Japanese Non-league Football News

FC Ryukyu Bolster Defence
FC Ryukyu have announced the loan signing until the end of January next year of Vissel Kobe's Wataru Nakazato ahead of their participation in the Regional League Championship Winners Play-off. 20-year-old Nakazato is a former captain of Kobe's reserve side and a speedy overlapping defender with a good line in free kicks. His new colleagues down Okinawa way include Brazilian duo Christiano and Da Silva and ex-Shimizu S-Pulse and Tokyo Verdy 1969 defender Tadaaki Matsubara.

27 Oct 05 - Wataru Nakazato

Well I never did, it's Wataru Nakazato

Ryukyu ended up second in the 2005 Kyushu League table, having been promoted from the Okinawa Prefectural League at the end of 2004 on a wave of optimism, tinged with the fear that they too could collapse in the same way that previous local big guns Okinawa Kariyushi had done, following their failure to achieve promotion to the JFL under the guidance of Ruy Ramos. Having pilfered a fair number of Kariyushi players, Ryukyu went on to offer the nearest challenge to Rosso Kumamoto - and indeed, if they'd managed to beat Rosso on the last day of the season would actually have won the title. But a 1-0 defeat still enabled them to qualify for the play-offs and so keep alive their dream of bringing a higher level of football to Okinawa.

Standing in their way at the end of November are Kanto League champions Luminozo Sayama and surprise winners of the Chugoku League, a side representing a big distribution company, Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku. The former have a fair degree of experience at this level and in fact twelve months ago only just missed out on a place in the JFL when they lost 3-1 to Ryutsu Keizai University in the final match of the play-offs. Sagawa Kyubin, meanwhile, are generally a young side made up of players from universities and high schools around Hiroshima, but on the other hand their parent company are well represented in the JFL already via Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo and Sagawa Kyubin Osaka.

All-Japan Shakaijin - 2005
The 2005 All-Japan Shakaijin knock-out tournament took place in the middle of October, with five rounds being played on five consecutive days in the middle of the month in Hyogo prefecture, central Japan. The competition ended in something of a surprising fashion with exhausted finalists Rosso Kumamoto and fellow Kyushu League side Nippon Steel Oita sharing the trophy after a 2-2 draw, when it had previously been announced that a penalty shoot-out would be used if the teams finished level.

19 Oct 05 - Rosso Kumamoto

Rosso Kumamoto celebrate their All-Japan Shakaijin win... well, joint win

That quirk aside, however, what was notable about Shakaijin this year was the extent to which it provided a dress rehearsal for the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-offs at the end of November, which decide promotion to the JFL. Aside from Rosso, it’s probably Banditonce Kobe who came away from Hyogo feeling altogether better about themselves – outsiders, perhaps, as far as reaching the JFL is concerned, but nevertheless a team that succeeded in reaching the semi-finals of Shakaijin and, once there, gave Rosso a real run for their money in a 4-3 thriller. TDK Akita also impressed in beating both Kanazawa SC and Shizuoka FC, results which suggested that they too will have to be taken seriously as contenders for the play-offs.

15 Oct 05 - Machida Zelvia

Tokyo League side FC Machida Zelvia

But as well as offering a glimpse of the short-term future of the Japanese non-league game, the competition brought to the fore two clubs currently competing at prefectural level, but who are very definitely aiming to be involved in the spread of professional football over the next few years. FC Machida Zelvia have subsequently gone on to win this year's Tokyo Prefectural League and will be seeking to make the move up the ladder to membership of the Kanto League for 2006 - but at Shakaijin, they pulled off the shock of the tournament in beating experienced Kansai League outfit Ain Food 3-1 in the First Round, before being edged out the next day by TDK Akita on penalties after a goalless draw. Not quite as well backed but still a team to keep an eye on are FC Central Chugoku from Shimane prefecture towards the southern end of Honshu, who despite ultimately being eliminated by surprise package Hannan University had previously managed to overcome Nippon Steel Kamaishi from the Tohoku League.

