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.

J3 League
2019 J3 League.svg
Organising bodyJ.League
Founded2013; 8 years ago
Number of teams15 (2021 season)
Level on pyramid3
Promotion toJ2 League
Domestic cup(s)Emperor's Cup
Current championsBlaublitz Akita (2nd title)
(2020 season)
Most championshipsBlaublitz Akita (2 titles)
TV partnersDAZN
YouTube (outside Japan)
(in English)
Current: 2021 J3 League
Former logo
This logo was used from 2015 to 2018

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).[2]

History of Japanese third-tier footballEdit

Amateur era (until 2013)Edit

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)Edit

Close to the end of 2012 football season Japanese media began to spread rumors[3][4] 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.[5]

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.[6] This decision was formally put into force by J.League Council in a 26 February executive meeting.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] On 19 November, J.League confirmed the following clubs to participate in the inaugural J3 season:[10]

Future plansEdit

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:[12]

  • Nara Club (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status and J3 license holders
  • ReinMeer Aomori (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status and J3 license holders
  • Iwaki FC (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status and J3 license holders
  • F.C. Osaka (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status and J3 license holders
  • Veertien Mie (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status and J3 license holders
  • Verspah Oita (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status
  • Suzuka Point Getters (JFL) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status
  • Tochigi City (KSL Division 1) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status
  • Vonds Ichihara (KSL Division 1) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status
  • Criacao Shinjuku (KSL Division 1) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status
  • Nankatsu SC (Tokyo Shakajin Soccer League) – J.League 100 Year Plan club status

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.[13]


Year Important events No. 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.
11+1 1.5 0
  • 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.
12+1 1.5 0
  • 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.
13+3 1.5 0
  • Giravanz Kitakyushu is relegated from J2.
  • Azul Claro Numazu is promoted from JFL.
  • Promotion/Relegation series abolished; runner-up promoted automatically.
14+3 2 0
  • Roasso Kumamoto and Kamatamare Sanuki are relegated from J2.
  • Vanraure Hachinohe is promoted from JFL.
15+3 2 0
  • Kagoshima United and FC Gifu are relegated from J2.
  • FC Imabari is promoted from JFL.
16+3 2 0
  • FC Tokyo U-23 withdraws from J3. Cerezo and Gamba Osaka dissolve their U-23s after the season.
  • Tegevajaro Miyazaki is promoted from JFL.
16+2 2 0
  • Four teams will be relegated from J2.
  • Iwaki FC is promoted from JFL.
15 2 0
2022 18 2 0

2021 seasonEdit

League formatEdit

For this season, the league is played in two rounds (home-and-away), each team playing a total of 28 matches.[14]

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.[15]

Promotion and relegationEdit

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.[14]

No relegation to the JFL is planned in the foreseeable future.

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 exceed 20 clubs in 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.[16]

Participating clubs (2021)Edit

Club name Year joined Seasons
in J3
Based in First season
in D3
in D3
Current spell
in D3
Last spell
in J2
Azul Claro Numazu 2017 4 Numazu, Shizuoka 2017 4 2017–
Fukushima United 2014 7 All cities/towns in Fukushima 2013 8 2013–
Gainare Tottori 2011 (J2) 7 All cities/towns in Tottori 2001 17 2014– 2011–2013
FC Gifu 2008 (J2) 1 All cities/towns in Gifu 2007 1 2020– 2008–2019
FC Imabari 2020 1 Imabari, Ehime 2020 1 2020–
Iwate Grulla Morioka 2014 7 Morioka, Iwate 2014 7 2014–
Kagoshima United 2016 4 Kagoshima, Kagoshima 2016 4 2020– 2019
Kamatamare Sanuki 2014 (J2) 2 Takamatsu, Kagawa 2011 5 2019– 2014–2018
Kataller Toyama 2009 (J2) 6 All cities/towns in Toyama 2008 7 2015– 2009–2014
Fujieda MYFC 2014 7 Central cities/towns in Shizuoka 2012 9 2012–
Nagano Parceiro 2014 7 Northern cities/towns/villages in Nagano 2011 10 2011–
Roasso Kumamoto 2008 (J2) 2 Kumamoto, Kumamoto 2006 4 2019– 2008–2018
Tegevajaro Miyazaki 2021 0 Miyazaki, Miyazaki 2021 0 2021–
Vanraure Hachinohe 2019 2 Hachinohe, Aomori 2019 7 2019–
YSCC Yokohama 2014 7 Yokohama, Kanagawa 2012 9 2012–
  • Pink background indicates clubs most recently promoted from JFL
  • Gray background indicates the club most recently relegated from J2
  • "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J. League (J3 League unless otherwise indicated).
  • "First season in D3," "Seasons in D3," and "Current spell in D3" include seasons in JFL

Stadiums (2021)Edit

Primary venues used in the J3 League:

