The J League: A Look Into Japan's Professional Football League

Football, also known as soccer, gained recognition first when the National Team of Japan surprised everyone by reaching the quarterfinals of the 1964 Olympic games, which was held in Tokyo. A few years after, they received the bronze medal in a competition held in Mexico city during 1968.

This paved way for the Japanese to become solid fans of the sport. Abruptly, schools began putting in place soccer teams, and teenage leagues sprouted up anywhere. Football emerged as a famous newbie game, especially among crowds consisting of young people.

The Growing Popularity of Football in Japan

A milestone in the evolution of football in Japan's history was when professional football made its debut in 1993. This was the time when football certainly took off. The establishment of the J. League propelled the sport to a level of fame that even surpassed baseball. All of a sudden, football (instead of baseball) was the favorite game among male middle school and college students. In 1995, Japan’s Ministry of Education conducted a study on the favorite sport among the students - it was no surprise that football or soccer topped the list.

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In 2002, Japan and South Korea joined forces to co-host the World Cup for that year. This event once again raised the interest of the Japanese towards football. Football players have been getting increasing publicity to a global extent. Prior to hosting the World Cup in 2002, Japan’s National Football Team (or the J. League) was already making waves when J. League qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals. Prior to this, the J. League beat Iran’s national football team in the qualifying round held in 1997.

The whole nation erupted in joy with that victory. Majority of the football fanatics were not expecting this outcome. After all, it took Japan 10 tries over a span of forty-four years to eventually make it to the World Cup finals. Despite the fact that the Japanese team lost versus France’s national team, Japan’s participation alone was enough to get the spirits of everyone on a high.

Football Organizations in Japan: Then and Now

Prior to the creation of the J. League, Japan Soccer League was the most prestigious football league in Japan. Instead of professional level players, the members of Japan Soccer League were only considered to be semi-professional. During the 70’s, the popularity of football saw a decline, which was surprising considering the resources used up by the Japanese government in order to raise the popularity of football.

During the 80’s, the JSL experienced the lowest level of popularity and a deteriorating state of affairs. Football enthusiasts declined, add to that, the grounds for playing football are no longer of the best quality. As a result of the decline in popularity, the Japanese National Team deteriorated compared with the Asian football powerhouses.

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The Japanese government knew that something must be done to allow football to gain popularity again. To elevate the level of local football games, to attempt to garner more enthusiasts, and to reinforce the countrywide popularity of the sport, the Japan Football Association (JFA) decided to form a league for football professionals.

The idea of J.League was first conceptualized in 1992. With the formation of the J. League, eight clubs were drawn from the original JSL First division, one club was drawn from the second division, and the last club was from the newly formed Shimizu S-Pulse. All in all, the J. League had ten clubs under its wing.

During this time, the JSL changed its name and rebranded itself as the new Japan Football League. Unlike the J. League which catered to professional football players, the JFL was a semi-professional league. In 1993, the J.League officially released along with the 10 clubs for an inaugural season.

Growing Pains: Early Challenges for the J. League

Regardless of the extreme success of the first three years, early 1996 saw another decline in popularity for the J. League. League attendance declined unexpectedly for the first time in three years. This continued up to 1997, where the common attendance was 10,131. This is a much smaller value compared to more than 19,000 attendance in 1994.

The league's management subsequently found out that they were heading towards the incorrect course. Hence, they thought of good ways to resolve the continuous decline in popularity. First, organizers of the J. League introduced the J.League Hundred Year Vision. The idea of this is to make a hundred professional affiliations for soccer and football across Japan by 2092, to coincide with the J. League’s hundredth season.

The league additionally endorsed the clubs to sell football and non-football related sports and other fitness activities. This aimed to increase J. League’s sponsorship by branching out to other forms of sports. Aside from gathering sponsorships, another move coming from the initiative encouraged the league to construct tight-knit relationships with hometowns.

The vision of the J. League is that clubs will have a close bond with their respective towns and cities. This was a smart move, since having the local cities and towns support the various clubs would ensure assistance from local authorities and organized groups, as well as the die-hard support of local citizens. In short, with this initiative, each J. League club will be capable of relying solely on locals rather than the big primary sponsors.

In 1999, the infrastructure of the league become heavily modified. This decision was heavily influenced by the fact that the league had just acquired nine clubs from the semi-professional JFL. The nine clubs from JFL, along with one club from the original J.League enabled the association to form two divisions.

