J-League Competition Guide

What trophies can your favourite J-League club clinch? Find out in our guide
The J-League season traditionally runs from the first weekend of March through the first weekend of December. The main competitions are the J-League Division 1 (J1) and J-League Division 2 (J2) championships, featuring 18 and 22 teams respectively.

The J1 is a ‘classic’ league tournament in which all teams play each other, in home and away games, for a total of 34 rounds. As in most leagues, three points are assigned for a victory, and one for a tie.

The top three teams at the end of the season are granted a berth in the following year’s AFC Champions League (ACL). In addition, the top seven clubs receive monetary prizes from the J-League, including US$2 million for the champions.

The bottom three clubs are automatically related to the J2. At both the top and bottom of the table, goal difference is used as a tiebreaker.

Like the top flight, J2 is a classic home-and-away league with 42 rounds. At the end of the season, the two top clubs are automatically promoted to the J1. The teams that finish in third to sixth position fight for the last available promotion spot. Third and fourth-place teams host one-legged semi-finals and can qualify for the final by drawing or winning in 90 minutes.

The promotion play-off final is a single match played at the National Stadium in Tokyo, with the highest-seeded team needing only a tie to earn a J1 berth.

The yearly cup tournament organised by the J-League is the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. Participation is restricted to J1 clubs. The four clubs that qualify for the ACL receive a ‘bye’ to the quarterfinals, while the remaining clubs play a round-robin stage with two groups of seven teams each. The top two clubs from each group advance to the knockout round.

Quarterfinals and semifinals are played in traditional home-and-away format, while the final, held on or around Japan’s Culture Day on November 3rd, takes place at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

The winner of the Nabisco Cup earns the right to host the Suruga Bank Championship against the winner of the Copa Sudamericana, usually in August.

However, the Emperor’s Cup remains the oldest tournament in Japanese football. Organized by the Japan Football Association, it has been dominated by J-League clubs since 1992. In recent years, more than 6,000 teams from across Japan have participated in this tournament, which was founded in 1921 as a Japanese version of the English FA Cup.

Teams meet in single-game knockout rounds, often at neutral venues. This cup's final is also played at the National Stadium on New Year's Day. The winners are granted Japan’s fourth and final spot in the the ACL, and face the J-League Division 1 champions in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup, played one week before the J-League opener at the National Stadium.