Football in Japan
Jubilo Iwata players and fans celebrate a goal in the J.League Cup in 2010.
Governing bodyJapan Football Association
National team(s)men's national team
women's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Football is among the most popular sports in Japan,[1][2][3] together with baseball, basketball, sumo and martial arts.[4] Its nationwide organization, the Japan Football Association, administers the professional football leagues, including J.League, which is considered by many the most successful football league in Asia.[5][6][7][8][9]


See also: Japan Football Association § History

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 FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga FC.


The introduction of 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.[10][11][12][13]

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 was introduced into the club on December 25, 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 organised and regional tournaments began in universities and high schools especially in Tokyo. In 1930, the Japan national association football team was organised and had a 3–3 tie with China for their first title at the Far Eastern Championship Games. The Japan national team also participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the team had the 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 an 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.[14] 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.[15] 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 four occasions – as hosts in 2002, where they were knocked out by Turkey 1–0, in 2010, where they lost to Paraguay in penalties, in 2018 where they fell 2–3 to Belgium, and in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. 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 fiction

See also: Category:Association football in anime and manga

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,[16] Seigo Narazaki, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Fernando Torres, Christian Vieri, Giuseppe Sculli, James Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez[17] and Alessandro Del Piero[18] to play association football and choose it as a career. The inspiration for the character of Tsubasa Oozora 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 FC as a ten-year-old boy was partly mimicked in the manga.[19]

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, Days, Inazuma Eleven and Blue Lock.

Women's football

Main article: Women's football in Japan

As in Europe's advanced countries, Japanese women's 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[20] and finishing as runner-up in 2015 in Canada.

Small-sided football

Championships and tournaments

Domestic tournaments

Other international tournaments held in Japan

Japanese footballers

See also: Category:Japanese footballers

Men's national team achievements

Women's national team achievements

Seasons in Japanese association 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 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 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 1986 1987 1988 1989
1990s: 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000s: 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2010s: 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
2020s: 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029

+50,000 capacity football stadiums in Japan

See also: List of football stadiums in Japan

# Image Stadium Capacity City Region Built Home Team
1 Japan National Stadium 80,016 Tokyo Kantō region 2019 Japan national football team (some matches)
Japan national rugby union team
2 Nissan Stadium 72,327 Yokohama Kanagawa 1998 Yokohama F. Marinos
3 Saitama Stadium 2002 63,700 Saitama Kantō region 2001 Japan national football team (most matches)
Urawa Red Diamonds
4 Shizuoka Stadium 50,889 Fukuroi Shizuoka 2001 some Júbilo Iwata and Shimizu S-Pulse matches

See also


  1. ^ "Japanese baseball finds itself at a crossroads | Reuters". July 12, 2021.
  2. ^ "J-League History Part 1: Professional football begins in Japan". September 9, 2013. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  3. ^ Blickenstaff, Brian (February 26, 2013). "Tom Byer, the man who made Japanese soccer a player on the world football stage". Archived from the original on October 9, 2018. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  4. ^ "The 8 Most Popular Sports in Japan". Archived from the original on April 15, 2019. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "Japan Comment: The Standard Of Football Is Rising In Japan – Time For The Media To Follow". November 10, 2009. Archived from the original on April 3, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  6. ^ "Asian Debate: Is The Japanese Game Losing Its Innocence?". October 24, 2009. Archived from the original on April 3, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  7. ^ "Japan raising eyebrows :: Total Football Magazine – Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, Non-League News". Archived from the original on April 2, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  8. ^ "Asian Cup Japan is On The Up". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 30, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ "History of the Japan Football Association". Archived from the original on April 21, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  11. ^ Horne, John; Horne, Professor of Modern European History John; Manzenreiter, Wolfram (September 23, 2004). Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the People's Game in East Asia. ISBN 9781134365586. Archived from the original on May 3, 2023. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  12. ^ Manzenreiter, Wolfram; Horne, John (August 14, 2007). "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.
  13. ^ Sport and Body Politics in Japan. Routledge. 2014. ISBN 9781135022358. Archived from the original on May 3, 2023. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  14. ^ "Japan Wages Soccer Campaign". Christian Science Monitor. June 11, 1993. Archived from the original on August 7, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  15. ^ "Tokyo Journal; Japan Falls for Soccer, Leaving Baseball in Lurch – New York Times". June 6, 1994. Archived from the original on August 7, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  16. ^ "The Sunday Times". November 10, 2013. Archived from the original on January 6, 2006. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  17. ^ "Los cracks que confesaron su admiración por los Supercampeones |". Archived from the original on August 5, 2019. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  18. ^ "Leading News Resource of Pakistan". Daily Times. May 10, 2002. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
  19. ^ 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. Archived from the original on May 3, 2023. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  20. ^ "Small-sided soccer turns Japan into big-time women's program". Chicago Tribune. May 19, 2012. Archived from the original on October 28, 2015. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
Awards Preceded byPaolo Di Canio FIFA Fair Play Award Winner 2002 Succeeded byFans of Celtic F.C.