|Confederation||AFC (Asia and Australia)|
|Divisions|| J1 League |
|Number of teams||58|
|Level on pyramid||1–3|
|Domestic cup(s)|| Emperor's Cup (National open cup)|
Fujifilm Super Cup (Super cup)
|League cup(s)||J.League YBC Levain CUP (League cup)|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions|| J1: Kawasaki Frontale (4th title)|
J2: Júbilo Iwata (1st title)
J3: Roasso Kumamoto (1st title)
|Most championships|| J1: Kashima Antlers (8 titles)|
J2: Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (3 titles)
J3: Blaublitz Akita (2 titles)
|TV partners||J1: DAZN (live matches)|
J2: DAZN (live matches)
J3: DAZN (live matches)
DAZN, YouTube (highlights)
2022 J1 League
2022 J2 League
2022 J3 League
The J.League (Japanese: Jリーグ, Hepburn: Jē Rīgu), officially Japan Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ, Nihon Puro Sakkā Rīgu, literally "Japan Pro Soccer 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 (Japanese: 明治安田生命Jリーグ).
Before the inception of the J.League, the highest level of club football was the Japan Soccer League (JSL), which consisted of amateur clubs.Despite being well-attended during the boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s (when Japan's national team won the bronze Olympic medal at the 1968 games in Mexico), the JSL went into decline in the 1980s, in general line with the deteriorating situation worldwide. Fans were few, the grounds were not of the highest quality, and the Japanese national team was not on a par with the Asian powerhouses. To raise the level of play domestically, to attempt to garner more fans, and to strengthen the national team, the Japan Football Association (JFA) decided to form a professional league. During this era, Japanese football investors traveled exclusively to Europe to find a possible model; eventually, the Japanese embraced the model of Germany's Bundesliga to develop its own professional league.
The professional association football league, J.League was formed in 1992, with eight clubs drawn from the JSL First Division, one from the Second Division, and the newly formed Shimizu S-Pulse. At the same time, JSL changed its name and became the Japan Football League, a semi-professional league. Although the J.League did not officially launch until 1993, the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup competition was held between the ten clubs in 1992 to prepare for the inaugural season.
J.League officially kicked off its first season with ten clubs on 15 May 1993, when Verdy Kawasaki hosted Yokohama Marinos at the Tokyo National Stadium.
Despite the success in the first three years, in early 1996 the league attendance declined rapidly, coincided with the economic slump of Japan. In 1997, the average attendance was 10,131, compared to more than 19,000 in 1994. Yokohama Flügels were merged with Yokohama Marinos due to the withdrawal of one of their major sponsors, right after they became the winners of the 1998 Emperor's Cup on 1 January 1999.
The league's management realized that they were heading in the wrong direction. In order to solve the problem, the management came out with two solutions.
First, they announced the J.League Hundred Year Vision, in which they aim to make 100 professional association football clubs in the nation of Japan by 2092, which would be the hundredth season. The league also encouraged the clubs to promote football or non-football related sports and health activities, to acquire local sponsorships, and to build good relationships with their hometowns at the grass-root level. The league believed that this would allow the clubs to bond with their respective cities and towns and get support from local government, companies, and citizens. In other words, clubs would be able to rely on the locals, rather than major national sponsors.
Second, the infrastructure of the league was heavily changed in 1999. The league acquired nine clubs from the semi-professional JFL and one club from J. League to create a two-division system. The top flight became the J.League Division 1 (J1) with 16 clubs while J.League Division 2 (J2) was launched with ten clubs in 1999. The second-tier Japan Football League (former), now became third-tier Japan Football League.
Also, until 2004 (with the exception of 1996 season), the J1 season was divided into two. At the end of each full season, the champion from each half played a two-legged series to determine the overall season winner and runners-up. Júbilo Iwata in 2002, and Yokohama F. Marinos in 2003, won both "halves" of the respective seasons, thus eliminating the need for the playoff series. This was the part of the reason the league abolished the split-season system starting from 2005.
Since the 2005 season, J.League Division 1 consisted of 18 clubs (from 16 in 2004) and the season format became similar to the European club football. The number of relegated clubs also increased from 2 to 2.5, with the third-from-bottom club going into Promotion / Relegation Series with the third-placed J2 club. Since then, other than minor adjustments, the top flight has stayed consistent.
Japanese teams did not treat the Asian Champions League that seriously in the early years, in part due to the distances travelled and teams played. However, in the 2008 Champions League, three Japanese sides made the quarter-finals.
However, in the recent years, with the inclusion of the A-League in Eastern Asia, the introduction of FIFA Club World Cup, and increased marketability in the Asian continent, both the league and the clubs paid more attention to Asian competition. For example, Kawasaki Frontale built up a notable fan base in Hong Kong, owing to their participation in the AFC Champions League during the 2007 season.Continuous effort led to the success of Urawa Red Diamonds in 2007 and Gamba Osaka in 2008. Thanks to excellent league management and competitiveness in Asian competition, the AFC awarded J.League the highest league ranking and a total of four slots starting from the 2009 season. The league took this as an opportunity to sell TV broadcasting rights to foreign countries, especially in Asia.
