J3 League

Last updated
J3 League
2019 J3 League.svg
Organising body J.League
Founded2013; 8 years ago
Confederation AFC
Number of teams 18
Level on pyramid 3
Promotion to J2 League
Relegation to Japan Football League (planned; from after 2023)
Domestic cup(s) Emperor's Cup
Current champions Roasso Kumamoto (1st title)
(2021 season)
Most championshipsBlaublitz Akita (2 titles)
TV partners DAZN
YouTube (outside Japan)
Website www.jleague.jp/en/
(in English)
Current: 2022 J3 League
Former logo J3 League Logo.gif
Former logo
This logo was used from 2015 to 2018 J3 League (Horizontal).png
This logo was used from 2015 to 2018

J3 League (Japanese: J3リーグ, Hepburn: J3 Rīgu) or simply J3 is the third division of Japan Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ, Nihon Puro Sakkā Rīgu) that has established a third-tier professional association football league in Japan starting in 2013.


The third-tier nationwide league is a relatively recent development in Japanese football with the first attempt dated 1992 (second division of the old JFL), though it only lasted for two seasons. In 1999, following the establishment of J2 League, a new Japan Football League was created, becoming the third tier onwards. After introduction of J3 the JFL has been moved down the pyramid and become a fourth-tier nationwide league, for the first time in history of Japanese football.

The league is known by their title sponsor, the Meiji Yasuda J3 League (Japanese: 明治安田生命J3リーグ). [1]

History of Japanese third-tier football

Amateur era (until 2013)

A national third tier of Japanese association football was first established along with its professionalization in 1992, when the newly created Japan Football League kicked off with two tiers below the professional J. League. Among the 10 original clubs of the third tier included the forerunners to Kyoto Sanga FC, Ventforet Kofu, Omiya Ardija, Avispa Fukuoka and Vissel Kobe (the latter two being located in different regions from their J. League successors). But after a number of clubs were lost for various reasons – some were promoted to J.League and the others folded – the league contracted the second division in 1994 and continued with the single second-tier division.

The third tier football was reintroduced in 1999 upon creation of fully professional J2. The old JFL was dissolved but a new Japan Football League was formed the same year in order to establish a nationwide top-tier amateur league. But despite its officially amateur status the league quickly became de facto semi-professional, serving as the cradle of the future J. League members. Since the establishment of associate membership system in 2006 the number of professional clubs holding or actively seeking for this status has grown steadily and reached its peak in 2013 season when 6 full members and 2 former candidates made up to almost half of the league's 18 teams. Through the course of the season this number grew even bigger, to 10 full associate members that formed the core of J3.

Professionalization and establishment (2013)

Close to the end of 2012 football season Japanese media began to spread rumors [2] [3] about the upcoming professional third-tier league, referred to as either "J3" or "J.Challenge League". Most of the sources agreed that the new league will feature around 10–12 clubs, most of which will be associate members. The league would also provide more relaxed licensing criteria in comparison to J2 – e.g. the stadium seating capacity of just 3,000 with no mandatory floodlighting. [4]

After the discussion on J1-J2 Joint Committee on 16 January 2013, all J.League clubs agreed in principle with an establishment of the new league starting 2014. [5] This decision was formally put into force by J.League Council in a 26 February executive meeting. [6] The league was planned to launch with 10 teams, but another session of J.League Council in July decided that inaugural season of J3 will feature 12 teams. [7]

To participate, a club must have held an associate membership, or have submitted an application before 30 June 2013, and then passed an inspection to obtain a participation licence issued by J.League Council. [8] On 19 November, J.League confirmed the following clubs to participate in the inaugural J3 season: [9]

Future plans

The league has not provided a clear expansion timeline yet but it was most likely that J3 continued to accommodate new teams after its inaugural season. The following is a list of clubs that may get promoted to J.League in the near future: [11]

Other teams have applied for J.League associate membership but were denied. Most of these clubs continue to aim for J3 as their ultimate goal.

Two teams, one withdrew its J3 license and the other its J.League 100 Year Plan status, formerly associate membership:

Some sources claim that J3 was intended to reach up to 60 clubs in the future, being split into three regionalized divisions running in parallel. [12]


YearImportant eventsNo. J3
  • The J.League adopts three divisions, as the following clubs join Division 3:

A J.League U-22 Selection is also included, composed of the best J1 and J2 youngsters to prepare them for the 2016 Olympics.

