Massive year ahead for 16 Japan Top League clubs and players

16 Japan Top League

It is obvious that this will be a massive year ahead for the 16 Japan Top League clubs and players. That is due to there being multiple seasons squeezed within 12 months – how can it ‘not be bigger’ than your average Japan rugby calendar year.

Bigger, why? Due to the Rugby World Cup obviously

It was scheduled bang in the period where teams would have competed in any regulation Japan Top League (JPL) season. So the solution was to delay the season until after the holidays, to run for the first quarter of the new year.

Then, to make clubs, players, and fans even more excited, the organizers decided they didn’t want to lose the familiarity of your standard JPL season. They did not wish to alter the formula per say, as it is one of the fastest-growing leagues globally.

So to retain that thirst for JPL competition, the twin-season scheduling will Definitely satisfy any pangs of hunger after the RWC.

Super Saturday with International rugby at the forefront
Japanese supporters cheer prior to the Pacific Nations Cup match between Japan and Tonga at Hanazono Rugby Staidum on August 3, 2019 in Higashiosaka, Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

the 2021 calendar will carry on the thirst for rugby in Asia.

From the World Cup, to the 2020 Super Rugby season and the Japanese franchise the Sunwolves, fans in Japan are now more familiar with the sport. They enjoy the game more now ‘as a whole country’ and have made great advances within the region and globally.

Although externally, International familiarity with the 16 Japan Top League teams is less well known. So Last Word on Rugby hope to give a brief overview for fans of the Japanese attitude towards rugby union.

16 Japan Top League team names

For those unfamiliar with these teams, the players are now becoming more recognizable. No longer just company employees, the 16 Japan Top League are collectives of locals, players from the national team the Brave Blossoms. Men like Shota Horie, Kazuki Himeno, and Atsushi Sakate.

They also have imported talent that includes ex-patriate players (who qualify for Japan by residency). The highly regarded Michael Leitch, Hendrik Tui, and Lomano Lemeki.

Although grabbing the headlines over the last few years, have been many big-name player signings.

Those are great additions. Introduce a Kieran Read, a Duane Vermeulen or a Will Genia, and naturally, any competition improves. A positive change, with current and former Internationals giving the Asian rugby culture huge qualification. Considered a league where players respect the established competition – and for a long time, have added to that reputation.

What is important to note from 2020 on, are the player limitations the JPL implemented. A maximum number of six foreign players, per team. Of those six players, at least half have to be potentially eligible to play for Japan in the future: have a Japanese grandparent or lived in the country for five years [without having played for another international side in the past].

New season, increased passion for JPL competition

Who cannot still be pleased for Japan Rugby, after displaying their very best hospitality in the 2019 RWC. Their team did pretty well too. And those players will naturally assume high profile roles in the opening competition, followed by June/July Internationals, and the follow-up competition later in 2020.

The unique twin-seasons will be an attractive invitation to new fans, plus those whose passion is undoubted. And that joy is spread right across the country. From Oita in the South, to the many sides located in Tokyo, the frequency of games which will be scheduled within an hour or two’s train journey from the capital, means home supporters can follow their favourite teams.

Wear their colours proudly, and make every match an occasion – one that can demonstrate the passion that Japanese fans already show.

Excitement and passion are one thing, however, the Japanese culture is still respectful of etiquette and manners. Shouting, jeering or outwardly criticizing the referee is frowned upon. As are any musical instruments or whistles, as a courtesy to fellow spectators. Photography is okay, unless others object to being in the photo – videoing is also not permitted.

Prohibited actions or actions that pose a security problem, or if you do not follow the instructions of security guards or staff in the field, may result in you being asked to leave or ban entry. So be excited, be enthusiastic but, respect the customs of the country.

And while those restraints are easing – as witnessed in October and November, the increasing popularity of the sport could soon see it rival football or even the most popular Japanese sport; Baseball.


The 16 Japan Top League teams begin their season on January 12.


“Main photo credit”
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