J1 League

J1 League
Country Japan
Confederation AFC (Asia)
Founded 1993 (1993)
Number of teams 18
Level on pyramid 1
Relegation to J2 League
Domestic cup(s) Emperor's Cup
Yamazaki Nabisco Cup
J.League Championship
International cup(s) AFC Champions League
Current champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Most championships Kashima Antlers (7 titles)
TV partners SKY PerfecTV!
Website Official Website
2016 J1 League
Former logo

The J1 League (J1リーグ J1 Rīgu) is the top division of the Japan Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ Nippon Puro Sakkā Rīgu) and is the top professional association football J.League in Japan.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] 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.


For the history of Japanese club association football before the inception of the professional league in 1993, see Japan Soccer League.
For the detailed history of J2 League, see J2 League#History.

Phases of J1

Before the professional league (1992 and earlier)

Before the inception of the J.League, the highest level of club football was the Japan Soccer League (JSL), which consisted of amateur clubs.[8][9] 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.

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 May 15, 1993 as Verdy Kawasaki (current, Tokyo Verdy) played host to Yokohama F. Marinos (current, Yokohama F. Marinos) at the Kasumigaoka National Stadium.

After the boom (1996–1999)

Despite the success in the first three years, in early 1996 the league attendance declined rapidly. In 1997 the average attendance was 10,131, compared to more than 19,000 in 1994.

Change of infrastructure and game formats (1999–2004)

Main article: J2 League

The league's management finally 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, 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 relationship with their hometowns at the grass-root level. The league believed that this will allow the clubs to bond with their respective cities and towns and get support from local government, companies, and citizens. In other words, clubs will 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 former second-tier Japan Football League, 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 more similar to European club football. The number of relegated clubs also increased from 2 to 2.5, with the 3rd-to-last club going into the promotion/relegation playoffs with the third-placed J2 club. Since then, other than minor adjustments, the top flight has stayed consistent.

Japanese teams did not treat the AFC 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.[10]

However, in recent years, with the inclusion of the A-League in Eastern Asia, introduction to the 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 Asian Champions League during the 2007 season.[11] 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 from the 2008 season, the 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 (2009–2016)

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 Licence 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 professional level league. No major changes happened to J.League Division 1 as the number of clubs stayed at 18.

In 2015 the J.League system was changed to a three-stage system. The season was split into first and second stages, followed by a third and final championship stage. The third stage is composed of three to five teams. The top point accumulator in each stage and the top three point accumulators for the overall season qualify. If both of the stage winners finish in the top three teams for the season, then only three teams qualify for the championship stage. These teams then take part in a championship playoff stage to decide the winner of the league trophy.

Future (2017–)

Despite the new multi-stage format being initially reported as locked in for five seasons, towards the end of the 2016 an announcement came it was being abandoned in favour of a return to a single stage system. From 2017 the team which accumulates the most points will be named champions, with no championship stage taking place at the season's end.


Year Important Events # J Clubs # ACL Clubs Rele. 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
1994 12
  • 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 pt 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 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 promoting and/or relegating 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.
16 2
2000 16 2
2001 16 2
2002 16 2 2
  • Extra time is abolished in Division 1 and traditional 3–1–0 points system is adopted
16 2
  • 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
16 2 0.5
  • J.League Division 1 expands to 18 clubs
  • J.League Division 1 adopts single-season format
18 2 2.5
2006 18 2 2.5
Note: If a Japanese club wins the AFC Champions League, the host loses its right.
  • Urawa Red Diamonds becomes the first Japanese club to win the AFC Champions League since its rebranding in 2002 and the first Japanese club to win the bronze Medal in the FIFA Club World Cup
18 2 2.5
  • Gamba Osaka wins the 2008 AFC Champions League, the second straight championship by a J.League club and the second Japanese bronze Medal in the FIFA Club World Cup.
18 2 + 1 2.5
  • Four clubs enter AFC Champions League.
  • Implementation of 4th foreign player slot, a.k.a. AFC player slot
  • Promotion/Relegation Series is eliminated and 16th-place club is now relegated by default.
18 4 3
2010 18 4 3
2011 18 4 3
  • J.League reinstates split-season format for the next five seasons.
  • J.League champion qualifies to the FIFA Club World Cup as the host for the next two seasons again.
18 4 3
2016 18 4 3
2017 18

2016 season

League format

Main article: 2016 J1 League

Eighteen clubs will play in double round-robin (home and away) format, a total of 34 games each. A club receives 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. The clubs are ranked by points, and tie breakers are, in the following order:

A draw would be conducted, if necessary. However, if two clubs are tied for first place, both clubs will be declared as co-champions. The top three clubs will qualify to the following year's AFC Champions League, while the bottom three clubs will be relegated to J2.