The pinnacle flight paved way for the J.League department 1 (also known as J1), with 16 clubs. On the other hand,  the J.League department 2 (also known as J2) released with ten clubs during the same year - 1999. This transformation meant that the previous second-tier Japan Football League has now have become the third-tier.

Since the 2005 season, J.League department 1 consisted of 18 clubs (coming from 16 in 2004) and the season layout became more much like European football. The wide variety of relegated clubs additionally improved from 2 to 5, with the third-to-final club going into the playoffs with the third relegated J2 member. Consider these changes, other than minor adjustments done in the future, the format of the playoffs has stayed steady until present.

J. League and Their Expansion in Asia

Thanks to the success of the J. League in the international football scene, Japanese groups no longer treated the Asian Football Club Champions League that critically. A factor that affected this outlook was the long distance traveled to participate and the vast number of clubs playing. However, this outlook changed in 2008 when 3 Japanese clubs made the region-finals.

In the latest years, the popularity of the J. League outside of Japan continues to increase. This is driven by factors such as the inclusion of Japan in the A-League, as well as the introduction to the Membership Global Cup. As a result, the J. League’s marketability elevated inside the Asian continent. The J. League and all of the clubs under its wing paid extra attention to Asian competition.

For an instance, Kawasaki Frontale club constructed a superb fan base in Hong Kong. This can be attributed to their participation in the Asian Champions League in the course of the 2007 season. Continuous effort in the sporting arena brought about the success of both Urawa Red Diamonds in 2007 and Gamba Osaka in 2008 seasons of the AFC.

Thanks to excellent league management and competitiveness in Asian opposition, the AFC offered J.League the very best rating and a complete 4 slots beginning from the 2009 season playoffs. The league took this as a possibility to promote television broadcasting rights to foreign international locations, mainly in Asia.

Additionally, beginning from the 2008 season, the Emperor's Cup Winner was allowed to participate in the imminent Champions League season. Rather than waiting for a whole year, Tokyo Verdy participated in the 2007 ACL season, instead of the 2006 season. To restore this one-year lag issue, the 2007 Emperor's Cup winner, Kashima Antlers' turn was waived. A good example would be the Kashima Antlers, who ended up competing in the 2009 ACL season by winning the J.League title in the 2008 season.

Three essential changes have been visible in the J. League starting with the 2009 season. First, beginning that season, four clubs entered the AFC Champions League. Secondly, the number of ranked positions was limited to only a few. in the end, the four AFC participation slot became applicable at the beginning of every season. Every country who is a member could be allowed to have a complete set of four participating teams, but one slot is reserved for a team that originates from the AFC.

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Aside from Japan, the U. S. A. was also a regarded member of the Asian Football Confederation. The J.League Club Licence regulations started in 2012 as one criterion of whether a club would be allowed to live in its division or to be promoted to a higher tier in the professional league. No principal modifications were made to the J.League Division 1 as the count of participating clubs stayed at 18.

J. League in the Present: Recent Modifications and Gaining More Popularity

In 2015, the J.League department 1 officially renamed to J1 League. Also, the tournament layout turned into a modified three-stage playoff. The season was broken into first and second ranges, followed through by a third and final championship match. The third stage is composed of three to five teams.

With the brand new multi-stage format being first locked in for five seasons, plenty of negative responses rose from hardcore fanatics. Combined with a failure to attract occasional football enthusiasts, towards the end of the 2016 season a declaration was made to declare that the new format was being deserted in favor of reverting back to a single degree system. From 2017, the rules were revised so that the club which accumulates the most points will be named the champion.

In November 2017, Urawa Red Diamonds participated in the AFC Champions League Finals with Al Hilal. After a draw inside the first leg, Urawa Red Diamonds win the second one leg by 1-0 and are topped by Asian Champions. in the beyond 10-15 years, eastern clubs have risen not most effective continental, but additionally worldwide. golf equipment Gamba Osaka and Urawa Red Diamonds were crowned as over-all Asian champions. From there, the club participated in the Global Cup targeting to reach the semi-finals. Kashima Antlers have been finalists of the 2016 version and faced off with the highly regarded Madrid team.

As on 2017, 18 clubs played in the double round-robin format which consisted both domestic and away matches. A complete of 34 games were played for that season. Any club receives 3 points for every win, while ties would garner 1 point. The clubs are ranked through the point system.

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 Aside from the prestige, money was also at stake along with the titles. Clubs who were declared to be champions would win a whopping 100,000,000 Yen. On the other hand, the first and second tier winners will both win 50,000,000 Yen. Aside from the top scorers, there are also financial incentives for lower level wins.