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J.League Division 1
Country  Japan
Confederation AFC
Founded 1992;  (1992)
Number of teams 18
Levels on pyramid 1
Relegation to J. League Division 2
Domestic cup(s) Yamazaki Nabisco Cup
Emperor's Cup
Japanese Super Cup
International cup(s) AFC Champions League
Current champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Most championships Kashima Antlers (7 titles)
TV partners SKY PerfecTV!
Website Official Website
2013 J. League Division 1

The J.League Division 1 (Jリーグ・ディビジョン1 J Rīgu Dibijon1?) or J1 League (J1リーグ J1 Rīgu?) is the top division of 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 league in Japan. It is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football and the only league given top class 'A' ranking by the AFC. Currently, J.League Division 1 is the first level of the Japanese association football league system. The second tier is represented by J. League Division 2.


For history of Japanese club association football before the inception of the professional league in 1993, see Japan Soccer League.
For detailed history of J.League Division 2, see J. League Division 2#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 60's and early 70's (when Japan's national team won the bronze Olympic medal at the 1968 games in Mexico), the JSL went into decline in the 80's, 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 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 on May 15, 1993 as Verdy Kawasaki (current, Tokyo Verdy) played host to Yokohama Marinos (current, Yokohama F. Marinos) at the Kasumigaoka National Stadium.

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)

Main article: J. League Division 2

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.[1]

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 second-tier Japan Football League (former), now became 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 similar to the European club football. The number of relegated clubs also increased from 2 to 2.5, with the third-from-bottom club going into 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 Asian 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.[2]

However in the recent years, with inclusion of A-League in Eastern Asia, introduction of FIFA 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.[3] 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 the 2008 season, 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 (2009–2013)

Three major changes were seen starting in the 2009 season. First, starting this 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 criteria of whether a club was allowed to stay in their 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.

Future (2015–)

Starting from the 2015 season, the J. League will again change back to a two stage "mini-league" (last held in 2004) with the winners of each stage then playing against teams that were runners-up from different "mini-league".[4] A qualifying format will also ensure that teams who finish 4th or above can also enter this play-off stage.[5] A similar idea was first discussed during committee meetings held in June 2013[6]


Year Important Events # J Clubs # ACL Clubs Rele. Slots
  • JFA forms a professional league assessment committee.
  • The committee decides the criteria for professional clubs
  • Fifteen to twenty clubs from Japan Soccer League applies for the professional league membership
  • The professional league, J.League is formed with the following 10 clubs:
    • Gamba Osaka, JEF United Ichihara, Nagoya Grampus Eight, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Urawa Red Diamonds, Verdy Kawasaki, Yokohama Flügels, and Yokohama Marinos (pre-existing from the old JSL First Division)
    • Kashima Antlers (promoted from the old Second Division)
    • Shimizu S-Pulse (newly formed, non-company club).
  • Japan Soccer League becomes second-tier Japan Football League (former)
  • J.League hosts the first domestic league cup competition with the ten clubs
  • The J.League officially kicks off its first season
  • Following clubs are promoted from Japan Football League: Júbilo Iwata and Bellmare Hiratsuka
  • Following clubs are promoted from Japan Football League: Cerezo Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol
  • The points system is introduced for the first time: a club receives 3 pts for any win, 1 pts for PK loss, and 0 pts for regulation or extra time loss.
  • Following clubs are promoted from Japan Football League: Kyoto Purple Sanga and Avispa Fukuoka
  • The league adopts single season format
  • J.League average attendance hits the record low 10,131
  • Following club is promoted from Japan Football League: Vissel Kobe
  • The league goes back to split-season format
  • The points system changes: a club receives 3 pts for regulation win, 2 pts for extra-time win, 1 pt for PK win, and 0 pts for any loss.
  • Following club is promoted from Japan Football League: Consadole Sapporo
  • Yokohama Flügels announces that they will be dissolved into crosstown rivals Yokohama Marinos for the 1999 season
  • The league announces the J.League Hundred Year Vision
  • The league announces incorporation of two-division system starting 1999 season
  • The league hosts J.League Promotion Tournament to decide promoting and/or relegating clubs. As a result, Consadole Sapporo becomes the first club be to relegated.
  • Yokohama Marinos merges with Yokohama Flügels and becomes Yokohama F. Marinos
  • Penalties are abolished in both divisions; however, golden goal extra-time rules stayed
  • The points system changes: a club receives 3 pts for a regulation win, 2 pts for an extra time win, and 1 pt for a tie
  • Japan Football League (former) is also restructured, as it becomes the 3rd-tier Japan Football League.
Note: To distinguish between the former and the current JFL, the new JFL is pronounced Nihon Football League in Japanese.
16 2
2000 16 2
2001 16 2
2002 16 2 2
  • Extra time is abolished in Division 1 and traditional 3–1–0 points system is adopted
16 2
  • No automatic relegation this season, as the top flight expands to 18 clubs in the following season
  • Inception of the two-legged Promotion/Relegation Series
16 2 0.5
  • J.League Division 1 expands to 18 clubs
  • J.League Division 1 adopts singles-season format
18 2 2.5
2006 18 2 2.5
Note: If a Japanese club wins the AFC Champions League, the host loses its right.
18 2 2.5
2008 18 2 + 1 2.5
  • Four clubs enter AFC Champion League.
  • Implementation of 4th foreign player slot, a.k.a. AFC player slot
  • Promotion/Relegation Series is eliminated and 16th-place club is now relegated by default.
18 4 3
2010 18 4 3
  • J.League champions qualifies to the FIFA Club World Cup as the host for next two seasons again
18 4 3

