|Number of teams||18|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||J2 League|
|Domestic cup(s)||Emperor's Cup
YBC Levain Cup
Fuji Xerox Super Cup
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||Kawasaki Frontale
|Most championships||Kashima Antlers (8 titles)|
|Top goalscorer||Yoshito Ōkubo (179 goals)|
|TV partners||DAZN (all matches),
NHK BS1 (some matches)
|2018 J1 League|
The J1 League (J1リーグ J1 Rīgu) is the top division of the Japan Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ Nippon Puro Sakkā Rīgu) and is the top professional association football J.League in Japan. It is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football. Currently, the J1 League is the first level of the Japanese association football league system. The second tier is represented by the J2 League. It is currently sponsored by Meiji Yasuda Life and thus officially known as the Meiji Yasuda J1 League. Until the 2014 season it was named the J.League Division 1.
- For the history of Japanese club association football before the inception of the professional league in 1993, see Japan Soccer League.
- For the detailed history of J2 League, see J2 League#History.
Phases of J1
Before the professional league (1992 and earlier)
Before the inception of the J.League, the highest level of club football was the Japan Soccer League (JSL), which consisted of amateur clubs. Despite being well-attended during the boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s (when Japan's national team won the bronze Olympic medal at the 1968 games in Mexico), the JSL went into decline in the 1980s, in general line with the deteriorating situation worldwide. Fans were few, the grounds were not of the highest quality, and the Japanese national team was not on a par with the Asian powerhouses. To raise the level of play domestically, to attempt to garner more fans, and to strengthen the national team, the Japan Football Association (JFA) decided to form a professional league.
The professional association football league, J.League was formed in 1992, with eight clubs drawn from the JSL First Division, one from the Second Division, and the newly formed Shimizu S-Pulse. At the same time, JSL changed its name and became the former Japan Football League, a semi-professional league. Although the J.League did not officially launch until 1993, the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup competition was held between the ten clubs in 1992 to prepare for the inaugural season.
Inaugural season and J.League boom (1993–1995)
J.League officially kicked off its first season with ten clubs in early 1993.
After the boom (1996–1999)
Despite the success in the first three years, in early 1996 the league attendance declined rapidly. In 1997 the average attendance was 10,131, compared to more than 19,000 in 1994.
Change of infrastructure and game formats (1999–2004)
The league's management finally realized that they were heading in the wrong direction. In order to solve the problem, the management came out with two solutions.
First, they announced the J.League Hundred Year Vision, in which they aim to make 100 professional association football clubs in the nation of Japan by 2092, the hundredth season. The league also encouraged the clubs to promote football or non-football related sports and health activities, to acquire local sponsorships, and to build good relationship with their hometowns at the grass-root level. The league believed that this will allow the clubs to bond with their respective cities and towns and get support from local government, companies, and citizens. In other words, clubs will be able to rely on the locals, rather than major national sponsors.
Second, the infrastructure of the league was heavily changed in 1999. The league acquired nine clubs from the semi-professional JFL and one club from J.League to create a two division system. The top flight became the J.League Division 1 (J1) with 16 clubs while J.League Division 2 (J2) was launched with ten clubs in 1999. The former second-tier Japan Football League now became the third-tier Japan Football League.
Also, until 2004 (with the exception of 1996 season), the J1 season was divided into two. At the end of each full season, the champion from each half played a two-legged series to determine the overall season winner and runners-up. Júbilo Iwata in 2002, and Yokohama F. Marinos in 2003, won both "halves" of the respective seasons, thus eliminating the need for the playoff series. This was the part of the reason the league abolished the split-season system starting from 2005.
European League Format & AFC Champions League (2005–2008)
Since the 2005 season, J.League Division 1 consisted of 18 clubs (from 16 in 2004) and the season format became more similar to European club football. The number of relegated clubs also increased from 2 to 2.5, with the 3rd-to-last club going into the promotion/relegation playoffs with the third-placed J2 club. Since then, other than minor adjustments, the top flight has stayed consistent.
Japanese teams did not treat the AFC Champions League that seriously in the early years, in part due to the distances travelled and teams played. However, in the 2008 Champions League, three Japanese sides made the quarter-finals.
