Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Japan and is played by people of both genders. The Japanese male and female national soccer teams are highly ranked in Asia and the world in general. The male team has participated in the world cup competitions for several times while the female team won the 2011 world cup, the first Asian team to achieve such victory (Duerden, 2015). Japan also participates in beach soccer and finished fourth in the 2005 FIFA beach soccer world cup in Brazil (Japan Football Association, 2011). The high level of soccer in Japan is as a result of many years of professional development in the domestic league and the national teams.

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The formal development of soccer in Japan can be traced back in 1921 when the Japan Football Association (JFA) was founded after inspiration from the 1919 presentation of the FA Silver Cup by the English Football Association to Japan (Japan Football Association, 2011). The sport had initially been introduced in 1873 by a British instructor at the Imperial Japanese Academy when he taught the cadets to play soccer as a pastime. The sport then entered into the education system in 1878 when the National Institute of Gymnastics started football as one of the sports in its curriculum. By 1896, the sport had been adopted in the high school curriculum as a sporting event and in 1904, Japanese students representing Tokyo competed with foreign teams in a high school competition (Japan Football Association, 2011). The establishment of the JFA took the model that was used by European countries to manage the development of soccer in Japan. The main aim of the football association in Japan was to improve the national team to successfully compete with other nations. However, the events of the Second World War interfered with the development of soccer as the country was isolated and prevented from participating in activities coordinated by FIFA until 1950 (Japan Football Association, 2011). The ban from FIFA prevented Japan’s soccer team from participating in international games and hence the world cup. Japan participated in the 1954 world cup qualifiers but was unsuccessful against other Asian teams. However, the participation gave the team a chance to test their skills and marked an important point of development.

In 1960, the Japanese national team hired a German coach and with his program, the team reached the quarter-finals of the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo and won the bronze medal at the same competitions in Mexico City in 1964 (Japan Football Association, 2011). The new national coach also helped to establish the first national soccer league in the country, the JSL. The Japan Soccer League (JSL) managed competitions organized by the local teams but was not dedicated towards the professional development of soccer. From the 1980s, The Japan Football Association started to implement changes in the national soccer league after calls for the professionalization of the sport. Consequently, the Japan Soccer League was replaced by the J-League as part of the professionalization process. The J-League started its first league matches in 1993, and this marked an important point in the development of the sport in the country (Japan Football Association, 2011). The J-League adopted the model used by elite clubs in European countries.

The changes that took place through the J-League were effective and led to successes in international competitions. From 1998, Japan qualified for World Cup competitions for four consecutive times through victories against Asian teams (Duerden, 2015). The participation in the World Cup accelerated the rate of professionalization in the sport with the development of the necessary sporting infrastructure and a lot of consideration for the welfare of players. In 2002, Japan was nominated to co-host the World Cup finals with South Korea, and the national team participated in the competition. The 2002 World Cup was an important event because of increased media coverage and improvement of sporting facilities in the country. Also, the event was effective in increasing the number of soccer fans in the country. Japan also participated in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 IFFA world cup finals in Germany, South Africa, and Brazil, respectively (Duerden, 2015).

The J-League and the JFA have made several achievements in the development of soccer. Both men and women soccer teams have achieved remarkable victories at the international level and won silver. The youth development system in Japan is one of the best in the world, and this is demonstrated by a high number of Japanese playing in European elite clubs (Duerden, 2015). The development of local clubs in the J-League has encouraged a process of recruiting and training of youths interested in soccer. Despite the high number of participation in international competition and professionalism, the Japanese men’s soccer team has often failed to achieve high profile victories in FIFA World Cup finals. The team has never progressed beyond the second round of the World Cup tournament and was ranked at position 53rd in 2015 by the FIFA, despite high expectations on the team (Duerden, 2015). Also, the Japanese teams, under the J-League, have been performing poorly against other Asian teams leading to concerns about the competitiveness of Japanese soccer at the international level.

The history of soccer in Japan has been a remarkable success in the development of national soccer teams. Soccer developed as a sport in the formal institutions in Japan and the country started having significant progress in the sport after the foundation of JFA. The local soccer league managed by the J-League has played a major role in developing professionalism among footballers, even though the country is yet to achieve a major victory in the national men’s team.

  • Duerden, J. (2015). Japanese Soccer Hits an Unexpected Rough Spot. Retrieved from
  • Japan Football Association. (2011). History of JFA. Retrieved from