In The Land of the Rising Sun, Pro Evolution Soccer is known as Winning Eleven. Ironic, as the Japanese national team traditionally hasn't been winning. Until recently, that is.
One of the key reasons why Winning Eleven has been so popular in Japan is the attention to detail for the Japanese players — players which are typically glossed over in FIFA games from Electronic Arts. FIFA has accurate character models for the most popular and well known players, and the Japanese team does not typically fall under that. Konami's Winning Eleven (AKA Pro Evolution Soccer) prominently showcases Japanese players. Winning Eleven has used both Japanese and international players to promote the game, but has paid specific care to the domestic favorites, getting their hairstyles and facial features right. (Obvious: This is a game made by Japanese developers!)
Winning Eleven started out as a J. League soccer game with its first PlayStation title in 1995 and Winning Eleven 5 was released abroad as Pro Evolution Soccer in 2001.
The J. League itself was founded only a few years earlier in 1992 out of a semi-professional soccer league. Japan finally played in its first World Cup in 1998, after almost qualifying for the 1994. That isn't to say soccer is brand new to Japan. The game has been played competitively in Japan since the pre-World War II era, and it even took a bronze medal in the Mexico City Summer Olympics in 1968.
Granted, the Japanese national team has been very successful in Asia, but many Japanese fans see Europe and South America as the most formidable competitors. And the Japanese national team got clobbered in its first World Cup outing in 1998. While hosting the World Cup with South Korea in 2002, the country did fair better, but Japan seemed more concerned about hooligan fans descending on Japan to watch games and cause havoc than actually ascending through the tournament.
(The Osaka City office building my wife worked in actually had a warning about hooligans!)
The team didn't fair better in the 2006 World Cup, but has been playing spectacularly this year in South Africa. Last night's game was amazing. This World Cup is starting to proves just how Japan's "Samurai Blue" is winning eleven material.