However, in recent years, with the inclusion of the A-League in Eastern Asia, introduction to the Club World Cup, and increased marketability in the Asian continent, both the league and the clubs paid more attention to Asian competition. For example, Kawasaki Frontale built up a notable fan base in Hong Kong, owing to their participation in the Asian Champions League during the 2007 season. Continuous effort led to the success of Urawa Red Diamonds in 2007 and Gamba Osaka in 2008. Thanks to excellent league management and competitiveness in Asian competition, the AFC awarded J.League the highest league ranking and a total of four slots starting from the 2009 season. The league took this as an opportunity to sell TV broadcasting rights to foreign countries, especially in Asia.
Also starting from the 2008 season, the Emperor's Cup Winner was allowed to participate in the upcoming Champions League season, rather than waiting a whole year (i.e. 2005 Emperor's Cup winner, Tokyo Verdy, participated in the 2007 ACL season, instead of the 2006 season). In order to fix this one-year lag issue, the 2007 Emperor's Cup winner, Kashima Antlers' turn was waived. Nonetheless, Kashima Antlers ended up participating in the 2009 ACL season by winning the J.League title in the 2008 season.
Modern phase (2009–2016)
Three major changes were seen starting in the 2009 season. First, starting that season, four clubs entered the AFC Champions League. Secondly, the number of relegation slots increased to three. Finally, the AFC Player slot was implemented starting this season. Each club will be allowed to have a total of four foreign players; however, one slot is reserved for a player that derives from an AFC country other than Japan. Also, as a requirement of being a member of the Asian Football Confederation, the J.League Club Licence regulations started in 2012 as one criterion of whether a club was allowed to stay in its division or to be promoted to a higher tier in professional level league. No major changes happened to J.League Division 1 as the number of clubs stayed at 18.
In 2015 the J.League Division 1 was renamed J1 League. Also, the tournament format was changed to a three-stage system. The season was split into first and second stages, followed by a third and final championship stage. The third stage is composed of three to five teams. The top point accumulator in each stage and the top three point accumulators for the overall season qualify. If both of the stage winners finish in the top three teams for the season, then only three teams qualify for the championship stage. These teams then take part in a championship playoff stage to decide the winner of the league trophy.
Despite the new multi-stage format being initially reported as locked in for five seasons, due to a negative reaction from hardcore fans, and a failure to appeal to casual fans, towards the end of the 2016 an announcement came it was being abandoned in favour of a return to a single stage system. From 2017 the team which accumulates the most points will be named champions, with no championship stage taking place at the season's end.
In November 2017, Urawa Red Diamonds play the AFC Champions League final against Al Hilal. After a draw in the first leg, Urawa Red Diamonds win the second leg by 1-0 and are crowned Asian Champions. In the past 10-15 years, Japanese clubs have risen not only continental, but also international. Clubs Kashiwa Reysol, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Urawa Red Diamonds have been crowned Asian champions and participate to the Club World Cup, always targeting at least the semi-finals. Kashima Antlers were finalists of the 2016 edition and faced off Real Madrid.
|Year||Important Events||# J Clubs||# ACL Clubs||Rele. Slots|
||18||2 + 1||2.5|
Eighteen clubs will play in double round-robin (home and away) format, a total of 34 games each. A club receives 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. The clubs are ranked by points, and tiebreakers are, in the following order:
- Goal differential
- Goals scored
- Head-to-head results
- Disciplinary points
A draw would be conducted, if necessary. However, if two clubs are tied for first place, both clubs will be declared as co-champions. The top three clubs will qualify to the following year's AFC Champions League, while the bottom three clubs will be relegated to J2.
