21 | 08 | 2014

Regional Leagues

Regional Leagues

The structure of football organizations in Japan remains somewhat complex, for both historical reasons and matters that could be roughly described as "turf battles". However, in recent years the various groups and organizations that oversee football competitions in the country have begun to align themselves in a structure which is relatively heirarchical -- a sort of "football pyramid" -- and which allows for the progress and advancement of teams from one level to the next. Our sections on the J.League, the J2 and the JFL provide further information on how these organizations were formed, and what their relationship is with other parts of Japan's "football community. As these discussions detail, the J.League (both divisions l and 2) and the JFL are fairly recent creations, which have evolved in something of an ad hoc manner, during the final decade of the 1990s.

Since the turn of the century, however the J.League has moved into a phase of greater stabiolity and maturity. As a result, both the J.League itself and the JFL (whose organization and composition have been changed several times since 1990, mainly in response to changes in the J.League) have begun to examine their relationship to the non-professional football organizations in Japan, with the aim of establishing a more coordinated and unified structure which includes formalized systems of promotion and relegation from one level to the other. As these efforts bear fruit, football organizations in Japan truly are taking on a unified pyramid structure. In the future, we expect that it will become commonplace for teams to move from level to level in this pyramid -- not only upward, but downward as well.

While the top three levels of this pyramid are essentially "new" (having been either created or at least reorganized within the past 15 years), the lower levels have been around for a much longer period of time. While adjustments are made, from time to time, in the number of teams taking part in a given league or the number of divisional levels for a particular region, all of the organizations that oversee football competition at this level predate the J.League. Most were formed some time between 1965 -- when the first nationwide league was created (the JSL) -- and the mid-1970s. By around 1975 or 76 a three-level heirarchy of amateur football organizations had been created. At the top was the Japan Soccer League, a nationwide league that drew the top teams from all over the country. Below the JSL were Regional leagues, representing the cream of the crop in a particular geographical region, and below these Regional leagues were Prefectural leagues -- one league for each of Japan's 47 prefectures.

Following the creation of the J.League, the JSL was reconstituted, and the JFL took its place as the top amateur league in the country. Since that time the JFL has remained in a state of "creative instability", due to its position as a nominally amateur organization that is helping to cultivate future professional teams. Because the JFL is forced to perform a balancing act, as a transition ground between pro and amateur football, it is constantly being reorganised and reconstituted based on the demands and desires of the J.League. However, the Regional and Prefectural leagues remain essentially unchanged from what they were back in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in terms of their organizational structure. There is a regular system of promotion and relegation between the Prefectural and the Regional level. Depending upon the size and population of a prefecture, there may be several divisions below the Regional League. However, all are administered by the same organization, and when there is more than one division, the prefecture will have its own regular systems of promotion and relegation between divisions.

Even after the JFL was created, and became "semi-detached" from the Regional and Prefectural league structure, a system of promotion and relegation from the Regional level to the JFL level has continued. The number of teams promoted and the structure of the playoffs is irregular, and subject to frequent changes depending on what happens at the "upper end" in terms of teams joinging the J.League or changing their structure to pursue professional status. However, the playoff system used to determine who advances and who (if anyone) is relegated has been pretty much the same since around the turn of the century.  The essential format is for the winners of each region to take part in a playoff tournament, which sometimes includes low-ranked JFL teams, and sometimes includes runners-up from certain regions. The teams who take part in this tournament are determined on the basis of how many teams leave the JFL (either through promotion to the J2 or some type of reorganization). Between 1994 and 2004, this was done on a very ad-hoc basis, and was almost never the same for two years in a row.

In 2005, to try to reduce the confusion and address complaints from teams who felt "disadvantaged", the J.League, JFL and Regional Leagues adopted a more formal relationship, and began codifying the rules which will govern future promotions and relegations. The J.League established a very specific structure governing promotion from the (amateur) JFL to the (professional) J.League, and accordingly, the system of promotion and relegation between the JFL and the Regional leagues adopted a more stable and regular format, though the number of teams advancing to (or relegated from) the JFL continues to vary depending upon the number of teams (if any) that advance from JFL to J.League.

Because of the changes that have taken place in the football heirarchy above them, there have been changes in the nature of competition at the regional and prefectural level as well. The majority of teams are still either company-sponsored clubs (made up mainly of of employees) or informal teams organized by students, community groups and the like. However, there are also a growing number of teams that have been formed with the deliberate intent of eventually achieving professional status. Though these are still considered "amateur" teams, and are forced to abide by certain restrictions on what sort of "compensation" they can offer their players, in practice they are best described as "quasi-amateur" or "semi-professional". The players cannot make enough money to live on, without having another "real" job, but the rewards are sufficient that teams can often attract higher quality talent, particularly in the case of J.League veterans who are nearing the end of their career and want to exchange a spot on the bench of a J.League club for an opportunity to play regularly and earn loyalty and respect from the Regional team (possibly leading to a paid coaching job, further down the road).

This trend has made the Regional and Prefectural leagues a most interesting, intriguing and colorful part of the Japanese football scene, as well as the most vibrant centre of football development in Japan. For more information on the leagues in each region, click on the links in the table below, or in the Regional Leagues menu in the right column

Regional LeaguePrefectures Included
Hokkaido League Hokkaido
Tohoku League Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata
Kanto League Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Tokyo, Yamanashi
Tokai League Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Shizuoka
Hokushinetsu League Fukui, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Toyama
Kansai League Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Shiga, Wakayama
Chugoku League Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, Yamaguchi
Shikoku League Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, Tokushima
Kyushu League Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Oita, Okinawa, Saga

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