Japan Football League
Founded1999; 22 years ago (1999)
Number of teams17
Level on pyramid4
Promotion toJ3 League
Relegation toJapanese Regional Leagues
Domestic cup(s)Emperor's Cup
Current championsVerspah Oita
Most championshipsHonda FC
(9 titles)
Current: 2021 Japan Football League

The Japan Football League, (Japanese: 日本フットボールリーグ, Hepburn: Nihon Futtobōru Rīgu) also known as simply the JFL is the 4th tier of the Japanese association football league system, positioned beneath the three divisions of the J.League. The league features fully professional teams that hold J.League associate membership among its ranks.

Relationship and position of J. League and Japan Football League (JFL)

According to the official document published in December 2013 when the J3 League was established, the J3 League was the 3rd level of the J.League. The J.League and non-J.League amateur leagues have different hierarchical structures, and the J3 League was ranked on the same level as the JFL. In addition, the JFL itself has the same recognition in the material showing the league composition on the official website.[1] Therefore, the JFL is treated as equal to J3 in theory, but in practice it is considered equivalent to a 4th division.


The Japan Football League started from the 1999 season when the second division of J.League (J2) was also born. Until then, J.League consisted of only one division and the former JFL was the second highest division. Out of 16 teams who played the last season of the former JFL, 9 decided and were accepted to play in J2 and the other 7 teams as well as Yokogawa Electric, the winners of the Regional League Promotion Series, formed the new Japan Football League. These 8 teams together with Yokohama FC that was allowed to participate as a special case after the merger of Yokohama Flügels and Yokohama Marinos competed in the inaugural 1999 season.

The 9 teams that competed in the first season were as follows: Denso SC, Honda Motors, Jatco SC, Kokushikan University F.C., Mito HollyHock, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Sony Sendai, Yokohama FC and Yokogawa Electric.

In the second season the number of clubs was increased from 9 to 12, reaching 16 in 2001. In 2002 it was briefly 18 clubs before going back to 16 the next season and settling for good at 18 in 2006. For the 2012 season it had 17 clubs due to the late withdrawal of Arte Takasaki.

The league suffered another contraction after 2013 season, as 10 of its 18 teams joined the newly created J3 League. It also moved a tier down the pyramid, making it fourth-tier league since 2014.

Four former JFL clubs have competed in the top flight: Yokohama FC (2007), Otsuka Pharmaceuticals (2014, as Tokushima Vortis), Matsumoto Yamaga (2015), and V-Varen Nagasaki (2018).


JFL clubs may be affiliated to companies, or be entirely autonomous clubs or reserve teams of these. Until 2010, university clubs (which as a rule do not play in the Japanese football league system) were recommended by the Japan University Football Association and played off against bottom JFL teams for entrance. B-teams are allowed to participate but only A-squads of truly autonomous clubs are eligible for J.League Associate Membership, and with it, promotion to J.League.

Promotion from JFL

A club that satisfies the following criteria will be promoted to J.League Div. 2 (for the 2012 and 2013 seasons):

With the establishment of the J3 League in the 2014 season, the top 2 requirements are no longer necessary should a team that is approved by J.League Committee and is a J.League Associate Member. However, they start in the J3 instead. The JFL is the highest tier of amateur level football in Japan again, but they still serve the purpose of helping potential J.League clubs to participate in the J3.

Relegation from JFL

Up to two teams at the bottom of the league may face a direct relegation or relegation/promotion play-off against the teams finishing at the top of the Regional League promotion competition. The number of the teams who need to compete in the play-off varies depending on the number of the teams that are promoted to J3 or withdrawn from the JFL.

Emperor's Cup eligibility

Until 2008, only the club at the top of the standings at half-season (17 matches completed) was qualified for the Emperor's Cup, entering it at the third round along with the clubs in J2, but the allotment was widened to the top three clubs in 2010 due to the expansion of J2. Every other club must qualify through a qualifying cup in their own prefecture and then must enter at the first round. In 2015, only the winner of the apertura (first half) qualified.


In 1999 (Bangabandhu Cup) and since 2014, a JFL XI team has played off-season matches against guest teams. The 2016 season also featured an JFL East vs JFL West all-star encounter.

2021 season

Main article: 2021 Japan Football League

Competition format

The league follows a one-stage double round-robin, wherein the team finishing at the top of the table following the season is declared the champion. From 2014 to 2018 it used the Apertura and Clausura system, with two winners of each stage contesting the championship in the playoff. From 2019 it used the single table with double round-robin system to 30 matches.

