Football in Japan

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Football in Japan
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Jubilo Iwata players and fans celebrate a goal in the J.League Cup in 2010
Governing body Japan Football Association
National team(s) men's national team
women's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Football is the second most popular sport in Japan , [1] [2] [3] after baseball. [4] Its nationwide organization, the Japan Football Association, administers the professional football league, the J.League, which is the most successful football league in Asia. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]



Although the official English name of the Japan Football Association uses the term "football", the term sakkā (サッカー), derived from "soccer", is much more commonly used than futtobōru (フットボール). The JFA's Japanese name is Nippon Sakkā Kyōkai.

Before World War II the term in general use was shūkyū (蹴球, kick-ball), a Sino-Japanese term. With previously exclusive Japanese terms replaced by American influence after the war, sakkā became more commonplace. In recent years, many professional teams have named themselves F.C.s (football clubs), with examples being FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga FC


The introduction of football in Japan is officially credited by the Japan Football Association, and numerous academic papers and books on the history of association football in Japan, to then Lieutenant-Commander Archibald Lucius Douglas of the Royal Navy and his subordinates, who from 1873 taught the game and its rules to Japanese navy cadets while acting as instructors at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy in Tsukiji, Tokyo. [10] [11] [12] [13]

The first official football match in Japan is widely believed to have been held on February 18, 1888, between the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club and Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club. YC&AC is the oldest running association football club in Japan as Association Football was introduced into the club on December 25, 1886, for training sessions starting from January 1887. The first Japanese association football club, founded as a football club, is considered to be Tokyo Shukyu-dan, founded in 1917, which is now competing in the Tokyo Prefectural amateur league.

In the 1920s, football associations were organised and regional tournaments began in universities and high schools especially in Tokyo. In 1930, the Japan national association football team was organised and had a 3–3 tie with China for their first title at the Far Eastern Championship Games. Japan national team also participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the team had the first victory in an Olympic game with a 3–2 win over powerful Sweden.

Aside from the national cup, the Emperor's Cup established in 1921, there had been several attempts at creating a senior-level national championship. The first was the All Japan Works Football Championship (AJWFC), established in 1948 and open only to company teams. The second was the All Japan Inter-City Football Championship (AJICFC), established in 1955 and separating clubs by cities (any club, works, university or autonomous, could represent their home city and qualify) but the Emperor's Cup remained dominated by universities until the late 1950s. All these tournaments were cups following single-elimination formulas, similar to Serie A in Italy before 1929.

The first organized national league, the Japan Soccer League, was organized in 1965 with eight amateur company clubs and replaced the AJWFC and AJICFC. At the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, the Japan national team, filled with the top JSL stars of the era, had its first big success winning third place and a bronze medal. Olympic success spurred the creation of a Second Division for the JSL and openings for the first few professional players, in the beginning, foreigners (mainly Brazilians), and a few from other countries, which also led to the country hosting its first international competition, the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship. Japanese players, however, remained an amateur, having to work day jobs for the companies owning the clubs (or other companies if their clubs were autonomous). This limited the growth of the Japanese game, and many better Japanese players had to move abroad to make a living off the game, such as Yasuhiko Okudera, the first Japanese player to play in a professional European club, (1. FC Köln of Germany). UEFA and CONMEBOL aided the Japanese awareness of football by having the Intercontinental Cup played in Tokyo as a neutral venue.

Japan national team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia Japan fans Russia 2018.jpg
Japan national team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

In 1993, the Japan Professional Football League (commonly known as the J.League) was formed replacing the semi-professional Japan Soccer League as the new top-level club competition in Japan. [14] It consisted of some of the top clubs from the old JSL, fully professionalized, renamed to fit communities and with the corporate identity reduced to a minimum. [15] The new higher-standard league attracted many more spectators and helped the sport to hugely increase in popularity. The professionalized league also offered, and offers, incentives for amateur non-company clubs to become part of their ranks with no major backing from a company; major examples of community, non-company-affiliated clubs who rose through the prefectural and regional ranks into the major leagues are Albirex Niigata and Oita Trinita.

Japan participated in its first-ever World Cup tournament at the 1998 FIFA World Cup held in France. In 2002, Japan co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Republic of Korea. After this, the association football communities of both countries received the FIFA Fair Play Award. The Japanese national team has reached the round of 16 on three occasions – as hosts in 2002, where they were knocked out by Turkey 1–0, in 2010, where they lost to Paraguay in penalties and in 2018 where they fell 2–3 to Belgium. Japan also qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Football in fiction

The first worldwide popular association football-oriented Japanese animation (manga) series, Captain Tsubasa , was started in 1981. Captain Tsubasa was extremely popular among children of both genders in Japan. Its success led to much more association football manga being written, and it played a great role in association football history in Japan. Playing football became more popular than playing baseball in many schools throughout Japan from the 1980s due to the series.[ citation needed ]

Captain Tsubasa has also inspired the likes of prominent footballers such as Hidetoshi Nakata, [16] Seigo Narazaki, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Fernando Torres, Christian Vieri, Giuseppe Sculli, James Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez [17] and Alessandro Del Piero [18] to play association football and choose it as a career. The inspiration for the character of Ōzora Tsubasa came from a number of players, including most prominently Musashi Mizushima, arguably the first Japanese footballer to play abroad, and whose move to São Paulo as a ten-year-old boy was partly mimicked in the manga. [19]

The anime Giant Killing revolves around a team's efforts to go from one of the worst professional teams in Japan to the best. Other works focusing on football include Hungry Heart: Wild Striker (from the same author of Captain Tsubasa), The Knight in the Area , Days and Inazuma Eleven .

