|Number of teams||12|
|Levels on pyramid||3|
|Promotion to||J. League Division 2|
|Domestic cup(s)||Emperor's Cup|
|2014 J3 League|
J3 League (J3リーグ J3 Rīgu?) or simply J3 is the third division of Japan Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ Nippon Puro Sakkā Rīgu?) that has established a third-tier professional association football league in Japan starting 2014.
The third-tier nationwide league is a relatively recent development in Japanese football with the first attempt dated 1992 (second division of the old JFL), though it only lasted for two seasons. In 1999, following the establishment of J. League Division 2, a new Japan Football League was created, fulfilling the third tier onwards. After introduction of J3 the JFL has been moved down the pyramid and become a fourth-tier nationwide league, for the first time in history of Japanese football.
For their inaugural season, the league will be known by their title sponsor, the Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance J3 League.
History of Japanese third-tier football
Amateur era (–2013)
A national third tier of Japanese association football was first established along with its professionalization in 1992, when the newly created Japan Football League kicked off with two tiers below the professional J. League. But after a number of clubs were lost for various reasons – some were promoted to J. League and the others folded – the league contracted the second division in 1994 and continued with the single second-tier division.
The third tier football was reintroduced in 1999 upon creation of fully professional J2. The old JFL was dissolved but a new Japan Football League was formed the same year in order to establish a nationwide top-tier amateur league. But despite its officially amateur status the league quickly became de facto semi-professional, serving as the cradle of the future J. League members. Since the establishment of associate membership system in 2006 the number of professional clubs holding or actively seeking for this status has grown steadily and reached its peak in 2013 season when 6 full members and 2 former candidates made up to almost half of the league's 18 teams. Through the course of the season this number grew even bigger, to 10 full associate members that formed the core of J3.
Professionalization and establishment (2013)
Close to the end of 2012 football season Japanese media began to spread rumors about the upcoming professional third-tier league, referred to as either "J3" or "J. Challenge League". Most of the sources agreed that the new league will feature around 10–12 clubs, most of which will be associate members. The league would also provide more relaxed licencing criteria in comparison to J2 – e.g. the stadium seating capacity of just 3,000 with no mandatory floodlighting.
After the discussion on J1-J2 Joint Committee on 16 January 2013, all J. League clubs agreed in principle with an establishment of the new league starting 2014. This decision was formally put into force by J. League Council on 26 February executive meeting. The league was planned to launch with 10 teams, but another session of J. League Council in July decided that inaugural season of J3 will feature 12 teams.
In order to participate, a club must have held an associate membership, or have submitted an application before 30 June 2013, and then passed an inspection in order to obtain a participation licence issued by J. League Council. On November 19, J. League has confirmed the following clubs to participate in the inaugural J3 season:
- Gainare Tottori (relegated from 2013 J. League Division 2)
- Blaublitz Akita (JFL)
- Machida Zelvia (JFL)
- SC Sagamihara (JFL)
- Nagano Parceiro (JFL)
- Zweigen Kanazawa (JFL)
- YSCC (JFL)
- FC Ryukyu (JFL)
- Fukushima United (JFL)
- Fujieda MYFC (JFL)
- Grulla Morioka (Tōhoku League, 2013 Tōhoku League Champion and Regional Promotion Series Champion)
- J. League U-22 team, composed of best J1 and J2 youngsters in order to prepare them to 2016 Olympics
The league has not provided a clear expansion timeline yet but it is most likely that J3 will continue to accommodate new teams after its inaugural season. The following is a list of clubs that have applied for participation in 2013 but have been rejected by J. League for various reasons:
- Renofa Yamaguchi (JFL) – J. League associate members, were 2nd order choice had Grulla Morioka failed to pass the final inspection
- Azul Claro Numazu (JFL) – J. League associate members, were 3rd order choice after Grulla and Renofa
- Vanraure Hachinohe (JFL) – J. League associate members
- Tonan Maebashi (Kanto League D1) – J. League associate members
- Nara Club (Kansai League D1) – J. League associate members
- MIO Biwako Shiga (JFL)
- Tochigi Uva (JFL)
- Suzuka Rampole (Tōkai League)
Most of these clubs continue to aim for J3 as their ultimate goal.
Some sources claim that J3 is intended to reach up to 60 clubs in the future, being split into three regionalized divisions running in parallel. This, however, would affect the Regional Promotion Series, which has promoted regional league clubs to a single national tier since 1977.
- J. League Division 1
- J. League Division 2
- J. League Associate Membership
- J. League contracts
- Japan Football League
- United States team in the NASL
- India team in the I-League
- "Ｊリーグに「３部」設置構想＝準加盟クラブで２０１４年にも" [J. League third division to be installed in 2014] (in Japanese). JIJI Press Ltd. 4 November 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "３部相当、１４年開始へ＝名称候補に「Ｊ３」「Ｊチャレンジ」－Ｊリーグ" [Third division to start in 2014, J. League sets candidate clubs] (in Japanese). JIJI Press Ltd. 27 December 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "Jリーグに「3部」設置構想＝準加盟クラブで2014年にも" [New third division starts in 2014] (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun. 1 January 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "Ｊ３設立へ中西理事「理解は得た」" [Director Nakahishi on the agreement for J3 establishment] (in Japanese). Nikkan Sports News. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "来年からＪ３新設を正式決定 Ｊリーグ理事会" [Consul formally decided to launch new J3 league next year] (in Japanese). Sports Nippon Newspapers. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "Ｊ3参加クラブ数は「12」で決定" [J3 is determined to start with 12 teams] (in Japanese). J. League. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
- "Ｊ３までの道のり" [Steps to J3 participation] (in Japanese). J. League. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
- "Ｊリーグ入会審査（Ｊ２およびＪ３）結果について" [Results of J2 and J3 examination] (in Japanese). J. League. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "申請クラブ審査状況に更新がありました" [Update to club review situation] (in Japanese). J. League. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "準加盟クラブ・準加盟申請クラブに対する、今後の審査の流れ" [Inspection flow for J. League participation] (in Japanese). J. League. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- "Ｊリーグ、将来的に１００チームへ" [J. League to reach 100 teams in the future] (in Japanese). Soccer Now. 24 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- (Japanese) J3 official website
- (Japanese) J. League official website
- (English) J. League official website
- (Japanese) Official YouTube channel