Participating clubs

Club Name First Season
in JFL
in JFL
Home Town(s) Current Spell
in JFL
Qualifiable base
for J.League
Honda FC 1999 22 Hamamatsu, Shizuoka 1999– 2019 No
Iwaki FC 2020 1 Iwaki, Fukushima 2020– Yes
FC Kariya 1999 11 Kariya, Aichi 2021– Yes
Honda Lock 2005 14 Miyazaki, Miyazaki 2009– No
Maruyasu Okazaki 2014 7 Okazaki, Aichi 2014– No
Matsue City FC 2019 2 Matsue, Shimane 2019– - Yes
MIO Biwako Shiga 2008 13 Kusatsu, Shiga 2008– Yes
Nara Club 2015 6 Nara, Nara 2015– Yes
FC Osaka 2015 6 Higashiosaka, Osaka 2015– Yes
Kochi United SC 2020 1 Kochi, Kochi 2020- Yes
ReinMeer Aomori 2016 5 Aomori, Aomori 2016– Yes
Sony Sendai 1999 22 Miyagi Prefecture 1999– 2015 No
Suzuka Point Getters 2019 2 Suzuka, Mie 2019– Yes
FC Tiamo Hirakata 2021 0 Hirakata, Osaka 2021– Yes
Tokyo Musashino United 1999 22 Musashino, Tokyo 1999– Yes
Veertien Mie 2017 4 Kuwana, Mie 2017– Yes
Verspah Oita 2012 9 Beppu, Ōita 2012– 2020 Yes

Stadiums (2021)

Main article: List of football stadiums in Japan

See also: Category:Football venues in Japan

Primary venues used in the JFL:

ReinMeer Aomori Sony Sendai FC Iwaki FC Tokyo Musashino United FC Honda FC
Kakuhiro Group Athletic Stadium Yurtec Stadium Sendai Iwaki Greenfield Stadium J-Village Stadium Musashino Municipal Athletic Stadium Honda Miyakoda Soccer Stadium
Capacity: 20,809 Capacity: 19,694 Capacity: 5,600 Capacity: 5,000 Capacity: 5,192 Capacity: 2,500
FC Maruyasu Okazaki FC Kariya Suzuka Point Getters Veertien Mie MIO Biwako Shiga Nara Club
Nagoya Minato Stadium Wave Stadium Kariya Mie Suzuka Sports Garden ASAHI GAS ENERGY TOIN STADIUM General Sports Park Nunobiki Athletics Stadium Rohto Field Nara
Capacity: 20,000 Capacity: 4,000 Capacity: 12,500 Capacity: 5,104 Capacity: 5,060 Capacity: 30,600
F.C. Osaka FC Tiamo Hirakata Matsue City FC Kochi United SC Verspah Oita Honda Lock SC
Hattori Ryokuchi Athletics Stadium Hirakata City Athletics Stadium Matsue Athletic Stadium Kochi Haruno Athletic Stadium Oita Sports Park Nobeoka Nishishina Athletic Stadium
Capacity: 6,949 Capacity: 2,500 Capacity: 24,000 Capacity: 25,000 Capacity: 2,040 Capacity: 15,000