Vanraure Hachinohe Iwate Grulla Morioka Fukushima United FC YSCC Yokohama Nagano Parceiro Kataller Toyama
Prifoods Stadium Iwagin Stadium Toho Stadium Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium Nagano U Stadium Toyama Stadium
Capacity: 5,124 Capacity: 5,046 Capacity: 6,464 Capacity: 15,440 Capacity: 15,515 Capacity: 18,588
Fujieda MYFC Azul Claro Numazu FC Gifu Gainare Tottori Kamatamare Sanuki FC Imabari
Fujieda Soccer Stadium Ashitaka Park Stadium Gifu Nagaragawa Stadium Axis Bird Stadium Pikara Stadium Arigato Service Dream Stadium
Capacity: 5,056 Capacity: 5,104 Capacity: 16,310 Capacity: 11,999 Capacity: 22,338 Capacity: 5,063
Roasso Kumamoto Tegevajaro Miyazaki Kagoshima United FC
Egao Kenko Stadium Unilever Stadium Shintomi Shiranami Stadium
Capacity: 30,449 Capacity: 5,354 Capacity: 12,606

Former clubsEdit

Club name Year joined Seasons
in J3
Based in First season
in D3
in D3
Last spell
in D3
Blaublitz Akita 2014 7 All cities/towns in Akita 2007 14 2007–2020 J2
Cerezo Osaka U-23 2016 5 Osaka & Sakai, Osaka 2016 5 2016–2020 defunct
FC Tokyo U-23 2016 4 Chōfu, Tokyo 2016 4 2016–2019 defunct
Gamba Osaka U-23 2016 5 Northern cities in Osaka 2016 5 2016–2020 defunct
Giravanz Kitakyushu 2010 (J2) 3 Kitakyushu, Fukuoka 2008 5 2017–2019 J2
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
FC Ryukyu 2014 5 All cities/towns in Okinawa 2006 13 2006–2018 J2
SC Sagamihara 2014 7 Sagamihara, Kanagawa 2013 8 2013–2020 J2
Thespakusatsu Gunma 2005 (J2) 2 All cities/towns in Gunma 2004 3 2018–2019 J2
Tochigi SC 2009 (J2) 2 Utsunomiya, Tochigi 2000 11 2016–2017 J2
Oita Trinita 1999 (J2) 1 All cities/towns in Ōita 2016 1 2016 J1
Machida Zelvia 2012 (J2) 2 Machida, Tokyo 2009 6 2015 J2
Zweigen Kanazawa 2014 1 Kanazawa, Ishikawa 2010 5 2014 J2
  • Pink background indicates clubs most recently promoted to J2
  • "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J. League (J3 League unless otherwise indicated).
  • "First season in D3," "Seasons in D3," and "Current spell in D3" include seasons in JFL

Championship/Promotion HistoryEdit

Season Winner Runner-up Third 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

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

Most successful clubsEdit

Clubs in bold compete in J3 as of 2021 season.

Club Winners Runners-up Promotions Winning seasons Runners-up seasons Promotion seasons
Blaublitz Akita
2017, 2020 2020
Zweigen Kanazawa
2014 2014
Renofa Yamaguchi
2015 2015
Oita Trinita
2016 2016
FC Ryukyu
2018 2018
Giravanz Kitakyushu
2019 2019
Tochigi SC
2016, 2017 2017
SC Sagamihara
2020 2020
Thespakusatsu Gunma
2019 2019
Kagoshima United
2018 2018
Machida Zelvia
2015 2015
Nagano Parceiro

Players and managersEdit


Top scorersEdit

Year Player Nationality Squad Goals
2014 Koji Suzuki (footballer)   Japan Machida Zelvia 19
2015 Kazuhito Kishida Renofa Yamaguchi FC 32
2016 Noriaki Fujimoto Kagoshima United FC 15
2017 24
2018 Leonardo   Brazil Gainare Tottori 24
2019 Taichi Hara   Japan FC Tokyo U-23 19
2020 Kaito Taniguchi Roasso Kumamoto 18

See alsoEdit

League system
Domestic cup
Beach soccer


  1. ^ "サッカー用語集 (Football glossary)". JFA (in Japanese). Japan Football Association. 25 January 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2019. 「日本プロサッカーリーグ」の読みは、「にほんプロサッカーリーグ」。
  2. ^ The logo used in Japan is labeled 「明治安田生命 J3 LEAGUE」.
  3. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  4. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 18 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  9. ^ J3までの道のり [Steps to J3 participation] (in Japanese). J. League. 16 July 2013. Archived from the original on 20 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  10. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 22 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  11. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 22 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ a b Playing system and rules of 2017 J3 League (in Japanese), J. League, 13 December 2016
  15. ^ Tournament schemes for 2016 J3 League (in Japanese), J. League, 15 December 2015
  16. ^ "2021年度 第8回Jリーグ理事会後チェアマン定例会見発言録" (in Japanese). J.League. 1 September 2021. Retrieved 20 October 2021.

External linksEdit