Japanese Football History

Japanese Football History

Let’s travel into Japanese football history together!

1870 – 1920:Beginning of Japanese Football history

There are four presumptions about the origin of Japanese Football. First one is that the game at the foreign residence in Kobe city in 1872. Second one is that the game played by English army at Yokohama city in 1866. Third one is that Sir Archibald Lucius Douglas, who was the Second British Naval Mission to Japan, introduced football into Japan at first in 1873.

The final presumption is that Mr. Limer Jones, who was the Scottish surveying engineer in Tokyo University, taught football to students as physical education. These presumptions are still not exact, but Japan Football Association state that the third is correct one and Japanese football history started then.

The popularity of football started in the west of Japan, especially Kansai area. It was an important event that students of Mikage college school in Kobe city football started playing football. Then in 1917, first notional college football competition was held. Mikage college school became the first champion and was the winner 7 times in a low until 1923.

The current national high school football competition derives from this national college football competition. These college movements spread football to other colleges nationwide. Japanese football has expanded and grown with education in college school.

1920 – 1990 : the early days of Japan football

The origin of Japan Football Association was established in 1921. At the same time, the first Emperor’s Cup was held. The game of the Sixth Far Eastern Games in Osaka in 1923 was recognized as a first international A match. Men’s Japan National team won against Philippine for the first time in international A match. Japan joined FIFA in 1929. So it can be said that the current base of Japan Football was made in 1920s.

Men’s Japan National team participated Berlin Olympic game for the first time in 1936. Japan won 3 – 2 miraculously against Sweden, which was one of the winner candidates in the competition. It is called as “Miracle of Berlin”.

During the World War II, all sports activities were governed, however JFA is incorporated into that action so called the Greater Japan Sports Association. Japan was expelled from FIFA during this period. Japan rejoined FIFA in 1950 finally after the war.

In 1954, men’s Japan National team participated the qualify of FIFA World Cup. Japan could not have joined FIFA World Cup until 1997. On the other hand, Japan kept participating Olympic games. Japan joined Rome Olympic in 1960, Tokyo Olympic in 1964 and Mexico Olympic in 1968.

Especially Japan became the best 8 in Tokyo Olympic and the 3rd in Mexico Olympic. The Olympic bronze medal was the first medal in Asian football history. Additionally, Japan was also admired for their sportsmanship spirits and received Fair Play award at the same time.

In 1965, Japan Soccer League, which is the origin of J-League, was established by mainly company activities. It was not professional league. All clubs belongs to a part of company sports activities. Players are a half employee and a half player. They work in day time and then have a training in evening and games in weekends.

Unfortunately during 1970s – 1980s, Japan did not show outstanding achievements in international level. On the other hand, there were important discussions and improvements undergoing.


・The first women football club “FC Jinnan” was established in 1972
・The JSL Second Division was launched in 1972
・A World Cup game, which was the final of the FIFA World Cup from West Germany, was live-broadcasted first time in 1974
・The Japanese Football Supporters Club is launched in 1976
・The Japan Cup, which is later called as Kirin Cup Soccer, was held for the first time in 1978

・The All-Japan Women’s Football Championship was held for the first time in 1980
・The Toyota Europe/South America Cup, which is later Club World Cup, was held for the first time in 1981
・the Association forms a professional league assessment committee requested by JSL in 1989
・The Japan Women’s Football League started in 1989, which was renamed the L. League in 1994 and now known as the Nadeshiko League.

Japan officially declares its candidacy as host for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Japan Football had grown dramatically 1990s.

1990 -:Growing era

Finally Japan Professional Football League (J-League) was established with original 10 clubs (Urawa Red Diamonds / Gamba Osaka / Kashima Antlers / Simizu S-puls / Jefunited Ichihara / Veldy Kawasaki / Yokohama Marinos / Yokohama Flügels / Nagoya Grampus Eight / Sanfrecce Hiroshima) in 1993. J-league released “the concept of 100 years league” in 1996. It aims to improve the level of Japan Football and enhance Japan Football culture in long term.

In 1997, Japan defeated Iran at the qualify of France World Cup, the finally Japan got the ticket to FIFA World Cup in 1998 for the first time, which is called as “Delight of Johor Bahru”. In 2002, Japan and Korea held FIFA World Cup together and Japan reached the best 16 for the first time.

Japan has kept participating FIFA World Cup 6 times in a low since 1998. Japan also won AFC Asian Cup 4 times after 1990s. Current FIFA ranking is 28th (as of 06.2021), which is the highest ranking in Asia.

Women’s National team became world champion in 2011 in FIFA World Cup. It was a epoch-making event in Japan Football history.

When we look back the history of Japan Football, we can understand Japan Football has grown step by step. Japan has unique culture in sports industry. Football is influenced by this culture strongly, so that’s why the history and walk was different from European football culture. Japan is now standing the turning point where they should go forward in the future. Japan economy is stagnated in several decades. Japan Football will change from now on.




Former staff in J-league club provides the real information about Japan football in English.

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