- Prize Money (2015 figures)
- Champions（Championship finals winners）: 100,000,000 Yen
- 1st & 2nd stage winners: 50,000,000 Yen
- First place of Total point of 1st and 2nd stage: 80,000,000 Yen
- Second place of Total point of 1st and 2nd stage: 30,000,000 Yen
- Third place of Total point of 1st and 2nd stage: 20,000,000 Yen
- Winner of Championship first round and semifinal: 15,000,000 Yen
|Based in||First Season in
|Current Spell in
|Albirex Niigata||1999 (J2)||14||Niigata & Seiro, Niigata||2004||14||2004–||–|
|Kashima Antlers||1993||25||Southwestern cities/towns of Ibaraki||1985||28||1993–||2016|
|Omiya Ardija||1999 (J2)||12||Saitama, Saitama||2005||12||2016–||–|
|Cerezo Osaka||1995||17||Osaka & Sakai, Osaka||1965||43||2017–||1980|
|Consadole Sapporo||1998||6||All cities/towns in Hokkaidō||1989/90||9||2017–||–|
|Yokohama F. Marinos||1993||25||Yokohama & Yokosuka, Kanagawa||1979||37||1982–||2004|
|Kawasaki Frontale||1999 (J2)||14||Kawasaki, Kanagawa||1977||16||2005–||–|
|Gamba Osaka||1993||24||North cities in Osaka||1986/87||29||2014–||2014|
|Júbilo Iwata||1994||22||Iwata, Shizuoka||1980||31||2016–||2002|
|Urawa Red Diamonds||1993||24||Saitama, Saitama||1965||50||2001–||2006|
|Kashiwa Reysol||1995||21||Kashiwa, Chiba||1965||45||2011–||2011|
|Shimizu S-Pulse||1993 (J)||24||Shizuoka, Shizuoka||1993||25||2017–||–|
|Sagan Tosu||1999 (J2)||6||Tosu, Saga||2012||6||2012–||–|
|Sanfrecce Hiroshima||1993||23||Hiroshima, Hiroshima||1965||45||2009–||2015|
|FC Tokyo||1999 (J2)||23||Tokyo||2000||23||2012–||–|
|Vegalta Sendai||1999 (J2)||10||Sendai, Miyagi||2002||10||2010–||–|
|Ventforet Kofu||1999 (J2)||8||All cities/towns in Yamanashi||2006||8||2013–||–|
|Vissel Kobe||1997||19||Kobe, Hyōgo||1997||19||2014–||–|
Source for teams participating:
- Pink background denotes club was most recently promoted from J2 League.
- "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J.League (Division 1 unless otherwise indicated).
- "First season in top flight," "Seasons in top flight," "Current spell in top flight," and "Last title" include seasons in the old Japan Soccer League First Division.
Primary venues used in the J1 League:
|Urawa Red Diamonds||Kashima Antlers||Shimizu S-Pulse||Gamba Osaka||Yokohama F. Marinos||Kawasaki Frontale|
|Saitama Stadium 2002||Kashima Soccer Stadium||IAI Stadium Nihondaira||Suita City Football Stadium||Nissan Stadium||Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium|
|Capacity: 63,700||Capacity: 40,728||Capacity: 20,339||Capacity: 40,000||Capacity: 72,370||Capacity: 26,000|
|Vissel Kobe||Júbilo Iwata||Omiya Ardija||Kashiwa Reysol||Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Albirex Niigata|
|NOEVIR Stadium Kobe||Yamaha Stadium||Nack5 Stadium Omiya||Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium||EDION Stadium Hiroshima||Denka Big Swan Stadium|
|Capacity: 30,132||Capacity: 15,165||Capacity: 15,500||Capacity: 15,900||Capacity: 36,906||Capacity: 42,300|
|Vegalta Sendai||Consadole Sapporo||Sagan Tosu||F.C. Tokyo||Ventforet Kofu||Cerezo Osaka|
|Yurtec Stadium Sendai||Sapporo Dome||Best Amenity Stadium||Ajinomoto Stadium||Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium||Yanmar Stadium Nagai|
|Capacity: 19,694||Capacity: 41,484||Capacity: 24,490||Capacity: 50,100||Capacity: 17,000||Capacity: 47,816|
|Based in||First Season in
|Last Spell in
|Avispa Fukuoka||1996||9||Fukuoka, Fukuoka||1996||9||2016||–||J2|
|Shonan Bellmare||1994||10||South and central cities/town in Kanagawa||1972||28||2015–2016||1981||J2|
|Yokohama Flügels||1993||6||Yokohama, Kanagawa||1985||11||1988/89–1998||–||Defunct|
|Nagoya Grampus||1993||24||Nagoya, Aichi||1973||32||1990/91–2016||2010||J2|
|JEF United Chiba||1993||17||Chiba & Ichihara, Chiba||1965||44||1965–2009||1985/86||J2|
|Montedio Yamagata||1999 (J2)||4||All cities/towns in Yamagata||2009||4||2015||–||J2|
|Kyoto Sanga||1996||11||Southwestern cities/towns in Kyoto||1996||11||2008–2010||–||J2|
|Oita Trinita||1999 (J2)||8||All cities/towns in Oita||2003||8||2013||–||J2|
|Tokushima Vortis||2005 (J2)||1||All cities/towns in Tokushima||2014||1||2014||–||J2|
|Matsumoto Yamaga||2012 (J2)||1||Central cities/village in Nagano||2015||1||2015||–||J2|
|Yokohama FC||2001 (J2)||1||Yokohama, Kanagawa||2007||1||2007||–||J2|
- Grey background denotes club was most recently relegated to J2 League.
