Football in Japan

Football in Japan
Country Japan
Governing body Japan Football Association
National team men's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Association football is one of the most popular sports in Japan.[1][2] Its nationwide organization, Japan Football Association, administers the professional football league, J. League, which is the most successful association football league in Asia.[3][4][5][6][7]


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 F.C. Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga F.C.


The introduction of Association 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 between 1873 and 1879 taught the game and its rules to Japanese navy cadets while acting as instructors at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy in Tsukiji, Tokyo.[8][9][10][11] Some records go even further back and credit the game's introduction to the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club, founded in 1870 by a group of mainly British foreign residents led by Dr. Alexander Cameron Sim in Kobe to enable ex-pats in the area to play sports and the Club is also credited with introducing Ten Pin Bowling, the "Regatta"s of their name, cricket, and even the "front crawl"/freestyle swimming stroke! The first Japanese association 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 organized and regional tournaments began in universities and high schools especially in Tokyo. In 1930, the Japan national association football team was organized 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 a 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. Japanese players, however, remained 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.

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.[12] 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.[13] 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 reached the Round of 16 which is its best World Cup performance to date. It 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 (boys and girls) in Japan. Its success led to many 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.

Captain Tsubasa has also inspired the likes of prominent footballers such as Hidetoshi Nakata,[14] Seigo Narazaki, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Fernando Torres, Christian Vieri, Giuseppe Sculli and Alessandro Del Piero[15] 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.[16]

The anime Giant Killing revolves around a team's efforts to go from one of the worst professional teams in Japan to the best.

Women's football

As in Europe's advanced countries, Japanese women's association 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[17] 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

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Association football in Japan.


  1. "J-League History Part 1: Professional football begins in Japan". 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
  2. Blickenstaff, Brian (2013-02-26). "Tom Byer, the man who made Japanese soccer a player on the world football stage". Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  3. "Japan Comment: The Standard Of Football Is Rising In Japan - Time For The Media To Follow". 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  4. "Asian Debate: Is The Japanese Game Losing Its Innocence?". 2009-10-24. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  5. "Japan raising eyebrows :: Total Football Magazine - Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, Non-League News". Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  6. "Asian Cup Japan is On The Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  7. "The success of the J-League mirrors the success of Japan the country « World Soccer World Soccer". October 20, 2012. Archived from the original on December 15, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  8. "History of the Japan Football Association". Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  9. "Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the People's Game in East Asia". Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  10. "Playing the Post‐Fordist Game in/to the Far East: The Footballisation of China, Japan and South Korea". Taylor & Francis Online. 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  11. "Sport and Body Politics in Japan". Routledge. 2014. Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  12. "Japan Wages Soccer Campaign". Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  13. "Tokyo Journal; Japan Falls for Soccer, Leaving Baseball in Lurch - New York Times". 1994-06-06. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  14. "The Sunday Times". 2013-11-10. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  15. "Leading News Resource of Pakistan". Daily Times. 2002-05-10. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  16. "Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the People's Game in East Asia: The People's Game in China, Japan and Korea". Routledge. 2004. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  17. "Small-sided soccer turns Japan into big-time women's program - Chicago Tribune". 2012-05-19. Retrieved 2013-11-17.

External links

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