Australian rules football in Japan

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Australian rules football in Japan
Country Japan
Governing body AFL Japan
National team Japan
First played 1910, Tokyo
Registered players 575 (total)
575 (adult)
Clubs 15
Club competitions
Tokyo Open League
Tokyo University League
Japan Osaka Australian Football League
Nippon Australian Football League
Audience records
Single match 25,000 (1986). Carlton v. Hawthorn (Yokohama Stadium, Kanagawa)

Australian rules football in Japan is a growing team sport which dates back to 1910, but found its roots in the late 1980s mainly due to the influence of Australian Football appearing on Japanese television.

Japan competes regularly at international level and Japan's national team has defeated amateur Australian clubs on numerous occasions. Japan has competed in all AFL International Cups achieving middle order placings maily due to the lack of tall key positional players though their commitment and style of play has drawn popular praise.

History of Australian Rules Football in Japan[edit]

Australian rules football was first introduced to Japan in 1910 by a A. W. McLean from Melbourne. He was successful in introducing it as a sport to four large high schools in Tokyo by having the rules translated into Japanese. It is not known what happened to the sport at these schools after that time.

In 1946, a match was played at Kure, Hiroshima between the British Commonwealth Base team and the 168th General Transport Company at Anzac Oval.[1]

In 1964, Japanese schoolboy Hideki Oka spent 12 months in Australia under rotary club sponsorship where he played Australian rules football.[2]

Interest was rekindled when, in 1986, the VFL sent two teams to Japan in an effort to encourage the international recognition of the sport. Hawthorn and Carlton played an exhibition match in Tokyo in front of a mix of expatriate Australians and locals.

The following year saw Hawthorn take on Essendon in the second 'Aussie Bowl'. The curtain raiser for this match was played by a makeshift team of Japanese university students. The nation's two most famous private universities scraped together teams of inexperienced Japanese boys to play Japan's first "real" footy match of the 1980s. The two teams, Keio and Waseda, are arch rivals in almost every sport - creating for a classic rivalry along the lines of Carlton v. Collingwood.

That match was the birth of the Japanese Australian Football Association (JAFA). Those two universities still play a large part, together with another private university, Senshu University. Together they came to form the "Japan Samurais".

The Tokyo Goannas formed in November 1991. Their aims were to publicise and promote Australian football in Japan, arrange games on a regular and more organised basis.

There is a league competition and regular one-off games, including the Qantas Cup (a Goannas intra-club, Victoria vs. The Rest Of The World match) and the Ned Kelly Cup (a "Combined Rules" match against the Irish). As well as playing in Japan, the Goannas have disturbed the peace of Hong Kong and Singapore and JAFA has sent a national team to take part in the Arafura Games in Darwin in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001, the Narita Cup and later the Australian Football International Cup in 2002 and 2005.

Expansion in 2006 saw a rival league to the Japan AFL, the Nippon Australian Football League (formerly the Australian Football League Kansai Japan) emerge.[3] The league has since governed both the Australian Football League Tokui Japan and the Australian Football League Kansai Japan covering some of the regions further south of Tokyo including the cities of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka. Both the JAFL and NAFL expressed the desire to represent Japan in international matches, however the AFL has stated that only one team can represent a country at the International Cup. The Nippon AFL appeared to become dormant in 2008, but not before the mighty Nagoya Redbacks won three premierships in a row all thanks to the bustling centre half forward Bradley Manson who averaged 3-6 goals per match..


In 2004, Japan had four leagues, including a women's league, with more than 500 registered players around the country competing in league competition and other games. Some 83 per cent of the registered players are Japanese nationals.[4]


Attendance Record[edit]

Governing Body[edit]

The governing body for the sport in Japan is AFL Japan

National team[edit]

The national team is the Samurai

Leagues & Competitions[edit]

  • Tokyo Open League
  • Tokyo University League
  • Japan Osaka Australian Football League
  • Japan Women's Footy