Stance in the Japanese football pyramid

Level(s) League(s)/Division(s)
I J.League Division 1 (J1)
18 clubs
II J. League Division 2 (J2)
22 clubs
III Japan Football League
18 clubs
IV/V 9 Regional Leagues
122 clubs
VI+ 46 Prefectural Leagues
& 4 Block Leagues of Hokkaido

many clubs

Since the inception of the second division in 1999, promotion and relegation follow a pattern similar to European leagues, where the two bottom clubs of J1 and the top two clubs of J2 are guaranteed to move. From 2004 to 2008 season, the third-placed J2 club entered Promotion/Relegation Series against the sixteenth-placed J1 club and the winner had right to play in the top flight in the following year. Starting 2009 season, top three J2 clubs receives J1 promotion by default in place of three bottom J1 clubs. However, promotion or right to play the now-defunct pro/rele series relies on the J2 clubs meeting the requirements for J1 franchise status set by the league. This has generally not been a hindrance, in fact, no club is yet to be denied promotion due to not meeting the J1 criteria.

Until 2004 season, the J1 season was divided into two halves, with an annual championship series involving the champions from each halves (with exception of the 1996 season). However, from 2005 season, the single-season format is adopted as the top flight was expanded to eighteen clubs. Currently, 18 clubs competes in double round robin, home and away. Starting 2008 season, the top three clubs, along with the Emperor's Cup winner receive ACL berths for the following season. If the Emperor's Cup winner happens to be one of the top three J1 finisher, the 4th-place club receives the final berth. Starting 2009 season, three bottom club are relegated to Division 2 at the end of the year.

2013 season

League Format (2013)

Main article: 2013 J. League Division 1

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 tie breakers 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 (2011 figures)
  • First Place: 200,000,000 Yen
  • Second Place: 100,000,000 Yen
  • Third Place: 80,000,000 Yen
  • Fourth Place: 60,000,000 Yen
  • Fifth Place: 40,000,000 Yen
  • Six Place: 20,000,000 Yen
  • Seventh Place: 10,000,000 Yen

Participating clubs (2013)

Club Year
Hometown(s) First Season in
the Top Flight
Current Spell in
the Top Flight
Last Title
Albirex Niigata 1999 (J2) Niigata & Seiro, Niigata 2004 2004–
Shonan Bellmare 1994 Southcentral cities/town in Kanagawa 1972 2013– 1981
Cerezo Osaka 1995 Osaka, Osaka 1965 2010– 1980
FC Tokyo 1999 (J2) Tokyo 2000 2012–
Júbilo Iwata 1994 Iwata, Shizuoka 1980 1994– 2002
Kashima Antlers 1993 Southwestern cities/towns of Ibaraki 1985 1993– 2009
Kashiwa Reysol 1995 Kashiwa, Chiba 1965 2011– 2011
Kawasaki Frontale 1999 (J2) Kawasaki, Kanagawa 1977 2005–
Nagoya Grampus 1993 Nagoya, Aichi 1973 1990/91– 2010
Omiya Ardija 1999 (J2) Saitama, Saitama 2005 2005–
Sagan Tosu 1999 (J2) Tosu, Saga 2012 2012–
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1993 Hiroshima, Hiroshima 1965 2009– 2012
Shimizu S-Pulse 1993 Shizuoka, Shizuoka 1993 1993–
Urawa Red Diamonds 1993 Saitama, Saitama 1965 2001– 2006
Oita Trinita 1999 (J2) All cities/towns in Oita 2003 2013–
Vegalta Sendai 1999 (J2) Sendai, Miyagi 2002 2010–
Ventforet Kofu 1999 (J2) All cities/towns in Yamanashi 2006 2013–
Yokohama F. Marinos 1993 Yokohama & Yokosuka, Kanagawa 1979 1982– 2004

Source for teams participating:[7]

  • Pink background denotes club was most recently promoted from J. League Division 2.
  • "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J. League (Division 1 unless otherwise indicated).
  • "First season in top flight", "Current spell in top flight" and "Last title" includes seasons in the old Japan Soccer League First Division.

