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Hidetoshi Nakata: The Japanese David Beckham

“Vision, technique, intelligence, he has it all,” said Diego Armando Maradona once about Hidetoshi Nakata. The former Japanese footballer is often called the Japanese David Beckham, not only for his class on the field but also for his superstar status off it. Like Beckham, Nakata was more than just a footballer; he was a brand. When Nakata moved from Japan’s Shonan Bellmare to Italy’s Perugia at the age of 21, he embraced the fashion culture. He was often seen at fashion shows, was named the best-dressed footballer by many experts, and modelled for Calvin Klein.

Hidetoshi Nakata David Beckham

Players like Beckham and Nakata are so well-known for their personas outside of football that the general public often overlooks how good they actually were. The Japanese star was nominated for the Ballon d’Or three times during his short career and was a standout player in Serie A. The quick, creative attacking midfielder could dribble like no other and was named one of the top 100 best footballers of all time by the legendary footballer Pelé.

Despite this, Nakata decided to retire from football after the 2006 World Cup at the age of 29. The passion and joy he used to play with had faded. People tried to convince him to continue, but he was determined to stop at all costs. He didn’t need the money anymore.

A Journey of Discovery

Nakata went on a world tour, visiting over 100 countries. Everywhere he went, people asked him about his homeland, but he had little to say. From a young age, he had always dreamed of a football life outside Japan, so he had never embraced his own culture. It became his life’s mission to learn more about Japan and, in his words, “become a better Japanese person.” This led to a more than seven-year journey exploring the traditions of Japanese culture. He visited all corners of the country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, searching for a way to help Japan as an entrepreneur.


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During this journey, Nakata became particularly interested in sake, a Japanese alcoholic drink made from rice. He visited more than 400 producers in the country to analyze the industry. In 2015, Nakata founded Japan Craft Sake Company with the goal of building an infrastructure where sake made in Japanese breweries could be successfully sold abroad. This was a huge challenge because traditional and high-quality sake is extremely sensitive to temperature and light and has a short shelf life.

Nakata found the solution with the concept of the Sake Blockchain and now exports the drink to several Asian countries. However, the industry faces more challenges; Japanese government figures show that nearly 70 percent of breweries operate at a loss or make only a small profit. To address this, he also developed an app to inform people about the various types of sake and increase interest. Nakata has not earned anything from this business over the past ten years, but money is not his motivation. He does it purely out of love and passion, the same love and passion that we saw when he shined on the Italian pitches.