  • The Japan Football League becomes the nationwide fourth tier, and first tier for amateur clubs.
  • Zweigen Kanazawa becomes the first J3 champions and get promoted to J2. Nagano Parceiro lost the Promotion/Relegation Series against the J2 21st placed team.
  • Kataller Toyama is relegated from J2.
  • Renofa Yamaguchi is promoted from Japan Football League (JFL) and in its first J3 season becomes champions and got promoted to J2.
  • FC Machida Zelvia is also promoted as it finished in 2nd place and won the Promotion/Relegation Series against newly relegated Oita Trinita, the first former J1 team to play in J3.
  • Tochigi SC and Oita Trinita are relegated from J2.
  • Kagoshima United FC is promoted from JFL.
  • J. League U-22 Selection disbanded. Cerezo Osaka, Gamba Osaka and FC Tokyo introduced U-23 reserve teams to reach 16 teams and change the league to a two-round system.
  • Giravanz Kitakyushu is relegated from J2.
  • Azul Claro Numazu is promoted from JFL.
  • Promotion/Relegation series abolished; runner-up promoted automatically.
  • Roasso Kumamoto and Kamatamare Sanuki are relegated from J2.
  • Vanraure Hachinohe is promoted from JFL.
  • Kagoshima United and FC Gifu are relegated from J2.
  • FC Imabari is promoted from JFL.
  • FC Tokyo U-23 withdraws from J3. Cerezo and Gamba Osaka dissolve their U-23s after the season.
  • Tegevajaro Miyazaki is promoted from JFL.
  • SC Sagamihara, Ehime FC, Giravanz Kitakyushu, and Matsumoto Yamaga are relegated from J2.
  • Iwaki FC is promoted from JFL.
2022 1820

2022 season

League format

For this season, the league is played in two rounds (home-and-away), each team playing a total of 34 matches. [13]

Each team must have at least 3 players holding professional contracts. Also, from the 2016 season, 5 foreign players are allowed per team, plus 1 more from J.League's ASEAN partner country of or from other AFC countries. The matchday roster will consist of 18 players, and up to 3 substitutes will be allowed in a game. [14]

Promotion and relegation

Rules for promotion to J2 are largely similar to those of Japan Football League in recent seasons: to be promoted, a club must hold or be granted a J2 license and finish in top 2 of the league. Since 2017, the champions and the runners-up have been promoted directly and replace the 21st- and 22nd-placed J2 clubs. If only the champion or runner-up holds or is given a J2 license, only the bottom club of J2 is relegated; if both top 2 finishers are ineligible for promotion, then no teams will be promoted to or relegated from J2. [13]

At a J.League board meeting in August 2021, 60 clubs (of which 20 are J3) were targeted for the entire league, and a possibility that J3 will have exceeded 20 clubs by the 2023 season was brought up. Mitsuru Murai, the J.League chairman, revealed that he was discussing how to adjust to 20 clubs. At this time, he was asked, "If there is a possibility of the [J3] league having 21 teams, is it okay to understand that there are teams that will fall from J3 to JFL?" While under consideration, he admitted that the J3 and JFL were considering the introduction of relegation to the latter league as early as after the 2022 season. [15] Later in November, Murai announced that promotion from and relegation to the JFL had been planned following after 2023 season. [16]

Participating clubs (2022)

Club nameYear joinedSeasons
in J3
Based inFirst season
in D3
in D3
Current spell
in D3
Last spell
in J2
Azul Claro Numazu 20174 Numazu, Shizuoka 201752017–
Ehime FC 2006 (J2)0All cities/towns in Ehime 200152022–2006–2021
Fujieda MYFC 20147Central cities/towns in Shizuoka 2012102012–
Fukushima United 20147All cities/towns in Fukushima 201392013–
Gainare Tottori 2011 (J2)7All cities/towns in Tottori 2001172014–2011–2013
FC Gifu 2008 (J2)2All cities/towns in Gifu 200712020–2008–2019
Giravanz Kitakyushu 2010 (J2)2 Kitakyushu, Fukuoka 200852022–2020–2021
FC Imabari 20202 Imabari, Ehime 202022020–
Iwaki FC 20220 Iwaki and Futaba District, Fukushima 202202022–
Kagoshima United 20165 Kagoshima, Kagoshima 201652020–2019
Kamatamare Sanuki 2014 (J2)3 Takamatsu, Kagawa 201162019–2014–2018
Kataller Toyama 2009 (J2)7All cities/towns in Toyama 200882015–2009–2014
Matsumoto Yamaga 2012 (J2)0Central cities/towns in Nagano 201022022–2020–2021
Nagano Parceiro 20148Northern cities/towns/villages in Nagano 2011112011–
SC Sagamihara 20147 Sagamihara, Kanagawa 201382022–2021
Tegevajaro Miyazaki 20211 Miyazaki, Miyazaki 202112021–
Vanraure Hachinohe 20193 Hachinohe, Aomori 201982019–
YSCC Yokohama 20148 Yokohama, Kanagawa 2012102012–

Stadiums (2022)

Primary venues used in the J3 League:

