Japan Data

Japan’s Favorite Athletes: Female Fans Boost Hanyū Yuzuru to Top the Ranking

Sports Society Economy

There seems to be a gender gap when it comes to popular athletes in Japan, as the male figure skater Hanyū Yuzuru tops the list among women, but is not even in the top 20 among men.

A survey found that Japanese people’s favorite athlete was Hanyū Yuzuru (figure skating), chosen by 7.8% of respondents, followed by Suzuki Ichirō (baseball) at 7.5%, Ōtani Shōhei (baseball) at 5.1%, Ōsaka Naomi (tennis) at 4.9%, and Asada Mao (figure skating) at 4.2%. Ōsaka appeared in the top 20 for the first time.

The Sports Life Survey, conducted by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation between August and September 2020, asked respondents about their favorite athletes. A total of 2,246 responses, from 74.9% of those surveyed, were received.

By sport, in the top 20, there were five baseball players; three representatives each for golf and soccer; two each for figure skating, tennis, and basketball; and one each for swimming, boxing, volleyball, and badminton.

Overall Ranking
1. Hanyū Yuzuru (figure skating) 7.8
2. Suzuki Ichirō (baseball) 7.5
3. Ōtani Shōhei (baseball) 5.1
4. Ōsaka Naomi (tennis) 4.9
5. Asada Mao (figure skating) 4.2
6. Nishikori Kei (tennis) 4.0
7. Ikee Rikako (swimming) 2.0
8. Shibuno Hinako (golf)  1.8
9. Sakamoto Hayato (baseball) 1.6
10. Lionel Messi (soccer) 1.4
11. Nagashima Shigeo (baseball) 1.3
12.= Inoue Naoya (boxing) 1.2
12.= Miura Kazuyoshi (soccer) 1.2
14. Ishikawa Ryō (golf) 1.1
15. Hachimura Rui (basketball) 1.0
16.= Honda Keisuke (soccer) 0.9
16.= Matsuyama Hideki (golf) 0.9
16.= Michael Jordan (basketball) 0.9
19.= Ishikawa Yūki (volleyball) 0.8
19.= Matsui Hideki (baseball) 0.8
19.= Momota Kento (badminton) 0.8

Created by Nippon.com based on a survey by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation. There are 21 athletes listed because three were tied for nineteenth place.

Hanyū Yuzuru was the overwhelming favorite among women, at 15.3%, more than 7.3 points higher than Asada Mao and Ōsaka Naomi, who were both at 8.0%. Four athletes in the female fans’ top 20 were figure skaters. 

Meanwhile, among male fans, Suzuki Ichirō was the most popular athlete, at 10.1%, maintaining the first-place position he has held since the ranking was first conducted in 2002. Even after his retirement, Ichirō continues to be loved by sports fans. In second place was Ōtani Shōhei, at 6.2%, followed by Nishikori Kei at 3.1%, while Nagashima Shigeo and Lionel Messi were tied for fourth place at 2.4%. Among the top 20 for male fans, seven athletes were baseball players, and apart from Ichirō and Ōtani, they were current or former players of the Yomiuri Giants.

Women Men
1. Hanyū Yuzuru 15.3 1. Suzuki Ichirō 10.1
2.= Asada Mao 8.0 2. Ōtani Shōhei 6.2
2.= Ōsaka Naomi 8.0 3. Nishikori Kei 3.1
4. Nishikori Kei 5.0 4.= Nagashima Shigeo 2.4
5. Suzuki Ichirō 4.8 4.= Lionel Messi 2.4
6. Ōtani Shōhei 4.0 6.= Sakamoto Hayato 2.3
7. Ikee Rikako 2.7 6.= Shibuno Hinako 2.3
8.= Ishikawa Yūki 1.4 8. Inoue Naoya 2.0
8.= Shibuno Hinako 1.4 9.= Ōsaka Naomi 1.8
8.= Hachimura Rui 1.4 9.= Michael Jordan 1.8
11.= Uno Shōma (figure skating) 1.2 11. Matsuyama Hideki 1.7
11.= Momota Kento 1.2 12. Miura Kazuyoshi 1.5
13.= Ishikawa Kasumi (table tennis) 1.0 13. Ikee Rikako 1.4
13.= Ishikawa Ryō 1.0 14. Kubo Takefusa (soccer) 1.3
13.= Sakamoto Hayato 1.0 15.= Ishikawa Ryō 1.2
13.= Takahashi Naoko (marathon) 1.0 15.= Oh Sadaharu (baseball) 1.2
17.= Honda Keisuke 0.9 17. Matsui Hideki 1.2
17.= Miura Kazuyoshi 0.9 18. Okamoto Kazuma (baseball) 1.1
19.= Uchida Atsuto (soccer) 0.8 19.= Honda Keisuke 0.9
19.= Kimura Saori (volleyball) 0.8 19.= Tiger Woods (golf) 0.9
19.= Takahashi Daisuke (figure skating) 0.8

Created by Nippon.com based on a survey by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation. There are 21 athletes listed for female fans because three were tied for nineteenth place.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Yuzuru Hanyū performing at the Japan Figure Skating Championships in December 2020, and Suzuki Ichirō throwing pitches for batters at the Seattle Mariners training camp in February 2021. © Jiji.)

Hanyū Yuzuru figure skating baseball Ōtani Shōhei Ōsaka Naomi