- "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J.League (Division 1 unless otherwise indicated).
- "First season in top flight," "Seasons in top flight," "Last spell in top flight," and "Last title" includes seasons in the old Japan Soccer League First Division.
|Pos||Team||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts||Qualification or relegation|
|1||Kawasaki Frontale (C)||34||21||9||4||71||32||+39||72||Champions League group stage|
|4||Kashiwa Reysol||34||18||8||8||49||33||+16||62||Champions League play-off round[a]|
|5||Yokohama F. Marinos||34||17||8||9||45||36||+9||59|
|7||Urawa Red Diamonds||34||14||7||13||64||54||+10||49|
|16||Ventforet Kofu (R)||34||7||11||16||23||39||−16||32||Relegation to 2018 J2 League|
|17||Albirex Niigata (R)||34||7||7||20||28||60||−32||28|
|18||Omiya Ardija (R)||34||5||10||19||28||60||−32||25|
Rules for classification: 1) Points; 2) Goal difference; 3) Goals scored
(C) Champion; (R) Relegated.
Split-Season Era (1993–2004) Bold designates champions; † Single season; ‡ Same club won both stages
Single Season Era (2005–2014)
Split-Season Era (2015–2016) Bold designates champions; † Single season; ‡ Same club won both stages
|Year||1st Stage||2nd Stage|
|2015||Urawa Red Diamonds||Sanfrecce Hiroshima|
|2016||Kashima Antlers||Urawa Red Diamonds|
Single Season Era (2017–)
|2017||Kawasaki Frontale||Kashima Antlers||Cerezo Osaka|
Most successful clubs
Clubs in bold compete in top flight as of 2017 season.
|Club||Champions||Runners-Up||Winning Seasons||Runners-Up Seasons|
||1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2016||1993, 1997, 2017|
|Yokohama F. Marinos||
||1995, 2003, 2004||2000, 2002, 2013|
||1997, 1999, 2002||1998, 2001, 2003|
||2012, 2013, 2015||1994|
||2005, 2014||2010, 2015|
|Urawa Red Diamonds||
||2006||2004, 2005, 2007, 2014, 2016|
||2017||2006, 2008, 2009|
Only four clubs have never been relegated from J1. Among those, only two clubs – Kashima Antlers and Yokohama F. Marinos – have been participating in every league season since its establishment in 1993. Sagan Tosu were promoted to the first division in 2012, and remain there ever since. The former J.League club Yokohama Flügels never experienced relegation before their merger with Yokohama Marinos in 1999.
JEF United Chiba holds the record for the longest top flight participation streak of 44 consecutive seasons in the first divisions of JSL and J.League that lasted since the establishment of JFL in 1965 and ended with their relegation in 2009. The longest ongoing top flight streak belongs to Yokohama F. Marinos who play in the top flight since 1982 (34 seasons as of 2016).
