I think, poker games definitely aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Japan. The country offers many different career opportunities, and people tend to have great work ethics, so poker isn’t the top choice of profession or even as a hobby.
This is at least partly because there are no legal land-based casinos or cardrooms in Japan.
Up until recently, organized gambling was strictly illegal in this country. This has recently changed, so Japan should see its first few casinos in the not-so-distant future.
Despite all of this, the country has produced several great poker players. While those topping Japan’s All-Time Money List may not have the same impressive resume as some names from the US or European countries, they’ve certainly done quite well for themselves.
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Although Masaaki Kagawa hasn’t been very active in poker circles for years now, he’s probably the best-known player from Japan. For a while, he was firmly seated at the top of the country’s All-Time Money list.
He still remains in the top five with lifetime earnings above $1.5 million despite not playing in any tournaments since 2013,
Kagawa’s results alone weren’t what earned him notoriety in the community NVG poker forum, though. The Japanese pro was involved in several big scandals, including the one in 2013 that led to his arrest.
Namely, Kagawa was one of nine people arrested under the suspicion of running an Android malware ring as well as an elaborate scam scheme involving dating websites.
It was estimated the group earned close to $4 million from the scam operation that collected and sold users’ private data.
It’s uncertain what happened after the arrest and if Kagawa was actually convicted. However, he hasn’t played in any officially tracked tournaments since 2013, which may suggest he’s otherwise engaged.
While the name might not ring the bell with the wider poker audience, Tsugunari Toma is the biggest poker winner in Japan, at least in terms of tournament results.
He’s currently sitting at the top of the country’s All-Time Money list with $2.2 million in earnings.
Toma’s first major breakthrough happened in December of 2018 when he finished the runner up in the €25,000 EPT Prague High Roller event, pocketing €191,840 for his excellent performance in the tournament.
The Japanese pro was just warming up for the next year, though, as it was in 2019 that he managed to post his two biggest career cashes to date.
First, in August, when he finished 5th in the €100,000 EPT Barcelona Super High Roller event, taking home just shy of €500,000, and then once again in Prague, but this time in the Main Event.
Almost exactly a year after his big second-place finish, Tsugunari Toma was back in Prague and looking to improve on his result – and improved he had.
In the competition of more than 250 top poker players, the Japanese pro managed to be the last man standing, winning the prestigious €10,300 Main Event and earning €523,120 in the process.
Born in Tokyo, Kazuhiko Yotsushika is another excellent Japanese poker player who’s been a regular feature in many big events around the world.
Yotsushika rarely misses any high roller tournaments, and he’s had several notable results along the way.
His biggest cash to date came from the win in the 2018 EPT Prague €25,000 high roller. To claim the first place, he had to face tough competition at the final table, including the well-known Portuguese pro Joao Vieira and the US crusher David Peters. The latter currently occupies the 7th position on the global money list with well over $33 million in tournament earnings.
Undeterred, Kazuhiko Yotsushika brought his A-game to the table and managed to snag the victory worth €370,000.
This win, combined with the series of other six and five-figure scores dating back to 2014, brings his total earnings to over $1.6 million, putting him in second place on the country’s All-Time Money list.
Yotsushika probably learned a lot from poker guides for Japanese players, so you might want to check it as well if you are fluent in this language.
A young pro hailing from Tokyo, Takashi Ogura is currently sitting in the third place on the money list, but he’s only slightly behind Yotsushika, seriously threatening to overtake the spot in the near future.
Ogura is a true grinder who’s been playing for several years now and took part in many smaller buy-in events as well, steadily building up his lifetime winnings.
Takashi’s best and most notable results came from his performances in the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, including the win in the 2018 single high roller event good for $350,000 and the third-place finish in the 2016 APPT Main Event worth over $177,000.
The Japanese pro has already been a regular feature in the World Series of Poker since 2011 and had several notable runs in the Main Event. His best finish to date saw him bust in the 64th position in 2012, earning him $106,000.
What better way to wrap up this list of top five Japanese poker players than with Yuri Ishida, a rare representative of successful female poker players from the Land of the Setting Sun.
According to Hendon Mob, her first official result came in 2012 when she finished third in a small APPT event, earning just over $4,000 for her efforts.
However, this was just the beginning of the Japanese rising star. Over the next few years, Yuri Ishida has had many notable results, bringing her total career earnings to over $500,000.
This may not seem like a lot, but it’s a fairly impressive result given that she’s been playing in relatively small tournaments, and her biggest single cash to date was for $41,600.
Ishida continues to tour the world and play in various events across the globe, putting her skills to good use and slowly but surely building an admirable poker resume.