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Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Japan. People of all ages and both genders play soccer and futsal. The Japanese national soccer teams are currently among the highest ranked Asian teams in the world. The men's national team is nicknamed the "Samurai Blue" after their jersey's color, and the women's national team is known as "Nadeshiko Japan" after a flower that is related to the image of the ideal Japanese woman. The women's team won the 2011 World Cup as the first Asian team ever, and were runners-up in 2015.

Competitive soccer in Japan is organized into a pyramidal system similar to that in many European leagues. At the top of the hierarchy is the professional level called the J.League. Next is the semi-professional level called the Japan Football League, followed by regional and then by prefectural leagues.

The J.League was started in 1993 and it is currently comprised of three divisions - J. League Division 1 (J1), J. League Division 2 (J2) and J. League Division 3 (J3). Being a relatively young league, the number of teams in the J.League has been changing since its inception, with each division having around one to two dozen teams. At the end of each season, the bottom teams get relegated, while the top teams get promoted.

Several thousand teams from the professional to the high school level, furthermore, participate in an annual knockout tournament, The Emperor's Cup. The final game of the cup is held every year on January 1.

How to watch a J.League game

The J.League season starts in early March and ends in early December. J1 matches are typically held on Saturdays afternoons, although most matches are played in the evenings during summer. You can check the match schedules at the official J.League website. Tickets typically cost 2000 to 7000 yen and can be obtained over the counter on the matchday itself. They can also be purchased in advance at the clubs' official stores and at convenience stores (some Japanese skills required), and through JLeagueTickets.com.

J.League matches can also be watched on television. They are generally only aired on paid TV channels, although some prefectural TV broadcasters may show matches of the local team for free.

Page last updated: February 18, 2016