2023 Worlds Preview: Team Japan
Smile Japan looks to build off last year's historic finish.
Japan has consistently and gradually been taking steps at Worlds. Last year was their best result, coming in fifth. They’re still the underdogs of Group A, but more and more, they’re challenging top teams.
Forwards: Haruka Toko, Chisato Miyaaki, Yoshino Enomoto, Remi Koyama, Mei Miura, Akane Shiga, Rui Ukita, Makoto Ito, Rio Noro, Riri Noro, Yumeka Wajima, Chihiro Suzuki
Defense: Akane Hosoyamada, Shiori Koike, Ayaka Hitosato, Aoi Shiga, Kohane Sato, Kanami Seki, Shiori Yamashita
Goalkeepers: Miyuu Masuhara, Kiku Kobayashi, Riko Kawaguchi
Three players to focus on
Just a few years ago, Akane Shiga was the hot new rookie to watch. She made her senior debut when she was just 17 years old. She had a goal against Sweden in her first tournament appearance and she hasn’t stopped since then.
In 2021, Shiga scored two goals against Team USA. Despite Japan’s eventual 10-2 loss, Shiga made history. She had scored both the first and second goal against Team USA in the team’s entire history. In 2022, Japan scored 11 goals in. Of those goals, Shiga scored three and assisted on an additional two.
22 year old Shiga is a key part of an incredibly young Team Japan’s future. If you’re looking for someone who can score goals against the tough competition in Group A, Akane Shiga is the person to watch.
With two goals and four assists, Haruka Toko lead Team Japan in points in last year’s tournament. She also scored in the shootout that saw Japan beat Finland in the fifth place game
Toko, along with her sister Ayaka Hitosato, are the only players on Team Japan who play professionally in Europe, which means that it’s easier to compare her to other players in the tournament. Toko has played for Linköping in the SDHL since 2019-20. She has nine goals and 18 assists for a total of 27 points in 29 games so far this season. She’s more of a playmaker than a goal scorer in the SDHL, but she scores some of Japan’s most important goals on the international stage.
Hitosato had more points than any other Japanese defender in 2020 with four assists. After three seasons with the Seibu Princess Rabbits, Hitosato joined her younger sister in the SDHL playing for Linköping.
She has 10 points (2G, 8A) as a defender in the SDHL. Defense is without a doubt Hitosato’s strength, but that’s not to say she can’t join in on a rush if she needs to.
At 21 years old, this is Masuhara’s third senior national appearance (one Olympics and one Worlds). Masuhara played six of Japan’s seven games, including their final game where she made 61 saves to shutout Finland in regulation.
Goaltenders are thought to get better with age, and considering Masuhara is still representing Japan at World University Games, she still has a lot of room to develop into one of the most exciting goaltenders in women’s hockey.
This Worlds won’t tell the full story of Team Japan, it’s a smaller part of something much larger. The story of Japan is one of incremental gains and improvements.
As older players leave the team and younger players arrive, Japan has remained consistent in their systems and tactics. Of 23 players, 11 were born in 2001 or later. This is an incredibly young team, but that’s not to say that they’re inexperienced. At 17 Kohane Sato is set to participate in her second Worlds.
Japan finished 8th in 2019, 6th in 2021, and 5th in 2022. If trends continue, we’d see Japan in the bronze medal match, but it's more likely that we'll see them finish at the bottom of Group A.
What does success look like?
If Japan comes in fourth, it will be a happy overachievement. For Japan, success looks like matching or beating last year’s result and staying in Group A.
April 5 - USA vs JPN 3 p.m.
April 6 – JPN vs CZE 3 p.m.
April 8 – JPN vs CAN 7 p.m.
April 10 – SUI vs JPN 3 p.m.