Prize Money (2015 figures)

Participating clubs

Club Year
in J1
Based in First Season in
Top Flight
Seasons in
Top Flight
Current Spell in
Top Flight
Last Title
Albirex Niigata 1999 (J2) 13 Niigata & Seiro, Niigata 2004 13 2004–
Kashima Antlers 1993 24 Southwestern cities/towns of Ibaraki 1985 27 1993– 2009
Omiya Ardija 1999 (J2) 11 Saitama, Saitama 2005 11 2016–
Avispa Fukuoka 1996 9 Fukuoka, Fukuoka 1996 9 2016–
Shonan Bellmare 1994 10 South and central cities/town in Kanagawa 1972 28 2015– 1981
Yokohama F. Marinos 1993 24 Yokohama & Yokosuka, Kanagawa 1979 36 1982– 2004
Kawasaki Frontale 1999 (J2) 13 Kawasaki, Kanagawa 1977 15 2005–
Gamba Osaka 1993 23 North cities in Osaka 1986/87 28 2014– 2014
Nagoya Grampus 1993 24 Nagoya, Aichi 1973 32 1990/91– 2010
Júbilo Iwata 1994 21 Iwata, Shizuoka 1980 30 2016– 2002
Urawa Red Diamonds 1993 23 Saitama, Saitama 1965 49 2001– 2006
Kashiwa Reysol 1995 20 Kashiwa, Chiba 1965 44 2011– 2011
Sagan Tosu 1999 (J2) 5 Tosu, Saga 2012 5 2012–
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1993 22 Hiroshima, Hiroshima 1965 44 2009– 2015
FC Tokyo 1999 (J2) 22 Tokyo 2000 22 2012–
Vegalta Sendai 1999 (J2) 9 Sendai, Miyagi 2002 9 2010–
Ventforet Kofu 1999 (J2) 7 All cities/towns in Yamanashi 2006 7 2013–
Vissel Kobe 1997 18 Kobe, Hyōgo 1997 18 2014–

Source for teams participating:[12]

Stadiums (2016)

Primary venues used in the J1 League:

Urawa Red Diamonds Kashima Antlers Nagoya Grampus Gamba Osaka Yokohama F. Marinos Kawasaki Frontale
Saitama Stadium 2002 Kashima Soccer Stadium Toyota Stadium Suita City Football Stadium Nissan Stadium Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Capacity: 63,700 Capacity: 40,728 Capacity: 45,000 Capacity: 40,000 Capacity: 72,370 Capacity: 26,000
Vissel Kobe Júbilo Iwata Omiya Ardija Kashiwa Reysol Sanfrecce Hiroshima Albirex Niigata
NOEVIR Stadium Kobe Yamaha Stadium Nack5 Stadium Omiya Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium EDION Stadium Hiroshima DENKA BIG SWAN STADIUM
Capacity: 30,132 Capacity: 15,165 Capacity: 15,500 Capacity: 15,900 Capacity: 50,000 Capacity: 42,300
Vegalta Sendai Avispa Fukuoka Sagan Tosu F.C. Tokyo Ventforet Kofu Shonan Bellmare
Yurtec Stadium Sendai Level-5 Stadium Best Amenity Stadium Ajinomoto Stadium Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka
    Capacity: 19,694 Capacity: 22,563 Capacity: 24,490 Capacity: 50,100 Capacity: 17,000 Capacity: 18,500

      Former clubs

      Club Year
      in J1
      Based in First Season in
      Top Flight
      Seasons in
      Top Flight
      Last Spell in
      Top Flight
      Cerezo Osaka 1995 16 Osaka, Osaka 1965 42 2010–2014 1980 J2
      Consadole Sapporo 1998 5 Sapporo, Hokkaidō 1989/90 8 2012 J2
      Yokohama Flügels 1993 6 Yokohama, Kanagawa 1985 11 1988/89–1998 Defunct
      JEF United Chiba 1993 17 Chiba & Ichihara, Chiba 1965 44 1965–2009 1985/86 J2
      Montedio Yamagata 1999 (J2) 4 All cities/towns in Yamagata 2009 4 2015 J2
      Shimizu S-Pulse 1993 (J) 23 Shizuoka, Shizuoka 1993 23 1993–2015 J2
      Kyoto Sanga 1996 11 Southwestern cities/towns in Kyoto 1996 11 2008–2010 J2
      Oita Trinita 1999 (J2) 8 All cities/towns in Oita 2003 8 2013 J3
      Tokyo Verdy 1993 14 Tokyo 1978 28 2008 1994 J2
      Tokushima Vortis 2005 (J2) 1 All cities/towns in Tokushima 2014 1 2014 J2
      Matsumoto Yamaga 2012 (J2) 1 Central cities/village in Nagano 2015 1 2015 J2
      Yokohama FC 2001 (J2) 1 Yokohama, Kanagawa 2007 1 2007 J2