Also starting the 2008 season, Emperor's Cup Winner was allowed to participate in the upcoming Champions League season, rather than waiting a whole year (i.e. 2005 Emperor's Cup winner, Tokyo Verdy, participated in the 2007 ACL season, instead of the 2006 season). In order to fix this one-year lag issue, the 2007 Emperor's Cup winner, Kashima Antlers' turn was waived. Nonetheless, Kashima Antlers ended up participating in the 2009 ACL season by winning the J.League title in the 2008 season.
Three major changes were seen starting in the 2009 season. First, starting that season, four clubs entered the AFC Champions League. Secondly, the number of relegation slots increased to three. Finally, the AFC Player slot was implemented starting this season. Each club will be allowed to have a total of four foreign players; however, one slot is reserved for a player that derives from an AFC country other than Japan. Also, as a requirement of being a member of the Asian Football Confederation, the J.League Club License regulations started in 2012 as one criterion of whether a club was allowed to stay in its division or to be promoted to a higher tier in the professional level league. No major changes happened to J.League Division 1 as the number of clubs stayed at 18.
From 2015 the J.League system changed to a three-stage system. The year is split into first and second league stages, followed by a third and final championship stage. The third stage is composed of stage one and two's total point champions and up to four other teams. These additional four teams consist of the following: Stage one and stage two's top point accumulator, and stage one and two's second placed points accumulator. These five teams then take part in a championship playoff stage to decide the winner of the league trophy.
In 2017, the single-table format returned due to a negative reaction from hardcore fans and a failure to appeal to casual fans.
|Year||Important events||# J clubs|
|# ACL clubs||Rel. slots|
|2008||18/15||2 + 1||2.5|
|2020||J.League is disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, thus relegation slots have been reduced||18/22/19||2+2||0/0|
|2021||J1 League expands to 20 teams and J3 contracts to 15, both for the 2021 season only||20/22/15||3+1 → 4||4/4|
|I|| J1 League |
|II|| J2 League |
|III|| J3 League |
Since the inception of the second division in 1999, promotion and relegation follow a pattern similar to the European leagues, where the two bottom clubs of J1 and the top two clubs of J2 are guaranteed to move. From the 2004 to 2008 season, the third-placed J2 club entered the Promotion / Relegation Series against the sixteenth-placed J1 club and the winner had a right to play in the top flight in the following year. Starting on the 2009 season, the top three J2 clubs receives J1 promotion by default in place of three bottom J1 clubs. However, promotion or right to play the now-defunct pro/rel series relies on the J2 clubs meeting the requirements for J1 franchise status set by the league. This has generally not been a hindrance, in fact, no club is yet to be denied promotion due to not meeting the J1 criteria.
Until the 2004 season, the J1 season was divided into two halves, with an annual championship series involving the champions from each half (with the exception of the 1996 season). However, from the 2005 season, the single-season format is adopted as the top flight was expanded to eighteen clubs. Currently, 18 clubs compete in double round robin, home and away. Starting on the 2008 season, the top three clubs, along with the Emperor's Cup winner receive ACL berths for the following season. If the Emperor's Cup winner happens to be one of the top three J1 finishers, the 4th-place club receives the final berth. Starting on the 2009 season, the bottom three clubs are relegated to Division 2 at the end of the year. The two-halves format returned in 2015 but was abandoned again after 2016.
Starting in 2012, Division 2 established promotion playoffs for the clubs ranked 3rd to 6th, in a manner similar to the EFL Championship in England, the Serie B in Italy and the Segunda División in Spain. However, the semifinals would be only one leg and all matches that ended in draws would enable the higher ranked club in the table to advance or be promoted. In 2013 the J3 League was established, and while its champion was promoted automatically, the runner-up had to play a Promotion/Relegation series until 2017.
|Year||J1 Champions||J2 Champions||J3 Champions|
|Verdy Kawasaki||(Old JFL)||(Old JFL Div. 2)|
|Verdy Kawasaki||No national third tier|
|Júbilo Iwata||Kawasaki Frontale||(New JFL)|
|Kashima Antlers||Consadole Sapporo|
|Kashima Antlers||Kyoto Purple Sanga|
|Júbilo Iwata||Oita Trinita|
|Yokohama F. Marinos||Albirex Niigata|
|Yokohama F. Marinos||Kawasaki Frontale|
|Gamba Osaka||Kyoto Purple Sanga|
|Urawa Red Diamonds||Yokohama FC|
|Kashima Antlers||Consadole Sapporo|
|Kashima Antlers||Sanfrecce Hiroshima|
|Kashima Antlers||Vegalta Sendai|
|Nagoya Grampus||Kashiwa Reysol|
|Kashiwa Reysol||FC Tokyo|
|Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Ventforet Kofu|
|Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Gamba Osaka|
|Gamba Osaka||Shonan Bellmare||Zweigen Kanazawa|
|Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Omiya Ardija||Renofa Yamaguchi|
|Kashima Antlers||Consadole Sapporo||Oita Trinita|
|Kawasaki Frontale||Shonan Bellmare||Blaublitz Akita|
|Kawasaki Frontale||Matsumoto Yamaga||FC Ryukyu|
|Yokohama F. Marinos||Kashiwa Reysol||Giravanz Kitakyushu|
|Kawasaki Frontale||Tokushima Vortis||Blaublitz Akita|
|Kawasaki Frontale||Júbilo Iwata||Roasso Kumamoto|
The J1 League, known as the Meiji Yasuda J1 League for sponsorship reasons, is the top level of the Japan Professional Football League system. Founded in 1992, it is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football. Contested by 18 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the J2 League. Until the 2014 season, it was known as the J League Division 1.
