Each week on languagecaster’s podcast we feature a main listening report and on this week’s show we take a look at the J- League in Japan, now in its 17th season. You can listen to the report by clicking the link below and can also read the transcript. Explanations of vocabulary in bold appear at the foot of the post.
Listen to the main listening report on the J-League
While Europe focuses on the European Championships and the leagues are only a couple of months old, over here in Japan where I am based, football fans are gearing up for the Friday clash between Argentina and Japan and the end to another exciting season. Of course, the international is only a friendly, but the match has been on all the main news channels with cameras greeting Messi and co. as they walked off the plane on Wednesday, and tickets to the match have all been snapped up. Meanwhile in the league, attendances are the healthiest they have ever been, at an average of 19,000 a game in the top flight – that’s higher than the Championship, the second tier, in England.
The J-League kicked off in 1993 and is now in its seventeenth season. Football had been popular in Japan since before the 60s, but it was this period, a time when Japan hosted the Olympics, that football began to become more firmly entrenched in Japan. It became a popular sport in high school and colleges, and several companies also fielded teams in a small, but healthy amateur football world. But it was only in the 1990s that the push to compete with the two popular sports, Baseball and Sumo wrestling began.
Money from the economic boom years of the eighties and early nineties was available and the league was launched with ten teams and much fanfare. Several big name foreign stars were brought over to play, including Zico and Littbarski, and the season was a success with Kashima, formerly Sumitomo Heavy Industries, the surprise winners of the first half of the Championship. In its early stages the J-League adopted the apertura / clausura format of many South American countries to keep interest levels up. Another way to do this was the Golden Goal and penalties rule, which meant all games had to have a winner.
By the mid-90s it was clear that the league was going to be a success: more overseas players came over – Salvatore Scillaci, Gary Lineker from Europe Jorghino and Leonardo from South America, but homegrown Japanese stars began to emerge and become familiar faces on TV ads and chat shows, such as Takeda and Kazu from Verdi Kawasaki, and Hasegawa from Shimizu. By 1998 the League had expanded to 18 teams, but this proved too many and several clubs started to have financial difficulties and the league was reduced to 16 and a second tier introduced with promotion and relegation. One team to go bust at this time was Yokohama Flugels, which was merged into cross-town rivals Yokohama Marinos to become the present-day Yokohama F. Marinos. But in a healthy sign of local fan loyalty fighting back against corporate franchising, fans set up Yokohama FC as a continuation of the original Flugels. They play in the J2, the second tier but have played one season in the top-flight.
But what of now? Well, there are again 18 teams in the J-League and 18 in J2 and as mentioned at the start of this report, things are going well. Japan had a fairly successful World Cup, Japanese clubs do well in continental competitions, and the season is entering the final third with Nagoya favourites to win their first Championship ahead of 7 times winners, Kashima – the most successful J-League side. Both contenders are away for their next matches, but before that of course is the small matter of Japan v Argentina…
to gear up for: to get ready for, to prepare for
to snap up: (in this context) to buy – when tickets are ‘snapped up’ they are sold out very quickly
entrenched: fixed, become deep rooted, unshakable
be launched: be started, be founded
apertura: the opening half of the season
clausura: the closing half of the season
Golden Goal: a system in which a goal scored in extra time is the winning goal. The goal is scored and the game ends, the extra time is not finished
to go bust: to collapse finanicially, to go out of business
be away: play a game away from your home ground