      Championship History

      Split-Season Era (1993–2004) Bold designates champions; † Single season; ‡ Same club won both stages

      Year 1st Stage 2nd Stage
      1993 Kashima Antlers Verdy Kawasaki
      1994 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Verdy Kawasaki
      1995 Yokohama F. Marinos Verdy Kawasaki
      1996 Kashima Antlers
      1997 Kashima Antlers Júbilo Iwata
      1998 Júbilo Iwata Kashima Antlers
      1999 Júbilo Iwata Shimizu S-Pulse
      2000 Yokohama F. Marinos Kashima Antlers
      2001 Júbilo Iwata Kashima Antlers
      2002 Júbilo Iwata
      2003 Yokohama F. Marinos
      2004 Yokohama F. Marinos Urawa Red Diamonds

      Single Season Era (2005–2014)

      Year Champion Runners-Up 3rd Place
      2005 Gamba Osaka Urawa Red Diamonds Kashima Antlers
      2006 Urawa Red Diamonds Kawasaki Frontale Gamba Osaka
      2007 Kashima Antlers Urawa Red Diamonds Gamba Osaka
      2008 Kashima Antlers Kawasaki Frontale Nagoya Grampus
      2009 Kashima Antlers Kawasaki Frontale Gamba Osaka
      2010 Nagoya Grampus Gamba Osaka Cerezo Osaka
      2011 Kashiwa Reysol Nagoya Grampus Gamba Osaka
      2012 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Vegalta Sendai Urawa Red Diamonds
      2013 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Yokohama F. Marinos Kawasaki Frontale
      2014 Gamba Osaka Urawa Red Diamonds Kashima Antlers

      Split-Season Era (2015–2016) Bold designates champions; † Single season; ‡ Same club won both stages

      Year 1st Stage 2nd Stage
      2015 Urawa Red Diamonds Sanfrecce Hiroshima
      2016 Kashima Antlers Urawa Red Diamonds

      Most successful clubs

      Clubs in bold compete in top flight as of 2016 season.

      Club Champions Runners-Up Winning Seasons Runners-Up Seasons
      Kashima Antlers
      1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2016 1993, 1997
      Yokohama F. Marinos
      1995, 2003, 2004 2000, 2002, 2013
      Júbilo Iwata
      1997, 1999, 2002 1998, 2001, 2003
      Sanfrecce Hiroshima
      2012, 2013, 2015 1994
      Gamba Osaka
      2005, 2014 2010, 2015
      Tokyo Verdy
      1993, 1994 1995
      Urawa Red Diamonds
      2006 2004, 2005, 2007, 2014, 2016
      Nagoya Grampus
      2010 1996, 2011
      Kashiwa Reysol
      Kawasaki Frontale
      2006, 2008, 2009
      Shimizu S-Pulse
      Vegalta Sendai

      Relegation history

      Only four clubs have never been relegated from J1. Among those, only two clubs–Kashima Antlers and Yokohama F. Marinos have been participating in every league season since its establishment in 1993. Albirex Niigata and Sagan Tosu were promoted to the first division in 2004 and 2012, respectively, and remain there ever since. The former J.League club Yokohama Flügels never experienced relegation before their merger with Yokohama Marinos in 1999.

      JEF United Chiba holds the record for the longest top flight participation streak of 44 consecutive seasons in the first divisions of JSL and J.League that lasted since the establishment of JFL in 1965 and ended with their relegation in 2009. The longest ongoing top flight streak belongs to Yokohama F. Marinos who play in the top flight since 1982 (34 seasons as of 2016).

      The 1998 season

      When the league introduced the two-division system in 1999, they also reduced number of Division 1 club from 18 to 16. At the end of 1998 season, they hosted the J.League Promotion Tournament to determine two relegating clubs.

      Split-season era (1999–2004, 2015–present)

      Throughout 1999 to 2003 seasons, two bottom clubs were relegated to Division 2. To accommodate for split-season format, combined overall standings were used to determine the relegating clubs. This created a confusing situation, where for championship race stage standing were used, while overall standing was used for relegation survival.

      At end of the 2004 season, Division 1 again expanded from 16 to 18 clubs. No clubs were relegated; however, last-placed (16th) club had to play Promotion/Relegation Series against 3rd placed club from J2. Again, to determine 16th placed club, overall standing was used instead of stage standing.

