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Football in Japanmarker has become one of the most popular sports in the country. Its nation wide organization, Japan Football Association administers the professional football league, J. League which is the most successful football league in Asia.


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 Americanmarker 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 Yokohama F.C.


Football was introduced in Meiji period by O-yatoi gaikokujin, foreign advisors hired by the Japanese government, along with many other foreign sports. The first Japanese football club is considered to be Tokyo Shukyu-dan, founded in 1917, which is now competing in the Tokyomarker Prefectural amateur league.

In the 1920s, football association were organized and regional tournaments began in universities and high schools especially in Tokyo. In 1930, the Japan national 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, established in 1948 and open only to company teams. The second was the All Japan Inter-City Football Championship, 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 1950's. All these tournaments were cups following single-elimination formulas, similar to Serie A in Italymarker before 1929.

The first organized national league, the Japan Soccer League, was organized in 1965 with eight amateur company clubs and replaced the two cups mentioned above. 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 Braziliansmarker), and a few from other countries. 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 Koln of Germanymarker).

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. 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. 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 Francemarker. In 2002, Japan co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Republic of Koreamarker. After this, the football communities of both countries received the FIFA Fair Play Award. The Japanese national team reached the Round of 16 which is its best World Cup performance to date. It also qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germanymarker.

Football in fiction

The first worldwide popular football-oriented Japanese animation (manga) series, Captain Tsubasa, was started in 1981. Captain Tsubasa was extremely popular among children (boys and girls) in Japan. Its success led to many more football manga being written, and it played a great role in football history in Japan. Playing football became more popular than playing baseball in many schools throughout Japan from 1980s due to the series. Many people who grew up reading Captain Tsubasa are now in their 20s and 30s and form a large part of the current football fanbase. It even inspired national team players such as Hidetoshi Nakata and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi to take up the sport in the first place.

Women's football

As in Europe's advanced countries, Japanese women's football is organized on a promotion and relegation basis. The top flight of women's 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.

Unlike in most of the West, Japanese sports fans cheer good sports performances regardless of gender, and do not take into account the physical beauty of the female players; [67271] this allows for a dedicated following among Japanese fans. Nonetheless, the Japanese women do not get much government or private backing, which often renders them unable to catch up to the Communist sports machines backing the Chinese and North Korean national teams.

Championships and Tournaments

Domestic tournaments

Other international tournaments held in Japan

Notable Japanese footballers

See also :Category:Japanese footballers.

National team achievements

Seasons in Japanese football

1920s:   1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929
1930s: 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1940s: 1940 1941-45 1946 1947-48 1949
1950s: 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
1960s: 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1970s: 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980s: 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985-86 1986-87 1987-88 1988-89 1989-90
1990s: 1990-91 1991-92 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000s: 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009  


  1. The Emperor's Cup was cancelled in 1926 due to the death of Emperor Taishō.
  2. The Emperor's Cup was cancelled in 1934 due to East Asian Games in Manila.
  3. Football was suspended from 1941-1945 due to World War II.
  4. The Emperor's Cup was cancelled in 1947 and 1948 due to post-World War II unrest.
  5. Extra season played by the former JFL as a transition period before the first J. League season kickoff.

See also

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