Former clubs

Club Name First Season
in JFL
in JFL
Home Town(s) Last Spell
in JFL
JFL title
Current League
ALO's Hokuriku 2000 8 Toyama, Toyama 2000–2007  – Defunct, merged into Kataller Toyama
Arte Takasaki 2004 8 Takasaki, Gunma 2004–2011  – Defunct
Azul Claro Numazu 2014 3 Numazu, Shizuoka 2014–2016  – J3
Kyoto BAMB 1993 2000 4 Kyoto, Kyoto 2000–2004  – Kansai League D1
Blaublitz Akita 2007 7 All cities/towns in Akita 2007–2013  – J2
Briobecca Urayasu 2016 2 Urayasu, Chiba 2016–2017  – Kantō League D1
Cobaltore Onagawa 2018 1 Onagawa, Miyagi 2018  – Tohoku League D1
Ehime FC 2001 5 All cities/towns in Ehime 2001–2005 2005 J2
Fagiano Okayama 2008 1 All cities/towns in Okayama 2008  – J2
Fagiano Okayama Next 2014 3 Okayama, Okayama 2014–2016  – Defunct
Fukushima United 2013 1 Fukushima, Fukushima 2013  – J3
Gainare Tottori 2001 10 All cities/towns in Tottori 2001–2010 2010 J3
FC Gifu 2007 1 All cities/towns in Gifu 2007  – J3
Mito HollyHock 1999 1 Mito, Ibaraki 1999  – J2
FC Imabari 2017 3 Imabari, Ehime 2017–2019  – J3
Jatco SC 1999 5 Numazu, Shizuoka 1999–2003  – Defunct
JEF Reserves 2006 6 Ichihara, Chiba 2006–2011  – Defunct
Kagoshima United 2014 2 Kagoshima, Kagoshima 2014–2015  – J3
Kamatamare Sanuki 2011 3 All cities/towns in Kagawa 2011–2013  – J3
Kataller Toyama 2008 1 All cities/towns in Toyama 2008  – J3
Kokushikan University 1999 6 Machida, Tokyo 1999–2003  – Kantō University League
Mitsubishi Motors Mizushima 2005 5 Kurashiki, Okayama 2005–2009  – Chugoku League
Fujieda MYFC 2012 2 Fujieda, Shizuoka 2012–2013  – J3
New Wave Kitakyushu 2008 2 Kitakyushu, Fukuoka 2008–2009  – J2
Otsuka Pharmaceuticals 1999 6 All cities/towns in Tokushima 1999–2004 2004 J1
Nagano Parceiro 2011 3 Nagano, Nagano 2011–2013 2013 J3
Profesor Miyazaki 2002 1 All cities/towns in Miyazaki 2002  – Defunct
Rosso Kumamoto 2001 4 Kumamoto, Kumamoto 2006–2007  – J3
Renofa Yamaguchi 2014 1 Yamaguchi, Yamaguchi 2014  – J2
FC Ryukyu 2006 8 All cities/towns in Okinawa 2006–2013  – J2
Ryutsu Keizai University 2005 6 Ryugasaki, Ibaraki 2005–2010  – Kantō League D1
Ryutsu Keizai Dragons Ryugasaki 2015 5 Ryugasaki, Ibaraki 2015-2019  – Kantō League D1
SC Sagamihara 2013 1 Sagamihara, Kanagawa 2013  – J2
Sagawa Express Osaka 2002 5 Higashisumiyoshi-ku, Osaka 2002–2006  – Defunct, merged into Sagawa Shiga
Sagawa Express Tokyo 2001 6 Kōtō, Tokyo 2001–2006  – Defunct, merged into Sagawa Shiga
Sagawa Shiga 2007 6 Moriyama, Shiga 2007–2012 2011 Defunct
Shizuoka Sangyo University 2000 3 Iwata, Shizuoka 2000–2002  – Tōkai University League
SP Kyoto FC 2003 13 Uji, Kyoto 2003–2015  – Defunct
Tegevajaro Miyazaki 2018 3 Miyazaki, Miyazaki 2018–2020  – J3
Thespa Kusatsu 2004 1 All cities/towns in Gunma 2004  – J2
Tochigi SC 2000 9 Utsunomiya, Tochigi 2000–2008  – J2
Tochigi Uva FC 2010 8 Tochigi, Tochigi 2010–2017  – Kantō League D1
V-Varen Nagasaki 2009 4 All cities/towns in Nagasaki 2009–2012 2012 J2
Vanraure Hachinohe 2014 5 Hachinohe, Aomori 2014–2018  – J3
Matsumoto Yamaga 2010 2 Matsumoto, Nagano 2010–2011  – J2
YKK AP 2001 7 Kurobe, Toyama 2001–2007  – Defunct, merged into Kataller Toyama
Yokohama FC 1999 2 Yokohama, Kanagawa 1999–2000 2000 J1
YSCC Yokohama 2012 2 Yokohama, Kanagawa 2012–2013  – J3
Machida Zelvia 2009 4 Machida, Tokyo 2013  – J2
Zweigen Kanazawa 2010 4 Kanazawa, Ishikawa 2010–2013  – J2

Championship, promotion and relegation history

Most successful clubs

Clubs in bold compete in JFL as of 2021 season. Clubs in italic no longer exist.

Club Winners Runners-up Winning seasons Runners-up seasons
Honda FC
2001, 2002, 2006, 2008,
2014, 2016, 2017, 2018,
1999, 2000, 2003, 2004
Sagawa Shiga
2007, 2009, 2011 2010
Otsuka Pharmaceuticals
2003, 2004 2001
Yokohama FC
1999, 2000
Nagano Parceiro
2013 2011, 2012
Sony Sendai
2015 2019
Ehime FC
Gainare Tottori
V-Varen Nagasaki
Verspah Oita
Sagawa Express Tokyo 0 2 2002, 2006
Rosso Kumamoto
Tochigi SC
Tokyo Musashino United
Kamatamare Sanuki
SP Kyoto FC
Vanraure Hachinohe
Ryutsu Keizai Dragons
ReinMeer Aomori
FC Osaka
Tegevajaro Miyazaki