      For five seasons starting in 2015, three bottom clubs are relegated based on overall standings.

      Single season era (2005–2014)

      For the next four seasons, 2005 to 2008, the number of relegating clubs was increased to 2.5, with two clubs from each division being promoted and relegated directly, and two more (15th in J1 and 3rd in J2) competed in Promotion/Relegation Series.

      Since 2009, the pro/rele series were abandoned and three teams are directly exchanged between divisions. In 2012 promotion playoffs were introduced in J2, allowing teams that finished from 3rd to 6th to compete for J1 promotion place.

      Year 15th Place 16th Place 17th Place 18th Place
      1998 JEF United Ichihara Consadole Sapporo Vissel Kobe Avispa Fukuoka
      1999 Urawa Red Diamonds Bellmare Hiratsuka Only 16 clubs participated
      2000 Kyoto Purple Sanga Kawasaki Frontale
      2001 Avispa Fukuoka Cerezo Osaka
      2002 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Consadole Sapporo
      2003 Vegalta Sendai Kyoto Purple Sanga
      2004 Cerezo Osaka Kashiwa Reysol
      2005 Shimizu S-Pulse Kashiwa Reysol Tokyo Verdy 1969 Vissel Kobe
      2006 Ventforet Kofu Avispa Fukuoka Cerezo Osaka Kyoto Purple Sanga
      2007 Omiya Ardija Sanfrecce Hiroshima Ventforet Kofu Yokohama FC
      2008 JEF United Chiba Júbilo Iwata Tokyo Verdy Consadole Sapporo
      2009 Montedio Yamagata Kashiwa Reysol Oita Trinita JEF United Chiba
      2010 Vissel Kobe FC Tokyo Kyoto Sanga Shonan Bellmare
      2011 Urawa Red Diamonds Ventforet Kofu Avispa Fukuoka Montedio Yamagata
      2012 Albirex Niigata Vissel Kobe Gamba Osaka Consadole Sapporo
      2013 Ventforet Kofu Shonan Bellmare Júbilo Iwata Oita Trinita
      2014 Shimizu S-Pulse Omiya Ardija Cerezo Osaka Tokushima Vortis
      2015 Albirex Niigata Matsumoto Yamaga Shimizu S-Pulse Montedio Yamagata
      2016 Albirex Niigata Nagoya Grampus Shonan Bellmare Avispa Fukuoka

      * Bold designates relegated clubs;
      † Won the Pro/Rele Series;
      ‡ Lost the Pro/Rele Series and relegated

      Other tournaments

      Domestic Tournaments
      International Tournaments
      Defunct Tournament

      Players and managers



      Media coverage

      Country Network
       Hong Kong Cable TV
       Malaysia Astro SuperSport
       Thailand GMM Sport1
       Canada The Sports Network
      Réseau des sports
       United States
       Puerto Rico
      GOL TV
       Vietnam VTVcab
       Philippines ABS-CBN Sports+Action
       Singapore Supersports Starhub
       South Korea JTBC3 Fox Sports
       Indonesia WakuWaku Japan
       Europe Eurosport1
      Sub-Saharan Africa Fox Sports
      Canal+ Sport
      South Asia Star Sports
      Asia Pacific Fox Sports2
      Latin America Claro Sports3
       Australia Optus Sport
       New Zealand Sky Sport
      Oceania SBS4
      Internet Livesport.tv


      See also


      1. "J-League History Part 5: Expansion, success, and a bright future". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      2. "J-League History Part 4: Exporting Talent". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      3. "J-League History Part 3: Growing pains emerge on the road to the 2002 World Cup". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      4. "J-League History Part 2: Verdy Kawasaki dominates the early years". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      5. "J-League History Part 1: Professional football begins in Japan". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      6. "Tokyo Journal; Japan Falls for Soccer, Leaving Baseball in Lurch - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1994-06-06. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
      7. "Japan Wages Soccer Campaign". CSMonitor.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
      8. "Football finds a home in Japan". FIFA.com. 2005-12-02. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      9. "When Saturday Comes - How Japan created a successful league". Wsc.co.uk. 2010-07-18. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
      10. John Duerden (11 August 2008). "Asian Debate: Is Japan Becoming Asia's Leader?". Goal.com. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
      11. 川崎Fが香港でブレーク中、生中継で火 (in Japanese). NikkanSports. March 8, 2008. Retrieved March 8, 2008.
      12. "J1 League: Summary". Soccerway. Global Sports Media. Retrieved 19 August 2012.

      External links

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