Under the shirts worn by hundreds of players across the J-League's 40 clubs are some remarkable stories.
|With collectors around the world clamouring after Japanese uniforms, it’s no surprise that the J-League is full of fascinating stories revolving around the shirts players wear on the pitch in each and every match.
When the league kicked off in 1993, uniforms were exclusively produced by Mizuno for all 10 original founding clubs. However, teams were allowed to use other manufacturers for their J-League Cup shirts. This arrangement continued until 1997, when Mizuno’s contract expired and a flood of new designers took centre-stage.
Arranging manufacturers wasn’t the only thing the fledgling league had to worry about. So many clubs wanted to use blue as their base colour that the J-League asked teams such as Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Shimizu S-Pulse had to adopt other colors.
Blue wasn’t the only colour teams found to their liking, as white became the standard away color. This was adapted by almost all clubs except for Yokohama Flugels, who wore white as a home colour.
Their uniforms resulted in a memorable 1995 mix-up, when Sanfrecce Hiroshima mistakenly brought their away shirts to a Flugels ‘home’ game held in western Kumamoto Prefecture. Club staff were forced to borrow replica shirts from away fans who had travelled to the match, which Sanfrecce won 1-0.
|Even rivals have been known to clash, such as Shimizu S-Pulse and Jubilo Iwata who wore identical white Puma away kits in 2010 and 2011.
But while some colours are more common than others, one colour rarely seen on a J-League pitch is black. Only a handful of teams such as Oita Trinita and Kyoto Sanga have used black, and even then only as a third uniform. While Vissel Kobe wore black and white stripes in their early years, the purchase of the club by internet retailer Rakuten resulted in the team’s colours changing to crimson red, in honor of Rakuten’s parent company and the Harvard education of company founder Hiroshi Mikitani.
Vissel’s change came once, but after several years of two-year shirt cycles, more and more clubs are releasing new designs every season. Some clubs go a step further, releasing special designs that are used once or twice each season. Gamba Osaka’s golden kits are one example of this, as are the multicoloured Star Festival-inspired uniforms worn by Shonan Bellmare in recent summers. Another summer uniform came courtesy of Sagan Tosu, who wore shirts with a watermelon motif in August 2013.
The deep loyalty that supporters hold for their J-League clubs inspires them to buy new uniforms every year, resulting in the beautifully-coloured crowds that fill stadiums very weekend.