Third-tier league: 1999–2013

See also: List of winners of J3 League and predecessors

Season Champions Runners-up Promoted to J2 after the season Promoted from Regional Leagues before the season Relegated to Regional Leagues after the season
1999 Yokohama F.C. Honda F.C. Mito HollyHock Yokogawa Denki None
2000 Yokohama F.C. Honda F.C. Yokohama FC Tochigi S.C.
Shizuoka Kengyo University F.C.
Alo's Hokuriku
F.C. Kyoken
2001 Honda F.C. Otsuka Pharmaceutical F.C. None Sagawa Express Tokyo S.C.
S.C. Tottori
Ehime F.C.
NTT West Japan-Kumamoto
2002 Honda F.C. Sagawa Express Tokyo S.C. None Sagawa Express Osaka S.C.
Profesor Miyazaki
Shizuoka Kengyo University F.C.
Alouette Kumamoto
Profesor Miyazaki
2003 Otsuka Pharmaceutical F.C. Honda F.C. None Sagawa Printing S.C. Jatco F.C. (disbanded)
F.C. Kyoto BAMB 1993 (F.C. Kyoken)
2004 Otsuka Pharmaceutical F.C. Honda F.C. Otsuka (Tokushima Vortis)
Thespa Kusatsu
Gunma Horikoshi
Kokushikan University F.C. (forced to withdraw due to scandal)
2005 Ehime F.C. YKK AP F.C. Ehime Ryutsu Keizai University F.C.
Mitsubishi Mizushima FC
Honda Lock S.C.
2006 Honda F.C. Sagawa Express Tokyo S.C. None JEF United Ichihara Chiba B
Rosso Kumamoto
F.C. Ryukyu
Honda Lock SC
(Sagawa Express Tokyo and Osaka clubs merge to form a single club)
2007 Sagawa Express S.C. Rosso Kumamoto Kumamoto
F.C. Gifu
(Alo's Hokuriku and YKK AP merge to form Kataller Toyama)
2008 Honda FC Tochigi SC Tochigi SC
Fagiano Okayama
Kataller Toyama
Fagiano Okayama
New Wave Kitakyushu
MIO Biwako Shiga
2009 Sagawa Shiga Tokyo Musashino City New Wave Kitakyushu Machida Zelvia
V-Varen Nagasaki
Honda Lock
Mitsubishi Motors Mizushima (voluntary withdrawal)
FC Kariya
2010 Gainare Tottori Sagawa Shiga Tottori Matsumoto Yamaga
Hitachi Tochigi Uva
Zweigen Kanazawa
Ryutsu Keizai University
2011 Sagawa Shiga Nagano Parceiro Machida
Kamatamare Sanuki
Nagano Parceiro
JEF Reserves (disbanded)
Arte Takasaki (disbanded)
2012 V-Varen Nagasaki Nagano Parceiro Nagasaki YSCC Yokohama
Fujieda MYFC
Hoyo AC Elan Oita
Sagawa Shiga (disbanded)
2013 Nagano Parceiro Kamatamare Sanuki Sanuki SC Sagamihara
Fukushima United
*The following teams were admitted to the new J3 League: Nagano Parceiro, SC Sagamihara, Machida Zelvia, Zweigen Kanazawa, Blaublitz Akita, FC Ryukyu, YSCC Yokohama, Fujieda MYFC and Fukushima United.

Fourth-tier league: 2014–

From 2014 to 2018 the Japan Football League switched to the Apertura and Clausura format to determine the champions. In 2019 the single-table format returned.

Season Champions Runners-up Promoted to J3 after the season Promoted from Regional Leagues before the season Relegated to Regional Leagues after the season
2014 Honda FC (A) SP Kyoto FC (C) Renofa Yamaguchi Fagiano Okayama Next
Kagoshima United
Vanraure Hachinohe
Azul Claro Numazu
Maruyasu Industries SC
Renofa Yamaguchi
2015 Sony Sendai (C) Vanraure Hachinohe (A) Kagoshima United Nara Club
FC Osaka
Ryutsu Keizai Dragons
SP Kyoto FC (disbanded)
2016 Honda FC (C) Ryutsu Keizai Dragons (A) Azul Claro Numazu ReinMeer Aomori
Briobecca Urayasu
Fagiano Okayama Next (disbanded)
2017 Honda FC (1) ReinMeer Aomori (2) None FC Imabari
Veertien Mie
Briobecca Urayasu
Tochigi Uva
2018 Honda FC (1) FC Osaka (2) Vanraure Hachinohe Cobaltore Onagawa
Tegevajaro Miyazaki
Cobaltore Onagawa
2019 Honda FC Sony Sendai FC Imabari Matsue City FC
Suzuka Unlimited
Ryutsu Keizai Dragons
2020 Verspah Oita Tegevajaro Miyazaki Tegevajaro Miyazaki Iwaki FC
Kochi United SC
2021 FC Tiamo Hirakata
FC Kariya

A = Apertura champion, C = Clausura champion, 1 = Won both stages, 2 = Earned the second most points total in the overall table if 1 applies.

† Only second half of season was played due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan.

JFL records and statistics

As of Dec. 2020.

In bold the ones who are actually playing in JFL. In italic the ones who are still active in other league.

See also

League system
Domestic cup
Beach soccer


  1. ^ "リーグ構成". Japan Football League. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
Sporting positions Preceded byJapan Football League Division 2 Third tier of Japanese football 1999–2013 Succeeded byJ3 League