The structure of football organizations in Japan remains somewhat complex, for both historical reasons and matters that could be roughly described as "turf battles". As discussed elsewhere on this website, the conflicts that developed between the professional J.League and the amateur leagues (particularly the JFL -- the top amateur organization in the country) reached a peak in the mid '10s, and even prompted some alarmists to predict "the demise of amateur football in Japan." Fortunately, that never became a real possibility, but the concerns were severe enough to force the J.League and Japan Football Association (JFA) to take action. In 2014,a clear separation was established between the professional J.League, with its three divisions, and the various levels of amateur football, overseen by the JFA.
As discussed in greater detail in sections on the J.League and JFL, the professional league structure in Japan is a fairly recent creation, established in 1992. Though the JFL can draw some parallels between its current organization and the Japan Soccer League (JSL), which preceded it, the JFL is also a relatively new entity. While the entire professional pyramid, and the top level of the amateur pyramid are essentially "new" (having been either created or at least reorganized within the past 25 years), the lower levels have been around for much longer. Adjustments have been made, from time to time, in the number of teams taking part in a given league, or in the number of divisional levels for a particular region. These changes reflect a multitude of factors from economic trends and local interest in the sport to the structure of the corporations, schools and institutions that underlie a major percentage of amateur clubs. Nevertheless, all of the organisations which oversee amateur football competition in Japan (with the arguable exception of the JFL) predate the J.League by several decades. Most achieved their current structure some time between 1965 -- when the first nationwide league (the JSL) was created -- and the mid-1970s. By that point, amateur football had been organised into a three-tiered heirarchy of amateur football organizations. At the top was the Japan Soccer League, a nationwide league that drew the top teams from all over the country (represented today by the JFL -- its direct decendant). Below the JSL were Regional leagues, representing the best teams from each geographical region, and below these Regional leagues were Prefectural leagues -- one league for each of Japan's 47 prefectures. There are many smaller groupings below the prefectural structure, as "leagues" are set up (or dissolved) in individual cities and towns across the country (especially large ones like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya), but these are all administered by their local Prefectural League organization.
The Regional and Prefectural leagues remain essentially unchanged (at least organisationally) from what they were back in the 1970s and 1980s. 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 more than one division to the Regional League, and below the Regional level ,there may be three or even four divisions in each prefectural league. However, all are administered by the same organisation, and when there is more than one division, the prefecture/region will have established its own regular systems of promotion and relegation between divisions.
After the JSL was reorganised into the JFL, a system of promotion and relegation from the Regional level to the JFL level continued. It was irregular, and subject to frequent changes in the number of teams promoted, the playoff system used to determine who advanced and who went down, etc. But since around the turn of the century the essential rules and format have remained pretty much the same. The top one or two teams from each Region take part in a tournament at the end of the year (usually late November-December), known as the Nationwide Regional League Championship Tournament. The two finalists earn direct promotion to the JFL, and a third team is sometimes allowed to playoff against a lagging JFL team.
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 local teams organized by students, community groups and other organizations. However, there are also a growing number of teams that have been formed with the deliberate intent of eventually achieving professional status. 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
|Regional League||Prefectures Included|
|Tohoku League||Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata|
|Kanto League||Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Tokyo, Yamanashi|
|Tokai League||Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Shizuoka|
|Hoku-Shinetsu 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|