All eyes on me: Japanese stars to watch at Tokyo 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 05:  Members of Japan participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 05: Members of Japan participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

For Japan's athletes, the Games are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they have gone all in on. Here are some that will rivet an entire nation.

It's here.

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is ready for opening and to welcome the world's best and brightest athletes, who will be at the heart of the 17-day spectacle.

None more so than the Japanese athletes who will be carrying the hopes of an entire nation starving for inspiration after a challenging 16 months.

Who are Japan's creme de la creme, the ones sure to dominate the headlines? Look no further than below.

MEN

Rui HACHIMURA - Basketball

Along with the Toronto Raptors' WATANABE Yuta, the second-year Washington Wizards forward will be counted on to lead the Japanese men in their first Olympic appearance in 44 years. There's a buzz around Japanese hoops that hasn't been seen before, and Hachimura - Japan's first-ever NBA first-round draft pick - is the reason.

  • Watch Hachimura on: 26/7 JPN vs ESP. 29/7 JPN vs SLO. 1/8 JPN vs ARG.

HARIMOTO Tomokazu - Table tennis

The Chosen One. Golden Child. Boy Wonder. The time has come for Japan's ground-breaking teenager to turn years of hype and expectation into an Olympic medal. Even the normally unfazed Harimoto - who turned 18 only on 27 June - admits he is nervous for his first Games. But having overcome everything else in his career, why should nerves stop him?

  • Watch Harimoto on: 24-30/7 singles. 1-6/8 team.
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 07: Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan celebrates a point againast Patrick Franziska of Germany during Men's Teams singles - Quarterfinals - Match 2 on day two of the ITTF Team World Cup, Tokyo 2020 Test Event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on November 07, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 07: Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan celebrates a point againast Patrick Franziska of Germany during Men's Teams singles - Quarterfinals - Match 2 on day two of the ITTF Team World Cup, Tokyo 2020 Test Event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on November 07, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

Kanoa IGARASHI - Surfing

The poster boy for the new Olympic sport in Japan has it all - the looks, the skills, the endorsement deals and the highest-ranked Japanese surfer of all-time hopes to add a gold medal to the mix. Kanoa is the Hawaiian word for freedom. Watch him be liberated this summer in Tsurigasaki, Chiba Prefecture, this summer.

  • Watch Igarashi on: 25-28/7.

KIYUNA Ryo - Karate

Kiyuna is a three-time reigning world champion and record nine-time consecutive national champion. The native of Okinawa - where karate was founded - is one of Japan's strongest gold-medal candidates as karate makes its Games debut. And he wants to do it in style - by scoring a perfect 10.

  • Watch Kiyuna on: 6/8 kata.
2019 Getty Images

KUBO Takefusa - Football

The former Barcelona prodigy - now property of Real Madrid - has a maturity beyond his 20 years of age. Japanese hopes of a first medal in men's football since Mexico 1968 have been pinned on Kubo since he joined the Catalan club as a 10-year-old. It's the moment of truth for the Left-footed One.

  • Watch Kubo on: 22/7 JPN vs SFA. 25/7 JPN vs MEX. 28/7 JPN vs FRA.

MOMOTA Kento - Badminton

In the five years since Rio 2016, which he missed out on, the world No. 1 has overcome A LOT to position himself as the prohibitive Tokyo 2020 favourite, including last January's car wreck that left him seriously injured. A changed man by his own account, anything less than gold would be disappointing for Momota. Odds are, though, he won't disappoint.

  • Watch Momota on: 25/7-2/8 singles.

ONO Shohei - Judo

Widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound judoka on the planet, the Rio 2016 gold medallist and three-time world champion will go into the Games without a single competition under his belt this year. But no matter. Ono is a force to be reckoned with and will captivate the Nippon Budokan like The Beatles when he takes the mat.

  • Watch Ono on: 26/7 73kg.
Judo - World Judo Championships - Men under 73kg - Semi Final - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2019   Japan's Shohei Ono and Russia's Denis Iartcev compete   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Judo - World Judo Championships - Men under 73kg - Semi Final - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 27, 2019 Japan's Shohei Ono and Russia's Denis Iartcev compete REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

UCHIMURA Kohei - Artistic Gymnastics

The three-time Olympian will be the first to tell you his all-around days are history. But the fire burns ever-so brightly in the 32-year-old who will become only the second Japanese gymnast to appear in four Games and is still looking for a performance to satisfy him. Watch Uchimura take the horizontal bar to a whole new level next month.

  • Watch Uchimura on: 3/8 horizontal bar.

Baseball

Perhaps no country more than Japan has been longing for baseball's return to the Olympic programme. Manager INABA Atsunori's men will look to bring home the nation's first gold since Los Angeles 1984 and with household names like Cuba and Australia not in the competition, it's now or maybe never.

  • Watch Japan on: 28/7 vs DOM. 31/7 vs MEX.

Men's 4x100m Relay Team - Athletics

After capturing silver fair and square at Rio 2016 only behind Jamaica, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations is making it a mission to top the podium at these Games with Usain Bolt now out of the picture. With four runners now having broken the 10-second barrier, all of Japan will be glued to their TV sets for the 6 August final.

  • Watch Japan on: 5/8 heats.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge of Japan celebrate after winning silver in the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge of Japan celebrate after winning silver in the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

WOMEN

ABE Uta - Judo

With older brother Hifumi in the men's 66kg - the first siblings on Japanese judo's Olympic team - two-time world champion Uta will aim to win the Abe family two gold medals - on the same day on 25 July. For all the judo gold medals Japan have won, no Japanese has ever won the women's 52kg division. Uta is looking to be the first.

