(Featured Image from: http://web.gekisaka.jp/news/detail/?154851-154851-fl)
Article (in Japanese): http://www.sanspo.com/soccer/news/20150314/pre15031415190003-n1.html
Maya Yoshida, currently playing for Southampton in the English Premier League (EPL), explains his experience plying his trade in Holland and England. Yoshida first left the J.League in 2010 for Holland to join VVV Venlo, which Keisuke Honda also played for but they were not there at the same time. He spent about 2.5 years in Holland, where he said that he could speak in basic English with his teammates.
Then, he transferred to Southampton in 2012 where he became the first Japanese player to renew his contract in the EPL. However, he quickly found out that he rudimentary knowledge of English was not enough. Why? Because his teammates, who were from England, Ireland, and other countries, all spoke quickly and differently. After 2.5 years with Southampton, he mentions, “Things have gotten better because I can understand a lot more.” He can understand. He does not say he can communicate.
Yoshida is also criticizes the education system in Japan and Japanese soccer players:
This problem of people who cannot speak English –this is a problem with Japanese education…When I was young, I studied English since I was 12, in middle school and high school. But after six years studying English, people can read English, understand a little bit, but cannot speak English. It’s English for an exam, not for talking. And if they cannot speak English, there are noa shame. Some Japanese players are lazy.
Yoshida wants to become a pioneer for future Japanese players to join EPL clubs. Yuki Abe played for Leicester City for about 1.5 years, but, accord to BBC Sport, his extreme homesickness was the reason he transferred back to Japan.
Tadanari Lee also played for Southampton, but hardly broke into the first team. However, a long-term injury affected his progress and was released after about 2 years.
And who can forget Hidetoshi Nakata? He played for Bolton, albeit on loan from Fiorentina, the year before he retired. However, Nakata is very, very proficient in English.
Kazuyuki Toda, Junichi Inamoto, whom are both former Japanese internationals, also played in the EPL. Shinji Kagawa also played in the EPL with giants Manchester United, but could not even find himself on the bench after Moyes took over.
Ryo Miyaichi is still under contract with Arsenal and has been for 4 years, but has been loaned out every season.
Can Japanese soccer players succeed in the EPL? Yoshida is hardly a success story in the EPL, but he is an example of grit and resilience, which is something Japanese players need more of if they want to be successful on the world stage.