Think of Japanese footballers that have had an impact overseas and the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Shunsuke Nakamura, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa or Leicester legend Shinji Okazaki might come to mind. However, it is arguably an animated character who has been a bigger influence with a cumulative worldwide circulation of 80 million manga. The manga series has inspired some very prominent footballers to play football and choose it as a career.
The character in question is the iconic Captain Tsubasa who has appeared in various comic book magazines, cartoons and video games since its creation in 1981. It became one of the most memorable manga and anime worldwide, and really helped popularise football in Japan.
Yōichi Takahashi, the original author and illustrator of the comic series, is from Katsushika Ward in eastern Tokyo and this fact is celebrated in one particular area where there are nine bronze statues among other things. Taking the train over to this area and taking in the statues on foot seemed too simple to me so, as is often the case, I decided to do it on bicycle. It was an 18 kilometre ride alongside the Arakawa River from the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi. On top of that it was also a scorching hot June day when temperatures were at the 35 degree mark.
The nearby Tokyo Skytree was clearly visible as I arrived at Yotsugi Station roughly 60 minutes later. There was no doubt that I was in the right place as the station exterior in this quiet suburb was decorated in pictures of the animated characters.
The interior is something of a shrine to Captain Tsubasa too and just next to the ticket gates are some bronze statue maps (available in both English and Japanese) which are pretty essential for completing this mini tour of the area.
Even the station floor is designed to look like a football pitch. No doubt there is more to see for those who actually enter the station.
Some of the footballers inspired by Captain Tsubasa include Lionel Messi, Alessandro Del Piero, Fernando Torres, Zinedine Zidane, Hidetoshi Nakata, and Andrés Iniesta. The latter, currently playing in Japan for Vissel Kobe, was at the unveiling of Yotusgi’s Captain Tsubasa-themed makeover in 2019 and of course signed some stuff which is on display.
There is a footprint of former Japanese national player Tsuysohi Kitazawa as well as an illustration of Tsubasa and his teammates outside the Family Mart convenience store directly in front of the station.
A big shout out to Tokyo-based football writer and data analyst Alex Bishop for reminding me about this football-themed tour of Yotsugi which gave me the kick up the backside to finally get out there to see the statues for myself.
It should be noted that all the statues are quite small in size so locating them isn’t always as straightforward as you might think.
The photo above is a collage of myself in the 2004-06 Japan football shirt at all nine bronze statues but further information on each particular one is as follows…
1. Statue of Ryo Ishizaki – A very short distance from the station is this guy who is famed for his blocking shots with his face!
2. Statue of Kojiro Hyuga – The national teams ace striker statue can be found in Yotsugi Park.
3. Statue of Tsubasa Ozora – My first encounter with the main man himself. Not the last though!
4. Statue of Roberto Hongo and Tsubasa Ozora – Former Brazilian national player Hongo is the Japanese-Brazilian mentor to Tsubasa who he is captivated by.
5. Statue of Sanae Nakazawa – She fell in love with Tsubasa at first sight, and supports the team through her cheerleading skills.
6. Statue of Taro Misaki – Located in Shibue Park, he is as good as Tsubasa and together they are known as the golden combo.
7. Statue of Tsubasa Ozora – This heel lift statue is located in a tiny gravel park and playground area which I had a little trouble finding.
8. Statue of Genzo Wakabayashi – As well as training, competition and the outcome of each match, the series plots also focus on Tsubasa’s relationship with his friends as well as his rivalries with his opponents. Genzo is the first rival to Tsubasa in the series and is considered to Japan’s greatest goalkeeper.
9. Statue of Ozora Tsubasa – This Twin shoot opportunity was not so easy to find and I had to ask at a local store where it was. The guy really helped me out by searching the address on his computer. It’s located right outside Tokyo Metropolitan Minami Katsushika Senior High School but I have since noticed that it was right at the top of the map so I really needn’t have wasted the shopkeepers time! I took many shots here and believe me, the one below is the best of a very bad bunch!
It’s not just Yotsugi which celebrates this comic book hero as the next station along the Keisei Oshiage Line also has some displays albeit a bit more subtle.
Over the road from the Tateishieki-dori Shotengai shopping street is a Captain Tsubasa vending machine, and next to that is the macha tea shop where I enquired about the final statue on the trail.
There is also a restaurant (Trattoria Avere) decorated with the characters from the manga series, a store selling official merchandise and dioramas of iconic scenes can be seen inside Katsushika City Okudo Sogo Sports Center. Various spots in that city (i.e. the fire station) are also decorated with images of the football star, and an actual football team (Nankatsu SC) named after the fictional town in Shizuoka Prefecture where Tsubasa and his mum move to at the start of one of the stories.
Overall, this was quite a fun morning of exercise that took four hours in total with just over half of that taken up by getting to and from Katsushika Ward. To complete the bronze statue route on foot should take about an hour, and far less time when on bicycle! However, my poor sense of direction meant I still got lost a few times and setting up the shots to take of myself using a timer also took a fair bit of time.
Whether you know anything or not about Captain Tsubasa, this is quite a fun little tour to do. I enjoyed it and I can now admit that I have never seen or read a single thing relating to Captain Tsubasa!
Click here to read ‘My JSoccer Magazine Article On Japan Football Museum’
Click here to read ‘Foxed In The Head: Cycling To All Inari Shrines In Tokyo’s 23 Wards – #4 Katsushika’
Click here to read ‘Dining Out: The 100 Yen Burger Vending Machine Restaurant’
Click here to read ‘Fun & Excitement Are Never Too Far Away When Watching This Non-League Japanese Team!’