Naonobu Fujii, setter for Japan's men's volleyball team at the Tokyo Olympics, has died aged only 31 from stomach cancer ©Getty Images

Japanese volleyball is mourning  the passing of Olympic player Naonobu Fujii, at the age of only 31 from stomach cancer.

"We cannot bear the sadness of losing a player who was the center of the team, including his personality, and who was expected to play an active role in the future," a statement from his club Toray Arrows said.

"We would like to express our sincere gratitude to you for your kindness in life."

Japan Volleyball Association President Shunichi Kawai also paid tribute to the player on his passing.

"Please rest in peace, I pray from the bottom of my heart that he may rest in peace," Kawai said.

Fujii had been diagnosed with the disease only a few months after playing in the Tokyo Olympics as a setter.

Japan lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals and eventually finished seventh in the competition.

Fujii's condition deteriorated during 2022, when he sent a video message to the Japanese team which finished fifth in the Volleyball Nations League in Bologna.

"I am always getting a lot of energy from watching you do your best," Fujii told his former team mates.

"I am also fighting hard for that moment when we can play volleyball together again."

Fujii had been born in Miyagi and took up volleyball at Furukawa Industrial High School.

In 2011, the family home was lost in the tsunami and earthquake, but he was encouraged by his family to continue with the sport.

At the 2017 Asian Championships in Gresik, Indonesia, he was a member of the gold medal-winning Japanese team and also voted best setter of the tournament.

He won continental bronze in 2019 and a silver in 2021.

In 2021, he had married Japanese women's player Miya Sato.