Azul Claro Numazu Ehime FC Fujieda MYFC Fukushima United Gainare Tottori FC Gifu
Ashitaka Park Stadium Ningineer Stadium Fujieda Soccer Stadium Toho Stadium Axis Bird Stadium Gifu Nagaragawa Stadium
Capacity: 5,104Capacity: 20,000Capacity: 5,056Capacity: 15,454Capacity: 11,999Capacity: 16,310
Ashitaka Stadium 2.JPG EhimePreParkStadium130811-2.JPG Fujieda football Stadium1.JPG Fukushima azuma1.JPG Tottori-bird131006-4.jpg Nagaragawa Stadium 5.JPG
Giravanz Kitakyushu FC Imabari Iwaki FC Kagoshima United Kamatamare Sanuki Kataller Toyama
Mikuni World Stadium Kitakyushu Arigato Service Dream Stadium J-Village Stadium Shiranami Stadium Pikara Stadium Toyama Stadium
Capacity: 15,300Capacity: 5,063Capacity: 5,000Capacity: 12,606Capacity: 22,338Capacity: 18,588
Arigato-yume-stadium2.JPG Fukushima j-village stadium.jpg Kamoike kyougijyou 2.jpg Marugame-sta140824-03.jpg Toyamaken Sougou Athletics park 1.jpg
Matsumoto Yamaga Nagano Parceiro SC Sagamihara Tegevajaro Miyazaki Vanraure Hachinohe YSCC Yokohama
Sunpro Alwin Nagano U Stadium Sagamihara Gion Stadium Unilever Stadium Shintomi Prifoods Stadium Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
Capacity: 20,000Capacity: 15,515Capacity: 15,300Capacity: 5,354Capacity: 5,124Capacity: 15,454
ALWIN1.jpg Minaminagano-15032202.JPG Asamizopark-4.JPG UNILEVER STADIUM SHINTOMI2.JPG Hachinoher-taga stadium4.JPG Mitsuzawa1.jpg

Former clubs

Club nameYear joinedSeasons
in J3
Based inFirst season
in D3
in D3
Last spell
in D3
Blaublitz Akita 20147All cities/towns in Akita 2007142007–2020J2
Cerezo Osaka U-23 20165 Osaka & Sakai, Osaka 201652016–2020defunct
FC Tokyo U-23 20164 Chōfu, Tokyo 201642016–2019defunct
Gamba Osaka U-23 20165Northern cities in Osaka201652016–2020defunct
Iwate Grulla Morioka 20148 Morioka, Iwate 201482014–2021J2
J.League U-22 Selection 20142Played away games only201422015defunct
Renofa Yamaguchi 20151 Yamaguchi, Yamaguchi 201512015J2
Roasso Kumamoto 2008 (J2)3 Kumamoto, Kumamoto 200652019–2021J2
FC Ryukyu 20145All cities/towns in Okinawa 2006132006–2018J2
Thespakusatsu Gunma 2005 (J2)2All cities/towns in Gunma 200432018–2019J2
Tochigi SC 2009 (J2)2 Utsunomiya, Tochigi 2000112016–2017J2
Oita Trinita 1999 (J2)1All cities/towns in Ōita 201612016J2
Machida Zelvia 2012 (J2)2 Machida, Tokyo 200962015J2
Zweigen Kanazawa 20141 Kanazawa, Ishikawa 201052014J2

Championship/Promotion History

SeasonWinnerRunner-upThird place
Zweigen Kanazawa Nagano Parceiro Machida Zelvia
Renofa Yamaguchi Machida Zelvia Nagano Parceiro
Oita Trinita Tochigi SC Nagano Parceiro
Blaublitz Akita Tochigi SC Azul Claro Numazu
FC Ryukyu Kagoshima United Gainare Tottori
Giravanz Kitakyushu Thespakusatsu Gunma Fujieda MYFC
Blaublitz Akita SC Sagamihara Nagano Parceiro
Roasso Kumamoto Iwate Grulla Morioka Tegevajaro Miyazaki

* Bold designates the promoted club;
† Lost the J2–J3 playoffs;
‡ Won the J2–J3 playoffs and got promoted;

Most successful clubs

Clubs in bold compete in J3 as of 2022 season.

ClubWinnersRunners-upPromotionsWinning seasonsRunners-up seasonsPromotion seasons
Blaublitz Akita
2017, 20202020
Zweigen Kanazawa
Renofa Yamaguchi
Oita Trinita
FC Ryukyu
Giravanz Kitakyushu
Roasso Kumamoto
Tochigi SC
2016, 20172017
Iwate Grulla Morioka
SC Sagamihara
Thespakusatsu Gunma
Kagoshima United
Machida Zelvia
Nagano Parceiro

Players and managers


Top scorers

2014 Koji Suzuki Flag of Japan.svg Japan Machida Zelvia 19
2015 Kazuhito Kishida Renofa Yamaguchi FC 32
2016 Noriaki Fujimoto Kagoshima United FC 15
2017 24
2018 Leonardo Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil Gainare Tottori 24
2019 Taichi Hara Flag of Japan.svg Japan FC Tokyo U-23 19
2020 Kaito Taniguchi Roasso Kumamoto 18
2021 Shota Kawanishi FC Gifu 13

See also

League system
Domestic cup
Beach soccer

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