Division 1 Stadiums (2013)

Primary venues used in the J. League:

Albirex Niigata Kashima Antlers Omiya Ardija Cerezo Osaka Shonan Bellmare Yokohama F. Marinos
Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium Kashima Soccer Stadium NACK5 Stadium Omiya Kincho Stadium Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka Nissan Stadium
Capacity: 42,300 Capacity: 40,728 Capacity: 15,300 Capacity: 20,500 Capacity: 18,500 Capacity: 72,370
Kawasaki Frontale Oita Trinita Nagoya Grampus Júbilo Iwata Urawa Red Diamonds Kashiwa Reysol
Todoroki Athletics Stadium Ōita Bank Dome Mizuho Athletic Stadium Yamaha Stadium Saitama Stadium Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium
Capacity: 26,000 Capacity: 40,000 Capacity: 27,000 Capacity: 15,165 Capacity: 63,700 Capacity: 15,900
Sagan Tosu Sanfrecce Hiroshima Shimizu S-Pulse F.C. Tokyo Vegalta Sendai Ventforet Kofu
Tosu Stadium Hiroshima Big Arch IAI Stadium Ajinomoto Stadium Yurtec Stadium Sendai Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium
Capacity: 24,490 Capacity: 50,000 Capacity: 20,339 Capacity: 50,100 Capacity: 19,694 Capacity: 17,000

Former clubs

Club Year
Hometown(s) First Season in
the Top Flight
Last Spell in
the Top Flight
Avispa Fukuoka 1996 Fukuoka, Fukuoka 1996 2011 Division 2
Consadole Sapporo 1998 Sapporo, Hokkaidō 1989/90 2012 Division 2
Gamba Osaka 1993 Suita, Osaka 1986/87 1988/89–2012 2005 Division 2
JEF United Chiba 1993 Chiba & Ichihara, Chiba 1965 1965–2009 1985/86 Division 2
Kyoto Sanga 1996 Southwestern cities/towns in Kyoto 1996 2008–2010 Division 2
Montedio Yamagata 1999 (J2) All cities/towns in Yamagata 2009 2009–2011 Division 2
Tokyo Verdy 1993 Tokyo 1978 2008 1994 Division 2
Vissel Kobe 1997 Kobe, Hyōgo 1997 2007–2012 Division 2
Yokohama FC 2001 (J2) Yokohama, Kanagawa 2007 2007 Division 2
Yokohama Flügels 1993 Yokohama, Kanagawa 1985/86 1988/89–1998 Defunct
  • Grey background denotes club was most recently relegated to J. League Division 2.
  • "Year joined" is the year the club joined the J. League (Division 1 unless otherwise indicated).
  • "First season in top flight", "Last spell in top flight" and "Last title" includes seasons in the old Japan Soccer League First Division.

Game History

Championship History

Split-Season Era (1993–2004) Bold designates champions; † Single season; ‡ Same club won both stages

Year 1st Stage 2nd Stage
1993 Kashima Antlers Verdy Kawasaki
1994 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Verdy Kawasaki
1995 Yokohama Marinos Verdy Kawasaki
1996 Kashima Antlers
1997 Kashima Antlers Júbilo Iwata
1998 Júbilo Iwata Kashima Antlers
1999 Júbilo Iwata Shimizu S-Pulse
2000 Yokohama F. Marinos Kashima Antlers
2001 Júbilo Iwata Kashima Antlers
2002 Júbilo Iwata
2003 Yokohama F. Marinos
2004 Yokohama F. Marinos Urawa Red Diamonds

Single Season Era (2005–2014)

