It’s been well-detailed how Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani went from a Japanese baseball superstar to what many consider a global icon in the sports world. During his historic 2021 season, he garnered attention with every move he made on the baseball diamond, and was the best show in the sport for an entire season.
Two people with similar stories are Japanese tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori. Both — like Ohtani — were massively famous in Japan before making the move to the United States, bringing their otherworldly talent and stardom along with them.
Osaka, specifically, is perhaps one of the most famous tennis players in the world, becoming the first player ever from Japan to be ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association.
When asked about Ohtani’s global fame from his dominance as a two-way superstar, Osaka felt as though they could relate to some aspects of each other’s stories, according to Daniel Riley of GQ:
“In the U.S., there are more star athletes across various sports, so the load is a bit more spread out. In Japan, there are fewer Japanese global stars, so the attention is a bit more intense,” she said. “Earlier in my career, I was much more well known in Japan, where there was a spotlight on me—and that actually helped when I became more successful globally because I was already used to it to an extent. I think Shohei can relate to that.”
Nishikori is the first Japanese male in the Open Era to rank top five in the world, coming in at No. 4 in 2015. He, too, felt a certain pressure out of Japan that was actually eased when he came to the United States.
“For me, it’s a lot easier to live and train in a small town in Florida, where it’s very easy to go shopping, go to restaurants, or go to a movie without anyone knowing. In Japan, it’s a little bit crazy. It’s just much harder to go outside on the street for daily life. For my career, I always felt it was good to live in Florida. Besides the great training, it’s good to be in a calm environment.”
Ohtani credited athletes like Ichiro Suzuki for paving the way for players like himself, Osaka, and Nishikori to succeed in the United States. All three would rank among the most famous people in the nation of Japan, and their stardom has translated perfectly in America.
The Angels star is now tasked with something that Osaka and Nishikori have already proven, and that is sustained success. Ohtani has made it clear that he believes he can sustain his MVP level of play beyond this season, and if he does, he’ll make an extremely strong case to usurp teammate Mike Trout as MLB’s best player.
Ohtani happy with face of baseball labels
Throughout the 2021 season, Ohtani handedly took over the position as the nominal face of baseball. While most players — like Trout and L.A. Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts — prefer to dominate quietly, Ohtani seems just fine with the added pressure of the title.