Japanese Non-league Football News

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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