What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “American football?” Well, whatever it is, it probably isn’t Japan. That being said, some of you may be surprised to learn that there’s actually a decent following for American football over in Japan land. While definitely not nearly as popular as baseball, American football still has a strong presence over there.
Believe it or not, Japan has its very own American football league. It’s not a pro league like the NFL, but it’s still a league. Japan’s X-League was founded in 1971 as the Japan American Football League and they changed their name to the X-league in 1997. There are four tiers (X1-4) and the teams are split into east, west, and central divisions.
There are two types of teams, one being a company team which only employees of that particular sponsoring company may participate as a player, and the other kind is a club team which is more or less open to anyone. Since it’s not a pro league, the players have to balance their day jobs with football. It really takes dedication to be part of the X-League because you have very little free time between work, practice, and games.
Game rules are based on America’s NCAA college division rules with the only difference being 12 minute quarters instead of 15. Americans are often recruited to play for the X-League with a strict rule of no more than four Americans per team. No more than two foreign players are allowed to be fielded at any given time.
This is kind of a funny rule, but it makes sense. It’s a Japanese football league for Japanese teams and players, not a league for teams with the most money and influence to hire the most beefy Americans to play for them. This rule ensures that you really get the full Japanese football experience.
Japan Might be the Second Best Country at American Football
Who would expect Japan to be the second best football country in the world? Not me, that’s for sure. But according to the World Championship of American Football, they certainly seem to be second best (to America, of course).
The World Championship of American Football is an international American football competition held every four years. As an American myself, I am surprised I had no idea this was even a thing until a few weeks ago. The competition is run by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), the international governing body for the sport. Oddly enough, the president of the IFAF is Swedish. This organization makes no sense to me.
Of the fifty-four countries that currently field a national American football team, only eight teams qualify for the championship. I’m not sure what the qualifications are, but only eight teams seems a bit small for a world championship, don’t you think? The championship started in 1999 and has been held every four years since then.
Even though there have only been four tournaments so far, and America didn’t actually participate in the first two, Japan won the first two tournaments, placed 2nd in 2007, and 3rd in 2011. Even though only eight countries participate, Japan still does pretty well for themselves here.
Hopefully in time the championship will open itself up to more teams and Japan will really be able to show the world what they’re made of. Or they’ll get crushed into an endless abyss of embarrassment, you know, one of the two.
Will Japan Ever Make it in the NFL?
According to The Japan Times Online, former Dallas Cowboys scout Larry Dixon believes that as the world gets smaller through globalization, there will one day be more Japanese players in the National Football League. As to when, he’s not really sure. He thinks it’s just a matter of time until there are more Japanese athletes who are good enough to play in the NFL.
Scouts have even started coming over to Japan to assess the skills of the hopeful X-League and college players. The Japanese kickers are usually the most impressive out of the bunch, so if there’s a chance for a Japanese athlete to crack the NFL roster, it’ll probably start there.
There are currently some Japanese and mixed Japanese players in the NFL, but as far as I can tell, they were born and/or raised in America, not recruited straight from Japan. I’m sure as things move along and more Japanese kids get into playing football in high school and become interested in playing football outside of Japan, we’ll eventually see a Japanese player recruited into the NFL. Will it be soon? Maybe not, but it’ll happen eventually, I think.
So tell me, what do you think of American Football in Japan? Were you expecting them to be the best at American football after America? How long do you think it’ll be before a Japanese player finally makes it in the NFL? Let us know in the comments!