This weekend, 468 players will make their way to Tokyo to compete in the Umebura Japan Major, the country's largest tournament to date. With nearly every top Japanese player and a select few of the West's best confirmed, the path to first place will be laden with challenges for veterans and amateurs alike. Although the competitive scene of Smash 4 generally centers around the United States, Japan has long been known for its character diversity and population of high-level players. Few players, if any, can match the level of talent Japan possesses, especially when a tournament is on home soil.
Struggle at the Top
The upper echelon of Japanese Smash 4 has traditionally been a battleground, with no player remaining on top for long. There are, however, mainstays who are expected to do well no matter what.
Kengo "KEN" Suguki, for example, is the man to beat heading into the tournament. He displayed an unparalleled level of consistency throughout the 2016 ranking season and is currently ranked first in the country.
Crosshairs will also be on Rei "komorikiri" Furukawa, Takuto "Kameme" Uno, Ryuto "Ranai" Hayashi and Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura. As the country's premier representatives in foreign events, they are among the most popular players in attendance and will prove to be threats to any prospective challenger. Komorikiri and Ranai in particular are the Kansai region's signature one-two punch, so expect them to make a splash in both singles and doubles.
Being a favorite in Japan is different from being a favorite in the West. Trailing right behind the big four are Noriyuki Kirihara, Shuto "Shuton" Moriya, Tomoyasu "Earth" Yamakawa and Yuya "9B" Araki, a group of players with major titles to their name. All of them could win any tournament given the proper circumstances and have done so time and time again.
Even though Japan's old guard may be showing no signs of decline, its new blood is on the rise. The best example of this is Eita "HIKARU" Hoshi, whose resume is rapidly expanding despite his young age. He has been a major driver in the development of the Donkey Kong metagame and it shows in his results. In 2017 alone, he finished in seventh at Civil War and first at Shulla-bra X, the latter without dropping a single game.
Speaking of character development, Isami "T" Ikeda and Tsubasa "Tsu-" Takuma singlehandedly put their characters in the international spotlight. T's third place finish at Civil War proved that Link was able to contend internationally, while Tsu's near-win over Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios in the grand finals of Frostbite bumped Lucario up the rankings. The two have since struggled to recapture the same success but remain solid contenders for the Top 8.
As players come and go, it's a running joke in the Smash community that "no one ever truly retires from the game." Alongside the turn of the year came the resurgence of several titans from the Brawl era.
Edge had a number of strong performances in the early days of Smash 4, but largely dropped off the grid in 2016. His return to form this year -- which includes taking Sumabato 17 over expected winners Earth and Ranai -- has been rapid and impressive. Expect him to take out several notable names over the course of the event.
The Kanto region's "fearsome three" of yore in Tetsuhisha "Rain" Kosaka, Brood and Choco will also be in attendance. Rain is once again on the rise with recent wins over Kirihara and KEN, and despite a sparse 2016, Brood re-entered the global stage with a bang by sending tournament favorite ZeRo to losers bracket at Genesis 4. Choco himself remains a consistent threat as the 12th best player in the country.
A Global Affair
Japan won't be the only country in play as the Echo Fox duo of Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman and Leo "MKLeo" Perez will be representing the United States and Mexico respectively. South Korea's top dog Jongho "Tanark" Lee will also be in attendance and while he isn't as internationally acclaimed as the previous two, his dominance over his local scene makes him someone to look out for.
Smash historian G.C. Bill contributed to this article.