What is your earliest World Cup memory? I was eight years old and watching the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Japanese football was not so hot then and we did not compete. Japanese people were not interested in soccer so I watched games at home. Alone. I remember Maradona dribbling past all the England players and scoring that wonderful goal.
What are the expectations from the Japanese people for the national side in South Africa? They are very high – maybe unrealistically so. They see some of us playing in Europe and think that we can win the tournament. We know that will be very difficult.
What do you know about Denmark, Holland and Cameroon, the other teams in your group? It’s a tough group for us. We have to find something unique to get out of this group. Japan cannot play a physical style because we don’t have that type of player. We have to use our Japanese style and skill.
Everybody knows how good Holland are. They have the players good enough to win the competition. Denmark won a group that included Portugal and Sweden, so that shows how good they are. Cameroon’s style is very different to Japan’s and it will be an interesting clash of styles. They have a good history in the World Cup and we respect that.
Which upcoming Japanese players should we watch out for? There are none.
You signed for Espanyol in the summer of 2009 and hardly featured. That’s not ideal preparation for the World Cup... I felt that I had to leave Spain because of the World Cup. The disappointment of Spain will give me extra motivation. I need to be playing regularly. Not playing before a World Cup was a risk. But I have no regrets about going to Spain.
You are the most experienced Japanese player. How can this help the team in the World Cup finals? In a good way, because I have played not only in the J-League, but Serie A, Primera Liga and the Scottish league. But there is also pressure on me as people will expect me to deliver.
Which English phrases did you learn while playing for Celtic? I do know some English, but I could not understand what people spoke in Glasgow. They were friendly and very helpful, but it was very difficult for me. I needed a translator.
And which country you played in did the best sushi? The best fish was in Italy, but everything was with pasta so it was not really sushi. There were some Japanese restaurants in Scotland, but the sushi was made by a machine and not by hand. Barcelona has good sushi restaurants.
Tell us about the Japanese coach, Takeshi Okada. In all of my years with the national team, this is the first time that I’ve had a Japanese manager. I became used to hearing the voice of the translator. We had managers who did not know our names properly. It’s a good thing that we have a Japanese manager.
Describe the Japanese fans. In the past, they bought European football shirts because they liked the shirts and not just the team. And then they bought shirts where their favourite players were – players like Beckham. Now, more of them are supporting Japanese teams.
Interview: June 2010.