J3 League

J3 League
Country Japan
Confederation AFC (Asia)
Founded 2013; 3 years ago
Number of teams

13+3 under-23 teams

(2016 season)
Level on pyramid 3
Promotion to J2 League
Relegation to Japan Football League
Domestic cup(s) Emperor's Cup
Current champions Renofa Yamaguchi
Most championships Zweigen Kanazawa, Renofa Yamaguchi
(1 title each)
Website Official Website
2016 J3 League
Former logo

J3 League (J3リーグ 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 Nippon Puro Sakkā Rīgu) that has established a third-tier professional association football league in Japan starting in 2014.

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.

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. 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[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4] This decision was formally put into force by J.League Council on 26 February executive meeting.[5] 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.[6]

In order to participate, a club must have held an associate membership, or have submitted an application before 30 June 2013, and then passed an inspection in order to obtain a participation licence issued by J.League Council.[7] On November 19, J.League confirmed the following clubs to participate in the inaugural J3 season:[8]

Future plans

The league has not provided a clear expansion timeline yet but it is most likely that J3 will continue to accommodate new teams after its inaugural season. The following is a list of clubs that have applied for participation in 2013 but have been rejected by J.League for various reasons:[10]

Most of these clubs continue to aim for J3 as their ultimate goal.

Some sources claim that J3 is intended to reach up to 60 clubs in the future, being split into three regionalized divisions running in parallel.[11]


Year Important Events # J3
  • The J.League adopts three divisions, as nine clubs from the Japan Football League join Division 3, along with the relegated Gainare Tottori: Blaublitz Akita, Fukushima United, Fujieda MYFC, Nagano Parceiro, FC Ryukyu, SC Sagamihara, YSCC Yokohama, FC Machida Zelvia, and Zweigen Kanazawa, plus Grulla Morioka, promoted directly from Regional Leagues. A J.League U-22 Selection is also included, composed of the best J1 and J2 youngsters in order to prepare them for the 2016 Olympics.
  • The Japan Football League becomes the nationalwide fourth-tier, and first-tier for amateur clubs.
  • Zweigen Kanazawa becomes the first J3 champions and got promoted to J2. Nagano Parceiro lost the Promotion/Relegation Series against the J2 21st placed team.
11+1 1.5 0
  • Kataller Toyama got relegated from J2.
  • Renofa Yamaguchi is promoted from Japan Football League and in its first J3 season becomes champions and got promoted to J2.
  • FC Machida Zelvia also gets 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.
12+1 1.5 0
  • Tochigi SC and Oita Trinita got relegated from J2.
  • Kagoshima United FC is promoted from Japan Football League. Also, Cerezo Osaka, Gamba Osaka and FC Tokyo introduced U-23 reserve teams in order to reach 16 teams and change the league to a two round system.
13+3 1.5 0
2017 14+3 1.5 0

2016 season

Main article: 2016 J3 League

League format

For this season, the league is played in two rounds (home-and-away), each team playing a total of 30 matches.[12]

Each team must have at least 3 players holding professional contracts. Also for this season, three foreign players are allowed per team, plus 1 more from the ASEAN partner country of J.League or from other AFC countries. The matchday roster will consist of 18 players, and up to 3 substitutes will be allowed in a game.[13] The three under-23 clubs can have up to three overage players and one of them must be a goalkeeper.[12]

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 a J2 license and finish in top 2 of the league. The champions will be promoted directly, in exchange with 22nd-placed J2 club, and the runners-up will participate in the playoffs with 21st J2 club. If either or both top 2 finishers are ineligible for promotion, the playoffs and/or direct exchange will not be held in accordance with the exact positions of promotion-eligible clubs. Also, if an under-23 squad finishes in either one of the top 2 or both positions, the next-placed, promotion-eligible club takes automatic promotion to J2. Another next-placed eligible club will contest the playoff if any under-23 club occupies third to fourth place or both and the J3 champion is eligible for promotion.[12]

No relegation to JFL is planned in the foreseeable future.

