Japan is an Asian country where gambling is a national topic. For several years, the government has strictly implemented its gambling laws, only allowing a handful of government-operated betting games and sports. Horse racing and bicycle racing or gambling sports, as some would call it, are said to support a number of government projects so it is somehow accepted by society.
On the other hand, casinos are still a topic of debate – a series of discussion that led to the passing of the Integrated Resort Promotion Law. In 2016, the Parliament voted to approve the said law that will eventually alter the gambling industry in Japan. From zero land-based casinos, the government will grant three casino licenses for integrated resorts with a gaming area occupying about three percent of the total floor area of the resort.
That said, Japan does not fall behind in terms of gambling. Asians love to gamble and Japan is not exempt from that. Many of the gamblers in the country resort to playing in online casinos based abroad. The government knows this and somehow tolerates it since they really do not have jurisdiction over the offshore casinos. Online poker is gaining popularity in the country because of its competitiveness and probably because of its availability and accessibility through online casinos.
The growth of poker in the Land of the Rising Sun can also be attributed to the zeal and creativity of tournament organizers. In the past years, they set up tournaments in Japan by offering non-monetary prizes like travel packages. Many of the Japanese players are now joining major international events including the APPT, Macau Poker Cup, and the APT.
It is better late than never. Whilst Japanese poker players have only come to the scene recently, they already have made a great impact. The year 2015 has been known in the poker circle as the year the Japanese Poker Pros. It is the year when their skills on the table were recognized by online poker giants.
In early 2015, Japanese online poker player Kosei Ichinose was signed by PokerStars. Ichinose is a popular figure in the online pokerverse as the first Supernova Elite Player of Japan. A few months after, Akira Ohyama was recognized and signed by 888Poker. Ohyama has been making a name in the poker industry since cashing in 2012 in the Asian live scene.
In addition to online poker greats, Japanese players also dominate the live arena. Takahiro Nakai bagged the WSOP bracelet to become the second Japanese player to win a gold medal. The first gold medal was won by Naoya Kihara in 2012.
Yoshihiro’s claim to stardom is his 2008 win of the APPT Seoul sponsored by PokerStars.net. From the said tournament, the professional poker player brought home the pot money of $128,199. He is the first Japanese player to win the Asia Pacific Poker Tour title besting more than 160 players from all over the world. Held in Paradise Walkerhill Casino in Korea, Yoshihiro defeated the like of Hevad Khan, Greg Raymer, and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier.
Another successful professional poker player hailing from Japan is Yuki Ko. He started playing professionally in 2013 but his first major win was in 2016 when he won the Aussie Millions Pot Limit Omaha where he took home $37,382. A few months later, Ko won the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP) Pot Limit Omaha adding $24,986 to his total live earnings.
After two years, Ko bagged the APPT No Limit Hold’em – APPT National to earn $31,647. He also took home $62,236 after winning the APPT Single Day High Roller Event. He now ranks 14th in Japan’s All-Time Money List.
Also known as Japan’s Supernova Elite Player, Ichinose has a consistent poker journey. Since his start in the early 2000s, Ichinose has been a regular figure in poker tournaments making stable wins. His first major win was in 2006 when he took home $24,812 in the No Limit Hold’em event of the Macau Poker Cup. In 2013, Ichinose won the No Limit Hold’em – High Rollers event of the APPT Seoul taking home $46,918. He also won first place in the 2014 Macau Millions No Limit Hold’em Event. Ichinose also won the 2017 Poker King Cup and APT Macau – High Rollers earning $43,027 and $31,793 respectively. His most recent win is the APT – High Rollers and Monster Stack where he took home a combined total of $28,200.
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Motoyuki Mabuchi is another talented poker player. Mabuchi’s winnings all come from his tournaments in the United States. He is yet to join any Asian tournaments. His first and biggest win was the 2007 Fifth Annual Five-Star World Poker Classic held in Las Vegas where he took home $274,950. His next big win was in 2008 WSOP Circuit Championship with a pot of $112,693.
Yosuke Sekiya is a Japanese professional poker player who actively joins live tours hosted in Asia and the World Series of Poker in the United States. Sekiya has been playing professional poker for several years already. His first known cash in was in May of 2010 when he won more than $19,000 for placing third in the APPT side event. In 2012, Sekiya went home in second place in the Macau Poker Cup Main Event where he added $97,848 in his bankroll. Just a few months after, he won the Hold’em/Pot Limit Omaha mixed event at the Aussie Millions. He then went on to win third place in the APT Manila Main Event. The series of wins earned him the 2012 Asia Player of the Year Trophy.
Tsugunari Toma is one of the Japanese poker players dominating the European poker scene. Toma started his poker career in 2011 playing mostly in Asian tournaments. He won 6th place in the 2012 APPT ACOP Main Event where he took home $122,830. Over the years, he moved on to conquer Europe. In 2016, Toma won first place in the 2016 European Poker Tour (EPT) No Limit Hold’em – Turbo Event. He recently bagged the second place in the 2018 EPT – Prague earning him $216,964.
From Tokyo, Japan, Kasuhiko Yobushika is one of the most successful poker players in Asia. His first win was during the 2016 Rio Daily Deepstacks held in Las Vegas. He has had a successful run in the past years but 2018 seems to be his year, posting several first place finishes including Rio Daily Deepstacks, EPT – Barcelona, Japan High Roller Festival – Special High Roller and Short Deck Events, AJPC Asian Circuit – High Roller Turbo and AJPC Asian Circuit – Main Event. He also finished 5th in the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic.
Tetsuya Tsuchikawa made waves before 2018 came to a close. He won the 2018 Asian Poker Tournament held in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam last October. He also had a notable year by winning APT events held in Macau and the Philippines. His biggest pot was in 2011 when he won the Macau Poker Cup bringing home $91,860.
One of the best and probably, well known Japanese poker players is Naoya Kihara. He has been playing poker since 2010 but his claim to fame was when he became the first ever Japanese player to win a World Series of Poker bracelet where he won more than half a million dollars. Since his win, he has been signed by online poker giant PokerStars. Kihara now uses his popularity to spread awareness about poker as a sport and not just a gambling activity.
Iori Yogo is Japan’s rising star. He is one of the most active poker players joining various competitions from Aussie Millions to the Asian Poker Tournament in more than a decade of playing professional poker. He began his playing poker through online casinos before he went on to play in the live scene. He has been making successful cash winnings but his most significant win was in 2013 when he won over $19,000 by winning the Australia and New Zealand Poker Tournament.
2018 is also a good year for Yogo as he successfully won several events including APT – No Limit Hold’em Championship Event, APT – Hi Lo Split, APT Main Event, and Deepstacks Championship Poker.
Masaaki Kagawa is one of the most popular in the list. Aside from his winnings in the poker scene, Kagawa has also made headlines when he was arrested in 2013 for his involvement in the Malware e-mail scam.
Before his arrest, Kagawa made big money when he placed third in the 2013 Aussie Millions Poker Championship where he took home $337,824.
Takashi Ogura is a young gun making a name in the poker scene. He has won several major events and cashing in big by joining high stakes tournaments. His most recent win was in the Asian Open Poker Tour held in Incheon, Korea where he won $74,074. Other significant cash wins include 2018 Poker King Cup Macau (2nd): $168,786 and 2018 Asia Pacific Poker Tour Macau (1st): $350,628.