- The 1998 season
When the league introduced the two-division system in 1999, they also reduced number of Division 1 club from 18 to 16. At the end of 1998 season, they hosted the J.League Promotion Tournament to determine two relegating clubs.
- Split-season era (1999–2004, 2015–2016)
Throughout 1999 to 2003 seasons, two bottom clubs were relegated to Division 2. To accommodate for split-season format, combined overall standings were used to determine the relegating clubs. This created a confusing situation, where for championship race stage standing were used, while overall standing was used for relegation survival.
At end of the 2004 season, Division 1 again expanded from 16 to 18 clubs. No clubs were relegated; however, last-placed (16th) club had to play Promotion/Relegation Series against 3rd placed club from J2. Again, to determine 16th placed club, overall standing was used instead of stage standing.
For five seasons starting in 2015, three bottom clubs are relegated based on overall standings.
- Single season era (2005–2014, 2017–present)
For the next four seasons, 2005 to 2008, the number of relegating clubs was increased to 2.5, with two clubs from each division being promoted and relegated directly, and two more (15th in J1 and 3rd in J2) competed in Promotion/Relegation Series.
Since 2009, the pro/rele series were abandoned and three teams are directly exchanged between divisions. In 2012 promotion playoffs were introduced in J2, allowing teams that finished from 3rd to 6th to compete for J1 promotion place.
* Bold designates relegated clubs;
† Won the Pro/Rele Series;
‡ Lost the Pro/Rele Series and relegated
- Domestic Tournaments
- Emperor's Cup (1921–present)
- JOMO All-Stars Soccer (1993–present)
- XEROX Super Cup (1994–present)
- Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (1992–present, excluding 1995)
- International Tournaments
- FIFA Club World Cup (2007–2008, 2011–2012, 2015–2016)
- AFC Champions League (1969, 1986/87-2002/03, 2004–present)
- Suruga Bank Championship (2008–present)
- Defunct Tournament
- A3 Champions Cup (2003–2007)
- Pan-Pacific Championship (2008, 2009)
- Promotion/Relegation Series (2004–2008)
- Sanwa Bank Cup (1994–1997)
- Suntory Championship (1993–2004, excluding 1996)
Players and managers
|Hong Kong||Cable TV|
|U.S. Virgin Islands|
|Indonesia||Indovision & Topas TV|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||Fox Sports
|South Asia||Star Sports|
|Asia Pacific||Fox Sports2|
|Latin America||Claro Sports3|
|New Zealand||Sky Sport|
- ^1 - Rights in most of Europe, except Germany, Austria and Switzerland
- ^2 - Rights in most of Asia Pacific, except Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam
- ^3 - Rights in all Latin American countries, except Brazil
- ^4 - Rights in most of Oceania, except Australia and New Zealand
- J.League records
- J. League awards
- J.League designated special players
- J.League MVP of the month
- J.League historical goals
- Japan derbies
- FIFA 17
- List of J.League licensed video games
- List of J.League mascots
- "J-League History Part 5: Expansion, success, and a bright future". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "J-League History Part 4: Exporting Talent". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "J-League History Part 3: Growing pains emerge on the road to the 2002 World Cup". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "J-League History Part 2: Verdy Kawasaki dominates the early years". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "J-League History Part 1: Professional football begins in Japan". Goal.com. 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "Tokyo Journal; Japan Falls for Soccer, Leaving Baseball in Lurch - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1994-06-06. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
- "Japan Wages Soccer Campaign". CSMonitor.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17.
- "Football finds a home in Japan". FIFA.com. 2005-12-02. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- "When Saturday Comes - How Japan created a successful league". Wsc.co.uk. 2010-07-18. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- John Duerden (11 August 2008). "Asian Debate: Is Japan Becoming Asia's Leader?". Goal.com. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
- 川崎Ｆが香港でブレーク中、生中継で火 (in Japanese). NikkanSports. March 8, 2008. Retrieved March 8, 2008.
- Duerden, John. "J.League seeks to wrestle back spotlight from Chinese Super League". ESPN FC. ESPN. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
- "J1 League: Summary". Soccerway. Global Sports Media. Retrieved 19 August 2012.