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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.

The X-League

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C7M7Shv6t8']

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.

football-japan2

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

football-japanWho 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.

football-japan4

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?

football-japan3According 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!


Sites Referenced:
American Football World Cup Wikipedia
X-League Wikipedia

  • Hamyo

    that’s header for this article remind me about Eyeshield 21 :D sure…. nice article jhon :)

  • Hamyo

    it’s might be really hard to feed all of that dinosaurs only by your self when hashi, viet, and koichi are still have a trip in japan right now, nice article jhon san ganbatte kudasai!! XD

  • Dy~

    with the NCAA rules I wonder if they’d be able to play a college team one day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    Considering how many countries participate in “World” Series baseball, I’m fairly amused that you consider eight countries to be too few for a world championship in American Football. =P

    Anyway, American Football players are sissies. Aussie Rules all the way, mate.

  • John

    I don’t really follow baseball either, so I didn’t know how many countries participated in “World” Series Baseball either, haha.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    When I look at that header image, I can’t not see the Japanese player breaking off the American player’s arm.

  • John

    Well, the rules are slightly different over there.

  • Brad Garrett

    I was just talking with my friends over the superbowl about how crazy it would be to have an International Football Tournament. Looks like there already is one!

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    If you’d asked me which country was second-best at football, I’d have guessed Canada, since it’s actually pretty popular there. (They also have a Canada-specific variant, but the American-style game is almost as popular, popular enough that they sometimes call it “football” without a qualifying adjective.)

    My second guess would’ve been Australia.

  • John

    Canada actually got 2nd place in 2011. Mexico got 2nd place in 1999 and 2003.

    Unfortunately Australia isn’t one of the 8 participating countries :(

  • Hirohisa Okada

    To my opinion, it takes to get so long time to be a pro league in Japan.
    The young man of today like to play baseball or soccer in Japanese
    school . Moreover we almost have rugby football club in high school
    that is common for everybody. But few people join this club and
    American football club is rarely seen in high school. On the other
    hand, a large majority that is doing sports choose soccer or baseball
    . The both of baseball tournament or soccer attract large spectators
    every year . But american foot ball is not popular. So if japanese
    high school made more football club like baseball team , the good
    japanese player would be born someday :D

  • John

    Yeah for sure, I totally agree with you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    I don’t follow baseball at all, let alone World Series baseball, but even I know how many countries participate.

    It’s one. America.

    Because really, aside from Japan, who actually plays baseball outside of America? The civilized world plays cricket. =P (Though to be fair, some research for confirmation did reveal that a single team from Canada has competed in the World Series, on two occasions, the last one being twenty years ago.)

  • John

    Haha, now I feel silly – my mindset was still in international when you brought up World Series baseball that my mind instantly went to the idea of things like the World Baseball Classic and the Baseball World Cup instead of realizing you were just referring to the MLB tournament in America xD

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Baseball_Classic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_World_Cup

  • ティム

    The closest a Japan-born Japanese player has gone in the NFL has been Noriaki Kinoshita. He was born in Japan and eventually played in the European developmental league and was eventually signed by the Falcons. Unfortunately he spent the season on the practice squad and got cut, he now plays for the Obic Seagulls (X-League).

  • John

    Oh, that’s really interesting – I had no idea! Thanks for sharing that. That is too bad about him getting cut and everything though :(

  • http://twitter.com/tohnokun 遠野くん

    Strangely enough, here in the UK, japanese manga about American Football (Eyeshield 21) and some videos about the X-league that got me into the sport. I would travel two hours each way to practise at my closest Youth team and when I got to Uni, I joined the school team (with odd practise times, being third rate citizens in a UK sports university). We are ranked pretty high in the league and thought we were pretty good, but when a visiting team from America came along, we were absolutely trounced. It is a whole different level in America.

  • HuskerLover

    The only thing i thought i would miss from leaving nebraska would be football. but now i have a glimmer of hope! Go Nagoya Cyclones! cultivate those young athletes!

  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/Ke_a.sI.vdrTGvxMoLcE4pR1hcJ7qU25Jw--#471d7 orift

    american suck ups

  • John

    Pardon?

  • Cheif

    Nice article. I have been to the Rice Bowl for the last 3 years! January 3rd every year.

  • サオリ

    Some Japanese American football team has “teaching flag football in kids school PE program, flag football club” and “volunteer for social work” who players and stuff has another work and team practice. Seems like there so heavy schedules,but they likes to do make people and kids know football and like it who didn’t know football was before :) I’m proud of them doing this things.
    Still American football is not very popular in Japan.but I think become more and more popular neer the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sugar.chan09 Neon Escamilla

    That would be amazing to see more Japanese people play football, I love watching American football!!! I believe they would bring something new to the table.

  • Sarah Hanifa

    Nice article! X League sounds interesting.

    I would like to ask you about NFL in USA. If a player who are invited to attend Try Out for NFL, then what? Is that player have to join some kind of training camp?

  • Pavlo

    “I’m not sure what the qualifications are, but only eight teams seems a bit small for a worldchampionship, don’t you think?”

    Americans called their champions “World champion”(baseball, football). Why??? BTW i really like football, not soccer))

  • randomtraveler

    All of Central and and South America play baseball as well. Along with Japan that makes baseball one of the most popular sports in the world if you go by population which is what I’m guessing your going by. Also Aussie Rules? You mean the free for all on the field with guys lightly hitting each other? The Aussie players are built like soccer players or basketball players. They admittedly tackle but nowhere near the level of American football players. Have you looked at any of the studies showing the damage done to pro players at the end of their careers? Even with all the padding American football players are waaay more beat up by the end.

    That said the world series thing is stupid I agree, but it is an attempt to replicate the success of Europe in monopolizing football, by getting the rest of the world to follow their teams instead of or in addition to local teams.

    Finally name an Australian sport that’s known world wide. I dare you.

  • Clayton Hanson

    Here’s an Android app to help people learn about American football: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.claytonhanson.football101&hl=en

  • Andrew Morales

    They go to open tryouts and go though about 3 rounds of cuts which lasts about a month. Before the actual season there are 4 scrimmage games to decide if the new players are cut out for the NFL.Then they decide the positions just like soccer or any other sport. Most players just
    end up being on the practice squad.

    -American

  • Reynaldo Weeks

    Never was a Japanese player in the NFL. Scott Fujita isn’t Japanese. He’s European-American adopted by a Japanese-American family.