By Cesare Polenghi
Just a few years ago there were not many Japanese players in Europe but things have radically changed in the last couple of seasons, with imports from Japan growing both in quality and quantity.
As more J-Leaguers are expected to migrate to the old continent this summer, some of the players already in Europe are the subject of transfer rumours, and might switch clubs in a few months.
The biggest prize would be Keisuke Honda who is currently at CSKA Moscow. The Russian club has reportedly been contacted by Liverpool's new owners.
Honda's potential move to Merseyside would provide Steven Gerrard with an excellent midfield partner. Some observers even say the Japanese might actually take the spot of Liverpool's captain, considering how the latter has been constantly coping with injuries in recent months.
Another club reportedly interested in Honda is AC Milan who need to rejuvenate their roster and are looking for quality players with reasonable salaries. Honda would be a perfect fit.
On the other side of the Italian city, Inter will likely purchase Yuto Nagatomo from Cesena after the excellent half-season as a loanee. The dynamic full-back was also a Liverpool target, but the Reds will likely have to give up on him.
West Bromwich Albion were rumoured to have made an offer to Lierse goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
It would be a good option for the Samurai Blue shot-stopper, provided he could earn a starting role.
Other rumours from England include the interest of an undisclosed big club for Gamba Osaka prodigy Takashi Usami while Arsenal are keen on Dragan Stojkovic of Nagoya Grampus to step into Arsene Wenger's shoes.
However, it remains a good bet that both Usami and Stojkovic will remain a few more years in Japan.
Finally, those who are very likely to change clubs are Takayuki Morimoto and Daisuke Matsui.
Morimoto has been sitting on the bench for Catania for most of the season, and according to a source close to his agent, he has received offers from Spanish clubs, and teams likely to be promoted up to Serie A from the Italian second division.
The situation is slightly more complicated for Matsui, perhaps due to his age as the attacking midfielder will be 30 in May.
His current Grenoble are tumbling into the French third division. Notwithstanding a flamboyant performance at the World Cup in South Africa, Matsui seemingly cannot find a team in Europe that are interested in his services.
After a half-season spell at Tom Tomsk in Russia, he returned to Grenoble, and the only concrete offer came from Japan's most popular club Urawa Reds, where Matsui trained for a few days last winter.