Women's football

As in Europe's advanced countries, Japanese women's football is organized on a promotion and relegation basis. The top flight of women's association football is the semi-professional L. League (currently billed as the Nadeshiko League). Most clubs are independent clubs, although the recent trend is to have women's sections of established J.League clubs.

The national team has enjoyed major success at the FIFA Women's World Cup, having achieved its greatest triumph ever by winning the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany [20] and finishing as runner-up in 2015 in Canada.

Championships and tournaments

Domestic tournaments

Other international tournaments held in Japan

Japanese footballers

See also Category:Japanese footballers.

Men's national team achievements

Women's national team achievements

Seasons in Japanese association football

1920s:  1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929
1930s: 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1940s: 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949
1950s: 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
1960s: 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1970s: 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980s: 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
1990s: 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000s: 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2010s: 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
2020s: 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029

See also

Related Research Articles

The J1 League or simply J1 is the top division of the Japan Professional Football League and the top professional Football J.League in Japan. It is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football. Currently, the J1 League is the first level of the Japanese association football league system. The second tier is represented by the J2 League. It is currently sponsored by Meiji Yasuda Life and thus officially known as the Meiji Yasuda J1 League. Until the 2014 season it was named the J.League Division 1.

Yokohama F. Marinos

Yokohama F. Marinos is a Japanese professional football club based in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, part of the Greater Tokyo Area. The club competes in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country.

Japan national football team Mens national association football team representing Japan

The Japan national football team, nicknamed the Samurai Blue (サムライ・ブルー), represents Japan in men's international football and it is controlled by the Japan Football Association (JFA), the governing body for football in Japan. The head coach is Hajime Moriyasu, who is also the coach of the Japan U-23 team.

Gamba Osaka

Gamba Osaka is a Japanese professional football club based in Suita, Osaka Prefecture. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country. The club's name Gamba comes from the Italian word "gamba" meaning "leg" and the Japanese ganbaru (頑張る), meaning "to do your best" or "to stand firm". The club's home stadium is Suita City Football Stadium.

Kashima Antlers

Kashima Antlers are a Japanese professional football club based in Kashima, Ibaraki, part of the Greater Tokyo Area. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country.

FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo is a Japanese professional football club based in Chōfu, Tokyo. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country. The team is one of only four in the J.League to be simply called Football Club without an extended name.

Emperors Cup

The Emperor's Cup JFA All-Japan Soccer Championship Tournament, commonly known as The Emperor's Cup or The Emperor's Cup Soccer, or also Japan FA Cup is a Japanese football competition. It has the longest tradition of any football tournament in Japan, dating back to 1921, before the formation of the J.League, Japan Football League and their predecessor, Japan Soccer League. Before World War II, teams could qualify not only from Japan proper but also from Korea, Taiwan, and sometimes Manchukuo. The women's counterpart is the Empress's Cup.

Ruy Ramos

Ruy Ramos is a former football player and manager, originally from Brazil, who spent his career in Japan and played for the Japanese national team. Ramos is currently active as a television personality and tarento, represented with Irving.

J.League Japans professional association football (soccer) league

The J.League, officially Japan Professional Football League is Japan's professional football league including the first division J1 League, second division J2 League and third division J3 League of the Japanese association football league system. J1 League is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football. It is currently sponsored by Meiji Yasuda Life and thus officially known as the Meiji Yasuda J.League.

Japan womens national football team Womens national association football team representing Japan

The Japan women's national football team, or nicknamed Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン), represents Japan in women's association football and is run by the Japan Football Association (JFA). It is the most successful women's national team from the Asian Football Confederation. Its highest ranking in the FIFA Women's World Rankings is 3rd, achieved in December 2011.

The Japanese association football league system is organized in a pyramidal shape similar to football league systems in many other countries around the world. The leagues are bound by the principle of promotion and relegation; however, there are stringent criteria for promotion from the JFL to J3, which demands a club being backed by the town itself including the local government, a community of fans and corporate sponsors rather than a parent company or a corporation.

Homare Sawa

Homare Sawa is a former Japanese professional women's football player. She captained the Japan national team to 2011 World Cup title and the silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2012, she was named the 2011 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year. She previously played for the Atlanta Beat of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), Nippon TV Beleza, the Washington Freedom of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), and INAC Kobe Leonessa in the Nadeshiko League Division 1.

Aya Miyama Japanese footballer

Aya Miyama is a former Japanese football player. She played for the Japan national team starting in 2003, and from 2012-2016 served as captain of the team. She appeared in four World Cups from 2003-2015, including the team that won the 2011 World Cup for Japan. Miyama also led Japan to a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Japanese Regional Leagues are a group of parallel association football leagues in Japan that are organized on the regional basis. They form the fifth tier of the Japanese association football league system below the nationwide Japan Football League.

Mana Iwabuchi

Mana Iwabuchi is a Japanese professional footballer who plays as a forward for Aston Villa of the English FA Women's Super League (WSL) and the Japan women's national football team.

Aya Sameshima Japanese footballer

Aya Sameshima is a Japanese football player. She plays for INAC Kobe Leonessa. She also played for Japan national team.

Mizuho Sakaguchi Japanese footballer

Mizuho Sakaguchi is a Japanese football player. She plays for Nippon TV Beleza. She also plays for the Japan national team.

Yuika Sugasawa Japanese footballer

Yuika Sugasawa is a Japanese football player. She plays for Urawa Reds. She also plays for Japan national team.

Japanese football in 2013.

The 2021 J1 League, also known as the 2021 Meiji Yasuda J1 League for sponsorship reasons, will be the 29th season of the J1 League, the top Japanese professional league for association football clubs, since its establishment in 1993. The league will begin on 26 February and scheduled to end on 4 December 2021.


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Paolo Di Canio
FIFA Fair Play Award Winner
Succeeded by
Fans of Celtic F.C.