Participating clubs (2016)

Keihanshin Area
Greater Tokyo Area
FC Tokyo U-23, Sagamihara, YSCC
Locations of the 2016 J3 League teams
Club Name Year Joined Seasons
in J3
Based in First Season
in D3
in D3
Current Spell
in D3
Last Spell
in J2
Blaublitz Akita 2014 3 All cities/towns in Akita 2007 10 2007–
Cerezo Osaka U-23 2016 1 Osaka & Sakai, Osaka 2016 1 2016–
Fukushima United 2014 3 All cities/towns in Fukushima 2013 4 2013–
Gainare Tottori 2011 (J2) 3 All cities/towns in Tottori 2001 13 2014– 2011–2013
Gamba Osaka U-23 2016 1 North cities in Osaka 2016 1 2016–
Grulla Morioka 2014 3 Morioka, Iwate 2014 3 2014–
Kagoshima United 2016 1 Kagoshima, Kagoshima 2016 1 2016–
Kataller Toyama 2009 (J2) 2 All cities/towns in Toyama 2008 3 2015– 2009–2014
Fujieda MYFC 2014 3 Central cities/towns in Shizuoka 2012 5 2012–
Nagano Parceiro 2014 3 Northern cities/towns/villages in Nagano 2011 6 2011–
FC Ryukyu 2014 3 All cities/towns in Okinawa 2006 11 2006–
SC Sagamihara 2014 3 Sagamihara, Kanagawa 2013 4 2013–
Tochigi SC 2009 (J2) 1 Utsunomiya, Tochigi 2000 10 2016– 2009–2015
FC Tokyo U-23 2016 1 Chōfu, Tokyo 2016 1 2016–
Oita Trinita 1999 (J2) 1 All cities/towns in Ōita 2016 1 2016– 2014–2015
YSCC Yokohama 2014 3 Yokohama, Kanagawa 2012 5 2012–

Former clubs

Club Name Year Joined Seasons
in J3
Based in First Season
in D3
in D3
Last Spell
in D3
J.League U-22 Selection 2014 2 Played away games only 2014 2 2015 defunct
Renofa Yamaguchi 2015 1 Yamaguchi, Yamaguchi 2015 1 2015 J2
Machida Zelvia 2012 (J2) 2 Machida, Tokyo 2009 6 2015 J2
Zweigen Kanazawa 2014 1 Kanazawa, Ishikawa 2010 5 2014 J2

Championship/Promotion History

Season Winner Runner-up Third place
Zweigen Kanazawa Nagano Parceiro Machida Zelvia
Renofa Yamaguchi Machida Zelvia Nagano Parceiro
Oita Trinita Tochigi SC Nagano Parceiro

* 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 2015 season.

Club Winners Runners-up Promotions Winning seasons Runners-up seasons Promotion seasons
Zweigen Kanazawa
2014 2014
Renofa Yamaguchi
2015 2015
Machida Zelvia
2015 2015
Nagano Parceiro

See also


  1. Jリーグに「3部」設置構想=準加盟クラブで2014年にも [J.League third division to be installed in 2014] (in Japanese). JIJI Press Ltd. 4 November 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  2. 3部相当、14年開始へ=名称候補に「J3」「Jチャレンジ」-Jリーグ [Third division to start in 2014, J.League sets candidate clubs] (in Japanese). JIJI Press Ltd. 27 December 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  3. "Jリーグに「3部」設置構想=準加盟クラブで2014年にも" [New third division starts in 2014] (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun. 1 January 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  4. J3設立へ中西理事「理解は得た」 [Director Nakahishi on the agreement for J3 establishment] (in Japanese). Nikkan Sports News. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  5. 来年からJ3新設を正式決定 Jリーグ理事会 [Consul formally decided to launch new J3 league next year] (in Japanese). Sports Nippon Newspapers. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  6. J3参加クラブ数は「12」で決定 [J3 is determined to start with 12 teams] (in Japanese). J.League. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  7. J3までの道のり [Steps to J3 participation] (in Japanese). J. League. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  8. Jリーグ入会審査(J2およびJ3)結果について [Results of J2 and J3 examination] (in Japanese). J. League. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  9. 申請クラブ審査状況に更新がありました [Update to club review situation] (in Japanese). J. League. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  10. 準加盟クラブ・準加盟申請クラブに対する、今後の審査の流れ [Inspection flow for J. League participation] (in Japanese). J. League. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  11. Jリーグ、将来的に100チームへ [J.League to reach 100 teams in the future] (in Japanese). Soccer Now. 24 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  12. 1 2 3 Playing system and rules of 2016 J3 League (in Japanese), J. League, 15 December 2015
  13. Tournament schemes for 2016 J3 League (in Japanese), J. League, 15 December 2015

External links

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