15 Oct 05 - Takashi Shoji, FC Central Chugoku

Scorer for FC Central Chugoku against Nippon Steel Kamaishi, it's Takashi Shoji

All-Japan Shakaijin Round One - 15 Oct 05

Rosso Kumamoto 2-0 Sagawa Kyubin Kyoto
Norbritz Hokkaido 4-0 Honda Suzuka
Chukyo University 1-2 New Wave Kitakyushu
Sanyo Electric Sumoto 4-1 Ome FC Diego
Nippon Steel Kamaishi 1-1 FC Central Chugoku (PK 2-4)
Takamatsu FC 0-2 Japan Soccer College
Banditonce Kobe 6-0 FC Fighters
Hannan University 3-1 Furukawa Chiba
YSCC 2-4 FC Ryukyu
Shizuoka FC 3-2 Kobe FC 1970
TDK Akita 4-0 Kanazawa SC
FC Machida Zelvia 3-1 Ain Food
Takada FC 0-0 Hitachi Tochigi (PK 4-2)
Nippon Steel Oita 7-0 West Sagawa Kyubin
Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku 2-1 Yazaki Valente
Nangoku Kochi 2-1 Toho Titanium

Round Two - 16 Oct 05

Rosso Kumamoto 3-0 Norbritz Hokkaido
New Wave Kitakyushu 1-1 Sanyo Electric Sumoto (PK 2-4)
Japan Soccer College 0-1 Banditonce Kobe
Hannan University 4-1 FC Central Chugoku
FC Ryukyu 1-1 Shizuoka FC (PK 4-5)
TDK Akita 0-0 FC Machida Zelvia (PK 4-3)
Takada FC 0-7 Nippon Steel Oita
Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku 5-5 Nangoku Kochi (PK 0-3)

16 Oct 05 - FC Ryukyu vs Shizuoka FC

Shizuoka FC in white overcome FC Ryukyu in their penalty shoot-out

Round Three - 17 Oct 05

Rosso Kumamoto 5-0 Sanyo Electric Sumoto
Banditonce Kobe 4-0 Hannan University
Shizuoka FC 0-2 TDK Akita
Nippon Steel Oita 3-0 Nangoku Kochi

Semi-final - 18 Oct 05

Rosso Kumamoto 4-3 Banditonce Kobe
TDK Akita 1-1 Nippon Steel Oita (2-4 PK)

Final - 19 Oct 05

Rosso Kumamoto 2-2 Nippon Steel Oita AET, title shared
Grulla Strengthen Squad - But Will It Be Enough?
Tohoku League Division 1 joint champions Grulla Morioka have followed in the footsteps of their Regional League Championship Winners Play-off rivals Rosso Kumamoto by signing a young forward from a J1 side in order to strengthen their attacking options. 20-year-old Tomoya Hirayama, who's 1m 90cm tall, joins the club on loan until the end of December from Nagoya Grampus 8 - and his first task will be to prepare for the play-offs at the end of November, which will decide who gains promotion from the Regional Leagues to the JFL.

In the group stages, Grulla take on favourites Rosso and outsiders Fagiano Okayama from the Chugoku region, but with only one side to go through they will clearly have their work cut out to make progress. Hirayama is likely to line up alongside former Mito Hollyhock striker Shogo Sakurai in an attempt to get the goals to see the ambitious northern outfit through to the next step on the road to what Grulla hope will end in J-League membership - but unfortunately for them, Rosso have the kind of financial backing that enables them to populate their squad with no fewer than ten players signed from J-League clubs, such as midfielder Keisuke Suto and forward Hiroshi Fukushima, both from J2 high flyers Avispa Fukuoka.

27 Oct 05 - Hiroshi Fukushima

Hiroshi Fukushima, currently on loan at Rosso Kumamoto

The more modest Fagiano, meanwhile, have reached the play-offs as a result of having finished second in their Regional League to Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku. They too have their sights firmly set on playing at a higher level of football and indeed a year ago the club were taking part in the Okayama Prefectural League. but can only boast ex-Thespa Kusatsu striker Ryan Kyu Sa in their squad as a player with experience of the game at a higher level.
1. What's Japanese Non-league Football News about?

Japanese Non-league Football News (JNFN) provides information, news and photos relating to the third and fourth tiers of Japanese club football - the Japan Football League and the Regional Leagues - plus the main knock-out competitions in which clubs in those leagues participate. We also cover teams aiming to go up into the professional ranks of the J-League; the play-offs through which clubs are promoted from the Regional Leagues to the JFL; and movement, too, between the Regional Leagues and the Prefectural Leagues lower down the scale.

The site mainly consists of news stories pertaining to the above topics, during the season naturally focusing more on to updates of results and tables from the relevant leagues. This being the case, it's particularly important that readers make use of the Category function on the left-hand side of the page, which will filter the information onscreen and enable a single league to be followed round-by-round much more easily.

2. Who puts the site together?

JNFN is written and researched by Furtho and Craig. If you have any queries, comments or suggestions, you're welcome to contact us via the email address on the left-hand side of this page.

