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Association football is the second most popular sport in Japan,[1][2] after Baseball.[3] Its nationwide organization, Japan Football Association, administers the professional football league, J. League, which is the most successful association football league in Asia.[4][5][6][7][8]

Football in Japan
Governing bodyJapan Football Association
National team(s)men's national team
women's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions



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 from 1873 taught the game and its rules to Japanese navy cadets while acting as instructors at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy in Tsukiji, Tokyo.[9][10][11][12]

The first official football match in Japan is widely believed to have been held on February 18, 1888 between the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club and Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club. YC&AC is the oldest running association football club in Japan as Association Football (or Soccer) was introduced into the club on December 25th, 1886, for training sessions starting from January 1887. The first Japanese association football club, founded as a 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, which also led to the country hosting its first international competition, the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship. 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.

Japan national team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

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.[13] 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.[14] 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 has reached the round of 16 on three occasions – as hosts in 2002, where they were knocked out by Turkey 1–0, in 2010, where they lost to Paraguay in penalties and in 2018 where they fell 2–3 to Belgium. Japan 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 fictionEdit

The first worldwide popular association football-oriented Japanese animation (manga) series, Captain Tsubasa, was started in 1981. Captain Tsubasa was extremely popular among children of both genders in Japan. Its success led to much 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.[citation needed]

Captain Tsubasa has also inspired the likes of prominent footballers such as Hidetoshi Nakata,[15] Seigo Narazaki, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Fernando Torres, Christian Vieri, Giuseppe Sculli, James Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez [16] and Alessandro Del Piero[17] 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.[18]

The anime Giant Killing revolves around a team's efforts to go from one of the worst professional teams in Japan to the best. Other works focusing on football include Hungry Heart: Wild Striker (from the same author of Captain Tsubasa), The Knight in the Area and Days.

Women's footballEdit

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[19] and finishing as runner-up in 2015 in Canada.

Championships and tournamentsEdit

Domestic tournamentsEdit

Other international tournaments held in JapanEdit

Japanese footballersEdit

See also Category:Japanese footballers.

Men's national team achievementsEdit

Women's national team achievementsEdit

Seasons in Japanese association footballEdit

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "The 8 Most Popular Sports in Japan".
  4. ^ "Japan Comment: The Standard Of Football Is Rising In Japan - Time For The Media To Follow". 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  5. ^ "Asian Debate: Is The Japanese Game Losing Its Innocence?". 2009-10-24. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  6. ^ "Japan raising eyebrows :: Total Football Magazine - Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, Non-League News". Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  7. ^ "Asian Cup Japan is On The Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "History of the Japan Football Association". Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  10. ^ Horne, John; Horne, Professor of Modern European History John; Manzenreiter, Wolfram (2004-09-23). Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the People's Game in East Asia. ISBN 9781134365586. Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  11. ^ Manzenreiter, Wolfram; Horne, John (2007-08-14). "Playing the Post‐Fordist Game in/to the Far East: The Footballisation of China, Japan and South Korea". Soccer & Society. 8 (4): 561–577. doi:10.1080/14660970701440899.
  12. ^ Sport and Body Politics in Japan. Routledge. 2014. ISBN 9781135022358. Retrieved 2015-04-01.
  13. ^ "Japan Wages Soccer Campaign". Christian Science Monitor. 1993-06-11. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  14. ^ "Tokyo Journal; Japan Falls for Soccer, Leaving Baseball in Lurch - New York Times". 1994-06-06. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  15. ^ "The Sunday Times". 2013-11-10. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  16. ^útbol-internacional/2016/07/28/26021812/los-cracks-que-confesaron-su-admiración-por-los
  17. ^ "Leading News Resource of Pakistan". Daily Times. May 10, 2002. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  18. ^ Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the People's Game in East Asia: The People's Game in China, Japan and Korea. Routledge. 2004. ISBN 9780415318976. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  19. ^ "Small-sided soccer turns Japan into big-time women's program - Chicago Tribune". 2012-05-19. Retrieved 2013-11-17.

External linksEdit