back, wing-back, and winger –, Tanaka could be an excellent add to a squad that could be in the Top 6 of this season.

9. Hiroyuki Tsubokawa | Nagano Parceiro » Kataller Toyama

To us, it’s incredible the path Tsubokawa went through. In 2020, in his rookie season, he basically came through as one of the most interesting midfielders of the whole J3. Under head coach Yuji Yokoyama, Tsubokawa played as an anchor of the club. Things didn’t change with Yuki Stalph, who kept featuring the no. 6 for a total amount of 27 times in 2022.

Nevertheless, Tsubokawa didn’t stay and now joined Kataller for a new beginning. Surely, his profile will help raising the chance of Toyama of a promotion run. It will probably be a decisive season as well to understand if Tsubokawa will be able to aim for something more than the third tier.

8. Yuya Ono | Matsumoto Yamaga » Nagano Parceiro

It’s not strange to see a player jumping ship from Matsumoto to Nagano (or vice versa, for what it’s worth), but it’s bizarre to see that happening for nothing in return and after the 2022 season. Yamaga needed to hold on to the few valid players that came through last season. But now Ayumu Yokoyama is at Sagan Tosu, Kazuhiro Sato joined Ventforet Kofu, and even the defender left.

Yuya Ono played a positive season, the third in a row as a starting piece for Yamaga. 31 caps that put him on the map, especially in a year when Matsumoto was one of the best defences of the third tier. Let’s see what Yuki Stalph will do with him throughout the 2023 season.

7. Riku Hashimoto | Fukushima United FC » SC Sagamihara

We have a personally emotional investment on the kid, because Riku Hashimoto has been really interesting to watch with Fukushima United. Already under Yu Tokisaki, Hashimoto played two marvellous seasons after joining from Hosei University… but Toshihiro Hattori probably improved his performances even more, since Hashimoto bagged five goals in 32 caps.

Leaving Fukushima is a strange move – not by any means an improvement –, but the winners of this bargain are surely SC Sagamihara, who changed a lot under the new course of Kazuyuki Toda and need quality after reshuffling the whole squad (especially after losing Jungo Fujimoto last Winter, who retired).

6. Mu Kanazaki | Oita Trinita » FC Ryukyu

We won’t shy from him: he’s been of the best J.Leaguers of the last decade. Once he came back to Japan from a partially disappointing European stint between Germany and Portugal, Kanazaki dominated the league for 2-3 years. Kashima Antlers owe him a lot for the trophies won between 2015 and 2017, while also at Sagan Tosu he showed some sparkles. Unfortunately, his performances degraded from 2019 onwards.

You could see at Oita Trinita as well: Kanazaki wasn’t at his best, but he showed some signs of the player he used to be. J3 could be a way to dominate for him at 34 – although the start hasn’t been good, with him getting ejected in the opening game against Vanraure Hachinohe. Nevertheless, for a club which changed that much after getting relegated, FC Ryukyu could be a glorious final stop of a wonderful career.

5. Nao Eguchi | Blaublitz Akita » Kamatamare Sanuki

Looking back, it’s incredible how his career changed this much. Just three years ago, in the great run Blaublitz Akita enjoyed to clinch promotion to J2, Nao Eguchi was one of the two – if not the best player of the squad. Yudai Tanaka won the hearts of the readers, but Eguchi showed some immense performances, scoring from the midfield and deciding games with his free-kick abilities.

Then injuries intervened, preventing Eguchi from debuting in the second tier. Once he came back, Akita already survived without him and the no. 15 became a mere cameo in Ken Yoshida’s plans. Nevertheless, he’s still good enough to be decisive in J3, and Kamatamare Sanuki never had this kind of operation – bringing in such a good player. If he’ll make the difference, Eguchi can even bring Sanuki to a safe salvation.

4. Ryo Kubota | Zweigen Kanazawa » FC Gifu

Actually, the player already experienced FC Gifu in 2022, but the move was made permanent throughout the Winter. Ryo Kubota had a strange trajectory from his career: class 2001, he joined Zweigen Kanazawa being just 18 years old. He barely played in 2019 and then had a wonderful season in 2020, playing 32 times, putting together one goal and six assists.

Like Raisei Shimazu – another talent who got lost in Kanazawa after a great season –, Kubota was loaned to FC Gifu for two years. A timid 2021, a resolute 2022 – with 31 caps, four goals, and three assists – convinced the club to invest on him. And that’s good, because Kubota was actually one of the few positive notes from a disastrous season for FC Gifu, started with promotion dreams and ended with mid-table nightmares.

3. Noriaki Fujimoto | Vissel Kobe » Kagoshima United FC

Is there anything to really say about him? Noriaki Fujimoto is a well-known profile for J.League fans from the lower leagues. We wrote about him in 2019, when he was dominating with Oita Trinita at his maiden season in the top flight, and then signed mid-season for Vissel Kobe. He was a key-player to win the Emperor’s Cup in 2019, had some minor big moments in the AFC Champions League, and then disappeared.

The spending spree by Vissel Kobe obscured any possible chance for him to play. He had a six-months loan stint at Shimizu S-Pulse, where he showed some sparks integrating with Thiago Santana. After just four matches in the whole 2022 season, we have to ask ourselves: is that player still there? Our answer is yes, and Fujimoto has stayed attached to KUFC (39 goals in 57 matches in J3, top-scorer in J3) and he was there to celebrate the J2 promotion in 2018.

2. Jon Ander Serantes | UD Logroñes (ESP) » FC Imabari

That was a surprise! After Avispa got promoted from J2 in 2020, the loss of Jon Ander Serantes seemed the nail on the coffin for Fukuoka’s hopes to retain in J1. Despite Murakami’s performances dissipated all fears about that, we always wondered why there wasn’t an agreement on prolonging the tie. Instead, Serantes came back to Spain, signing for Tenerife.

Unfortunately, his brief stint in Segunda Divisiòn didn’t work. Serantes then joined Logroñes, showing he didn’t lose the touch – 13 clean sheets from 25 games. He didn’t though retain his spot for the 2022-23 season, so he joined FC Imabari for a return to Japan. He obviously opened his account with a clean sheet – we’ll see if he’ll be a key-asset to bring Imabari to the top half of the table.

1. Yuki Okada | Tegevajaro Miyazaki » Giravanz Kitakyushu

Probably one of the best signings from last year. Tegevajaro Miyazaki haven’t been that good in 2022, after reaching third place in their maiden campaign. Nevertheless, Yuki Okada – who joined from Machida Zelvia, where he wasn’t impressing that much – was the perfect match to bring Tegevajaro to a solid season. The class 2001 scored 14 goals in just 23 matches.

Raised by Kawasaki Frontale, Okada was the key-player for Miyazaki, featuring as a left-winger and deciding games by himself. On the other hand, the season of Giravanz Kitakyushu has been dreadful and they definitely needed a player to hype the local fans. Sure, the club can rely on some creative players – newly-joined Ryusei Nose, Taiga Maekawa, Haruki Izawa –, but Okada can change your season.

That’s the last article of our pre-seasonal coverage for both J3 League and J.League in general for 2023!

If more articles will come in these days, you can always recover “The Market Report” for J1 League (here) and J2 League (here), which we published throughout February.

If instead you want to read more about the pre-coverage season for J3 League in 2023, you can see how relegations have been introduced in J1 & J2 (here) or the great path of Nobuhiro Ishizaki in the Japanese football world (here). See you soon!


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