The WNBA has had only three Japanese players in its history. These players have come in the first three decades of the WNBA’s existence. Japanese players can be seen in the WNBA since the inaugural season of the league. None of them are currently in the WNBA, but there is still one former WNBA player that plays for the Japanese national team.
Japanese WNBA Players – Top Three in the Country’s History
Yuko Oga (2008) and 2. Mikiko Hagiwara (1997-98)
Yuko Oga was a five-foot-six point guard for the Phoenix Mercury in 2008. The Japanese guard was born in Yamagata and played high school in Shōwa-ku, Nagoya.
She played a key role in Japan’s only victory in the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women. Oga led Japan with 21 points as Team Japan defeated Argentina with a scoreline of 58-59.
In the 2008 WNBA season, she averaged 2.4 points per game. Her personal career-high in points came against the New York Liberty on July 5. In that game, Oga had eight points, one rebound, one assist, and one steal. Unfortunately, her team lost to Liberty by a score of 93-83. This is what, then Mercury head coach, Corey Gaines said according to Ed Odeven of The Japan Times.
“She has an energy level . . . an excitement,” he said. “She goes hard every time. (Oga) She has that mentality of, ‘Go, go, go.’ That’s what we need.”
Mikiko Hagiwara was the first-ever Japanese player to play in the WNBA. She was drafted fourteenth overall in the 1997 WNBA draft by the Sacramento Monarchs. In the 1997 WNBA season, she averaged 2.9 points per game. She played 26 games in the 1997 WNBA season. Her personal career-high in points that year came on July 7, 1997, against the Utah Starzz.
In that game, she had nine points and two rebounds. In 1997, she played 14 games with the Monarchs and 12 games with the Mercury. She would then play her final season with the Mercury in 1998. In that season, she averaged 2.2 points per game. Her best game in 1998 came in the 63-96 game opener win against Utah. In that game, she had eight points, two rebounds, and two assists. Mikiko would play only 10 games in 1998.
Ramu Tokashiki (2015-17)
Ramu Tokashiki was born in Kita-Ku, Tokyo. The six-foot-three power forward played really well in the 2015 WNBA season with the Seattle Storm. She averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 rebounds. On June 28, she had a career-high 21 points, three rebounds, and two assists against the Tulsa Shock. Unfortunately, the Storm lost to the Shock with an 89-93 scoreline.
Tokashiki made the WNBA All-Rookie Team in 2015. She became the first and so far only Japanese player to make the WNBA All-Rookie Team. This was also Tokashiki’s best season in the WNBA. Her points and rebounds per game went down in the 2016 and 2017 WNBA seasons. This is what WNBA legend Sue Bird said about Tokashiki according to Seth Berkman of The New York Times in 2015.
“Immediately you can see the crazy athleticism,” said Bird, who has played for the Storm since 2002. “Tok is probably one of the fastest post players I’ve ever seen.”
This is remarkably high praise as Bird is one of, if not, the most accomplished players in the WNBA. Tokashiki certainly has talent, and she hopes to make a name for Japan internationally in Tokyo 2020. She currently plays professionally in Japan for the JX-Eneos Sunflowers in Kashiwa, Chiba since 2010.
Ramu Tokashiki is trying to recover from a torn ACL in time to compete for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics. https://t.co/k6YEuCW3lF
— Japan Times: Sports (@jt_sports) April 22, 2021
Unfortunately, Tokashiki may not play in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics after suffering an injury last December according to Nancy Gillen of Inside the Games. However, Tokashiki has not given up hope about playing in the 2020 Summer Olympics this summer.
Overview of Japanese Basketball Players in the WNBA
👀 The groups of the #Tokyo2020 Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament!#Basketball @Olympics @Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/BpvFcfjT4f
— FIBA (@FIBA) February 2, 2021
Japan will be in Group B of the 2020 Summer Olympics. The teams in their group include Nigeria, France, and the U.S. The top two teams from each group automatically qualify to the knockout stage. Furthermore, the two best third-place finishers also qualify for the knockout stage. Japan’s first game in the Summer Olympics this summer will be against France on July 27, 2021, at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan.
There are currently no WNBA players from Asia. That could be due to the large distances between Asia and America. It could also be that there are only twelve WNBA teams. It is unfair to compare this to Japanese players making it to the NBA. For example, if there were only 12 teams in the NBA right now with no farm teams, it will be extremely hard for a player like Yuta Watanabe to make the NBA. The WNBA does need to expand at some point, which might mean a WNBA player coming from the continent of Asia in the future.
Japan is not known as a basketball country around the world. However, there is a women’s basketball league in Japan called the Women’s Japan Basketball League (WJBL) The league has existed since 1998.
Main photo: Embed from Getty Images