3. Why are you doing JNFN?

Because it's fascinating to watch club football develop in what amounts to a "new" country, where previously there was almost no culture that supported the game. The key point now is that the structure of the various leagues mentioned above - plus the J-League itself - is in a state of flux because the J-League's stated aim is for professional football to expand to as many parts of the country as possible, something they're aiming to bring about within the context of their so-called One Hundred Year Plan.

It's thought that about forty teams at various different levels of the non-league game - from the JFL to the Prefectural Leagues and even below - have a serious interest in applying or preparing to apply for J-League membership in the future. JNFN aims to follow this major development, with plenty of stops along the way to draw upon the local and regional character that the Japanese non-league game provides.

4. What's the structure of club football in Japan now?

It's based around the J-League, which was started as a single division - known as J1 - in 1993 and was subsequently expanded to incorporate a J2 in 1999. As of now, there are eighteen teams in J1 and thirteen in J2, with Ehime FC the last club to gain promotion to the pro ranks, for the 2006 season. Underneath J2 within the existing structure is the Japan Football League (the aforementioned JFL), a single division that includes corporate teams such as Honda FC and Sony Sendai; community-based outfits like Tochigi SC and Arte Takasaki; and generally speaking one side from the otherwise separate University league structure.

But as far as enabling ease of progress up through the pyramid for ambitious, well-organised clubs is concerned, a real bottleneck occurs below the JFL, into which teams need to gain promotion via a series of play-offs at the end of the season (i.e. November / December) from the Regional Leagues. There are nine such Leagues, with one each on the islands of Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu - the last of which also includes the southern archipelago of Okinawa - plus six covering the different areas of Honshu.

These are Chugoku (the far south, including Hiroshima), Kansai (the central / southern belt around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe), Kanto (the greater Tokyo area), Tokai (roughly between Kansai and Kanto, including Nagoya and Shizuoka), Hokushinetsu (the central / northern prefectures over towards the Japan Sea coast, including Nagano and Niigata) and Tohoku (the far north). The Regional Leagues are in general very small and four of them have just a single division, usually of about eight teams. Kansai, Kanto, Hokushinetsu and Tokai, however, have two such divisions, while the set-up in Tohoku features a Division Two (North) and Division Two (South).

The particular difficulty with such an arrangement is that the changes and development required for clubs to compete at Regional level and then nationally in the JFL are often considerable. The three sides promoted to the JFL at the end of 2004, Mitsubishi Mizushima, Honda Lock and Ryutsu Keizai University, for instance, all struggled to cope with the progression, and if a relegation mechanism had been in place would have been favourites for the drop throughout 2005. As things stand, though, there's uncertainty as to what would be the best way ahead as far as any re-structuring is concerned, although a regionalised J3 - presumably consisting of JFL clubs, plus appropriate candidates from the Regional Leagues - has been one of the suggestions put forward so far.

Lower down the pyramid from the Regional Leagues are the Prefectural Leagues (the prefecture being Japan's main unit of local government, equivalent to a state in the US or a county in the UK), of which there are 47. Both promotion and relegation exist between these two rungs in the ladder, but these are organised very much on a case-by-case basis and as such vary a great deal across the country.

5. I'm looking for information about a specific club. Where can I find that?

JNFN is planning throughout 2007 to roll out a series of profile texts about each team in the JFL and the Regional Leagues. An up-to-date index can be found here:


6. I'm interested in reading English-language material about the J-League and the Japanese National Team - where should I look?

Online, the Links section on the left-hand side of this page should help. Rising Sun News is a big, well-established site that's regularly updated and gives an excellent, opinionated commentary, especially on J1 and the National Team. Go! Go! Omiya Ardija is another blog offering news and views in English on Saitama's Mighty Squirrels; it also has a reasonably exhaustive collection of links to other relevant blogs and websites, which although not all in English are at least not in Japanese. Forza FC Gifu is a small page that is perhaps the only non-Japanese language site dedicated to a non-league club. Moving into the mainstream, there are three big media sources in Japan that provide English-language coverage, in the form of the websites of the Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan Times. These tend not to give much depth, but can be useful for snippets of news.

As for printed material, it has to be said that pickings are not particularly rich. Obviously, if you're in Japan you can generally get hold of the English editions of the above newspapers. Other than that, as far as JNFN are aware, there are only two books published in English about Japanese football. Jonathan Birchall's Ultra Nippon: How Japan Reinvented Football appears to be out of print, but Japanese Rules by Sebastian Moffett is still available and a thoroughly recommended text about the development and early years of the J-League.
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