Year Champion Runners-Up 3rd Place
2005 Gamba Osaka Urawa Red Diamonds Kashima Antlers
2006 Urawa Red Diamonds Kawasaki Frontale Gamba Osaka
2007 Kashima Antlers Urawa Red Diamonds Gamba Osaka
2008 Kashima Antlers Kawasaki Frontale Nagoya Grampus
2009 Kashima Antlers Kawasaki Frontale Gamba Osaka
2010 Nagoya Grampus Gamba Osaka Cerezo Osaka
2011 Kashiwa Reysol Nagoya Grampus Gamba Osaka
2012 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Vegalta Sendai Urawa Red Diamonds
Most successful clubs
Club Champions Runners-Up Winning Seasons Runners-Up Seasons
Kashima Antlers
1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 1993, 1997
Júbilo Iwata
1997, 1999, 2002 1998, 2001, 2003
Yokohama F. Marinos
1995, 2003, 2004 2000, 2002
Tokyo Verdy
1993, 1994 1995
Urawa Red Diamonds
2006 2004, 2005, 2007
Nagoya Grampus
2010 1996, 2011
Gamba Osaka
2005 2010
Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2012 1994
Kashiwa Reysol
Kawasaki Frontale
2006, 2008, 2009
Shimizu S-Pulse
Vegalta Sendai

Relegation history

Only seven clubs have never been relegated from J1. Among those, Kashima Antlers, Yokohama F. Marinos, Nagoya Grampus and Shimizu S-Pulse have been participating in every league season since its establishment in 1993. Júbilo Iwata, Albirex Niigata and Sagan Tosu were promoted to the first division in 1994, 2004, and 2012, respectively, and remain there ever since.

In addition to never been relegated from J1, Shimizu S-Pulse is the only top flight club that has never participated in the second division, as this club has been formed in line with establishment of J. League. The only other club to maintain this accomplishment, JEF United Chiba, ended its top flight streak in 2009, when it has been relegated after 44 consecutive seasons in the first divisions of JSL and J. League.

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)

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 determined 16th placed club, overall standing was used instead of stage standing.

Single season era (2005–present)

For the next four seasons, 2005 to 2008, the number of relegating club 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) playing in Promotion/Relegation Series.

Since 2009, the pro/rele series were abandoned and three teams will be relegated from and promoted to J1 by default.

Year 15th Place 16th Place 17th Place 18th Place
1998 JEF United Ichihara Consadole Sapporo Vissel Kobe Avispa Fukuoka
1999 Urawa Red Diamonds Bellmare Hiratsuka Only 16 clubs participated
2000 Kyoto Purple Sanga Kawasaki Frontale
2001 Avispa Fukuoka Cerezo Osaka
2002 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Consadole Sapporo
2003 Vegalta Sendai Kyoto Purple Sanga
2004 Cerezo Osaka Kashiwa Reysol
2005 Shimizu S-Pulse Kashiwa Reysol Tokyo Verdy 1969 Vissel Kobe
2006 Ventforet Kofu Avispa Fukuoka Cerezo Osaka Kyoto Purple Sanga
2007 Omiya Ardija Sanfrecce Hiroshima Ventforet Kofu Yokohama FC
2008 JEF United Chiba Júbilo Iwata Tokyo Verdy Consadole Sapporo
2009 Montedio Yamagata Kashiwa Reysol Oita Trinita JEF United Chiba
2010 Vissel Kobe FC Tokyo Kyoto Sanga Shonan Bellmare
2011 Urawa Red Diamonds Ventforet Kofu Avispa Fukuoka Montedio Yamagata
2012 Albirex Niigata Vissel Kobe Gamba Osaka Consadole Sapporo

* Bold designates relegated clubs;
† Won the Pro/Rele Series;
‡ Lost the Pro/Rele Series and relegated

Other tournaments

Domestic Tournaments
International Tournaments
Defunct Tournament

J. League awards

J. League 20th Anniversary Team

Position Name
Goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi
Defender Naoki Matsuda
Defender Yuji Nakazawa
Defender Masami Ihara
Midfielder Yasuhito Endō
Midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata
Midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura
Midfielder Hiroshi Nanami
Forward Kazuyoshi Miura
Forward Masashi Nakayama
Forward Dragan Stojković

Players and managers


  • List of J-League players from AFC
  • List of J-League players from CAF
  • List of J-League players from CONCACAF
  • List of J-League players from CONMEBOL
  • List of J-League players from Japan
  • List of J-League players from UEFA


Media coverage

Country Network
 Brazil ESPN Brazil
Europe Eurosport 2
 Hong Kong Cable TV
 Malaysia Astro SuperSport
 Thailand GMM Sport1
 United States One World Sports
 Vietnam VTVcab

See also


External links

  • (Japanese) Official Website
  • (English) Official Website
  • (Japanese) Official YouTube Channel

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