Football is among the most popular sports in Japan, together with baseball, basketball, sumo and martial arts. Its nationwide organization, the Japan Football Association, administers the professional football leagues, including J.League, which is considered by many the most successful football league in Asia.
Tokyo Verdy is a Japanese professional football club based in Inagi, Tokyo. The club plays in the J2 League, the second tier of football in the country.
Kawasaki Frontale is a Japanese professional football club based in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country. Their home stadium is Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium, in Nakahara Ward, in the central area of Kawasaki.
Vissel Kobe is a Japanese professional football club based in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country. The team's home stadium is Noevir Stadium Kobe, in Hyōgo-ku, though some home matches are played at Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium in Suma-ku.
The Kashima Antlers are a football club in Kashima, Ibaraki, currently playing in the J1 League, top tier of Japanese professional football leagues. The name Antlers is derived from the city name, Kashima, which literally means "deer island". The club has financial backing from Mercari, a Japanese e-commerce company.
Kashiwa Reysol is a Japanese professional football club based in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, part of the Greater Tokyo Area. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country. Their home stadium is Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium, also known as "Hitachidai". Reysol is a portmanteau of the Spanish words Rey and Sol, meaning "Sun King". The name alludes to their parent company Hitachi, whose name means "rising sun" in Japanese. The club was formed in 1940 and was a founding member of the Japan Soccer League (JSL) in 1965. Since the league's inception, they have spent nice in the top tier of Japanese football. They have been Japanese League champions twice in 1972 and 2011, and have won three League Cups in 1976, 1999 and 2013, and three Emperor's Cups in 1972, 1975 and 2012.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima is a Japanese professional football club based in Asaminami-ku, Hiroshima. The club plays in the J1 League, which is the top tier of football in the country.
The Emperor's Cup JFA All-Japan Football Championship Tournament, commonly known as The Emperor's Cup or also Japan FA Cup is a Japanese football competition.
The Japan Football League, also known as simply the JFL is the 4th tier of the Japanese association football league system, positioned beneath the three divisions of the J.League. The league features fully professional teams that hold J.League associate membership among its ranks.
Honda FC is a Japanese professional football club based in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. They play in the Japan Football League.
The Japanese Super Cup, known as the Fujifilm Super Cup for sponsorship reasons, is an annual one-match association football competition in Japan organised by J. League and the Japan Football Association (JFA). This competition serves as the season opener and is played between the reigning J1 League champions and the Emperor's Cup winners. Fuji Xerox have sponsored the competition since its inception in 1994. The match is usually played in February each year.
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.
NKK Soccer Club was a Japanese football club which operated from 1932 to 1994. It played in the old Japan Soccer League since 1967 until its closing. It was affiliated with NKK, a steel company that today is part of the JFE Holdings conglomerate.
The Japanese Regional Football League Competition, since 2016 renamed Japan Regional Football Champions League, is a nationwide play-off tournament meant as a transition for Japanese football clubs competing in regional leagues to the Japan Football League.
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.
The J2 League or simply J2 is the second division of the Japan Professional Football League and the second level of the Japanese association football league system. The top tier is represented by the J1 League. It is currently sponsored by Meiji Yasuda Life and it is thus officially known as the Meiji Yasuda J2 League. Until the 2014 season it was named the J.League Division 2.
The 2013 J.League Division 2 season is the 42nd season of the second-tier club football in Japan and the 15th season since the establishment of J2 League. The regular season began on 3 March and ended on 24 November, followed by the promotion play-offs among four clubs ranked between 3rd and 6th at the end of regular season. Gamba Osaka became champions, and Vissel Kobe became runners-up, both returned to J1 immediately after one season at J2. The other promoted team is third runners-up Tokushima Vortis, who won the promotion playoff final, defeating Kyoto Sanga FC. With the win, Vortis are making their J1 debut, becoming the first professional Shikoku football club to compete in the top division of their national league.
Japanese football in 2015.
The 2021 Japan Football League was the eighth season of the nationwide fourth tier of Japanese football, and the 23rd season since the establishment of Japan Football League.
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