  • Watch Abe on: 25/7 52kg.
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 26: Uta Abe (blue) of Japan throws Natalia Kuziutina (white) of Russia to win by Ippon in the Women's -52kg final on day two of the World Judo Championships at the Nippon Budokan on August 26, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 26: Uta Abe (blue) of Japan throws Natalia Kuziutina (white) of Russia to win by Ippon in the Women's -52kg final on day two of the World Judo Championships at the Nippon Budokan on August 26, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

IKEE Rikako - Swimming

She first beat leukemia then all odds by qualifying for Tokyo 2020 this April - only eight months after returning to competition. The Rio 2016 Olympian, who initially targeted Paris 2024 for her Games return, has nothing to lose here and will only get stronger going forward. She will be must-see TV.

  • Watch Ikee on: 24/7 4x100m freestyle relay heats. 30/8 4x100m medley relay heats.

NISHIMURA Aori - Skateboarding

The first-ever X Games champion from Japan in 2017, the Tokyo-born 19-year-old is riding into the Games on a high after winning last month's world championships in Rome. Along with teammate HORIGOME Yuto in the men's, look for Nishimura to coast to the podium as skateboarding makes its Games debut.

  • Watch Nishimura on: 26/7 street.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 22: Aori Nishimura of Japan competes during the finals to win the thirth place in the WS/SLS 2019 World Championship at Parque Anhembi on September 22, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 22: Aori Nishimura of Japan competes during the finals to win the thirth place in the WS/SLS 2019 World Championship at Parque Anhembi on September 22, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

NOGUCHI Akiyo - Sport climbing

The sport's pioneer for Japan, the 32-year-old veteran is a four-time overall World Cup champion with 21 wins on the circuit. Noguchi is calling time on her career after Tokyo 2020 and has every chance of going out on a high with an Olympic medal in hand alongside men's favourite NARASAKI Tomoa.

  • Watch Noguchi on: 4/8 combined.

Naomi OSAKA - Tennis

Japan's first Grand Slam winner and Asia's first world No. 1, male or female, Osaka is days away from fulfilling a career ambition - to appear in the Olympic Games in her home country, when the competition takes place at Ariake Tennis Park. With all that she's gone through this season, a gold medal is all but certain to take her to another stratosphere.

  • Watch Osaka on: 24/7-1/8 singles.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12: Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts in the third set during her Women's Singles final match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Day Thirteen of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 12, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12: Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts in the third set during her Women's Singles final match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Day Thirteen of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 12, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

TERADA Asuka - Athletics

She wins three straight national titles from 2008 in the 100m hurdles, misses out on London 2012 and retires. She has a daughter in 2014, takes up Rugby Sevens two years later, making the national team, but quits rugby in 2018 after breaking her right fibula. Then in 2019 returns to track, rewrites the Japan record and qualifies for Tokyo 2020 this June. If this isn't a story, what is?

  • Watch Terada on: 31/7-2/8 100m hurdles.

SUSAKI Yui - Wrestling

Japan's co-flagbearer with NBA star Rui Hachimura, 21-year-old Susaki has never lost to a foreign wrestler going back to her junior days. She held off Rio 2016 48kg champion TOSAKA Eri to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and is now the one to beat in her weight class. We might be looking at the next YOSHIDA Saori.

  • Watch Susaki on: 6-7/8 50 kg.

Nadeshiko Japan - Football

The Japanese women are back on the Olympic stage after failing to qualify for Rio 2016. With captain KUMAGAI Saki and IWABUCHI Mana the only holdovers from the London 2012 side who lost to the United States in the final, the Nadeshiko are truly reborn. Can they recapture the glory days that won them the 2011 Women's World Cup?

  • Watch the Nadeshiko on: 21/7 vs CAN. 24/7 vs GBR. 27/7 vs CHI.
KAMEOKA, JAPAN - JULY 14: Mana Iwabuchi of Japan in action during the women's international friendly match between Japan and Australia at Sanga Stadium by Kyocera on July 14, 2021 in Kameoka, Kyoto, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
KAMEOKA, JAPAN - JULY 14: Mana Iwabuchi of Japan in action during the women's international friendly match between Japan and Australia at Sanga Stadium by Kyocera on July 14, 2021 in Kameoka, Kyoto, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

Softball

Thirteen years ago in Beijing, Japan beat the United States to capture softball's last Olympic gold medal which they had been dying to win since Atlanta 1996. On 21 July in Fukushima, the defending champions will face Australia in the first competition of Tokyo 2020. Victory there could set the tone for the entire Games.

  • Watch Japan on: 21/7 vs AUS. 22/7 vs MEX. 24/7 vs ITA. 25/7 vs CAN. 26/7 vs USA.

Volleyball

At Tokyo 1964, the "Oriental Witches" set the Games alight by storming to gold over the Soviet Union, sparking a volleyball boom throughout the country. It remains to be seen what coach NAKADA Kumi's team can do but fourth at the Volleyball Nations League has to be encouraging. The Japanese public will be counting on them to recreate the magic from 57 years ago - and tuning in.

  • Watch Japan on: 25/7 vs KEN. 27/7 vs SRB. 29/7 vs BRA. 31/7 vs KOR. 2/8 vs DOM.