Last updated
2019 J.League logo.svg
Founded1992;30 years ago (1992)
Country Japan
Confederation AFC (Asia and Australia)
Divisions J1 League
J2 League
J3 League
Number of teams58
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)
(2021 season)
Most championships J1: Kashima Antlers (8 titles)
J2: Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (3 titles)
J3: Blaublitz Akita (2 titles)
TV partnersJ1: DAZN (live matches)
J2: DAZN (live matches)
J3: DAZN (live matches)
DAZN, YouTube (highlights)
Website www.jleague.co
(in English)
2022 J1 League
2022 J2 League
2022 J3 League
Non-Sponsored Logo J.League.svg
Non-Sponsored Logo
This logo was used from 2015 to 2018 J.League (local).png
This logo was used from 2015 to 2018

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") [1] 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. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] 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). [9]



Before the professional league (pre-1992)

Before the inception of the J.League, the highest level of club football was the Japan Soccer League (JSL), which consisted of amateur clubs. [10] [11] 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. [12]

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.

Inaugural season and J.League boom (1993–1995)

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.

After the boom (1996–1999)

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.

Change of infrastructure and game formats (1999–2004)

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.

European League Format & AFC Champions League (2005–2008)

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. [13]

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. [14] 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.

Modern phase (2009–2014)

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.

Now (2015–present)

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.


YearImportant events# J clubs
# ACL clubsRel. slots
  • JFA forms a professional league assessment committee.
  • The committee decides the criteria for professional clubs
  • Fifteen to twenty clubs from Japan Soccer League applies for the professional league membership
  • The J.League officially kicks off its first season
  • Following clubs are promoted from Japan Football League: Cerezo Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol
  • The points system is introduced for the first time: a club receives 3 pts for any win, 1 pts for PK loss, and 0 pts for regulation or extra time loss.
  • Following clubs are promoted from Japan Football League: Kyoto Purple Sanga and Avispa Fukuoka
  • The league adopts single season format
  • J.League average attendance hits the record low 10,131
  • Following club is promoted from Japan Football League: Vissel Kobe
  • The league goes back to split-season format
  • The points system changes: a club receives 3 pts for the regulation win, 2 pts for extra-time win, 1 pt for PK win, and 0 pts for any loss.
  • Following club is promoted from Japan Football League: Consadole Sapporo
  • Yokohama Flügels announce that they will be dissolved into crosstown rivals Yokohama Marinos for the 1999 season
  • The league announces the J.League Hundred Year Vision
  • The league announces incorporation of two-division system for the 1999 season
  • The league hosts J.League Promotion Tournament to decide to promote and/or relegate clubs. As a result, Consadole Sapporo becomes the first club be to relegated.
  • Yokohama Marinos merge with Yokohama Flügels to become Yokohama F. Marinos
  • Penalty kick shootouts are abolished in both divisions; however, golden goal extra-time rules stayed
  • The points system changes: a club receives 3 pts for a regulation win, 2 pts for an extra time win, and 1 pt for a tie
  • Japan Football League (former) is also restructured, as it becomes the 3rd-tier Japan Football League.
Note: To distinguish between the former and the current JFL, the new JFL is pronounced Nihon Football League in Japanese.
  • Extra time is abolished in Division 1 and traditional 3–1–0 points system is adopted
  • No automatic relegation this season, as the top flight expands to 18 clubs in the following season
  • Inception of the two-legged Promotion / Relegation Series
  • J.League Division 1 expands to 18 clubs
  • J.League Division 1 adopts singles-season format
Note: If a Japanese club wins the AFC Champions League, the host loses its right.
200818/152 + 12.5
  • Four clubs enter AFC Champions League.
  • Implementation of a 4th foreign player slot, a.k.a. AFC player slot
  • Promotion / Relegation Series is eliminated and 16th-place club is now relegated by default.
  • The league goes back to split-season format
  • J.League champion qualifies to the FIFA Club World Cup as the host.
  • Kashima Antlers became the first Asian team to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final.
  • J1 League resumes single-season format
2020J.League is disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, thus relegation slots have been reduced18/22/192+20/0
2021J1 League expands to 20 teams and J3 contracts to 15, both for the 2021 season only20/22/153+1 → 44/4

Stance in the Japanese football pyramid

2022 season
I J1 League
18 clubs
II J2 League
22 clubs
III J3 League
18 clubs

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.


YearJ1 ChampionsJ2 ChampionsJ3 Champions
Verdy Kawasaki (Old JFL)(Old JFL Div. 2)
Verdy Kawasaki No national third tier
Yokohama Marinos
Kashima Antlers
Júbilo Iwata
Kashima Antlers
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

J.League awards

See also

League system
Domestic cup
Beach soccer

Related Research Articles

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