How to watch football in Japan

Find out about buying tickets, reaching the stadiums and travelling around the country. Everything you need to know for an unforgettable trip

It can be daunting at first. There are so many things to think about. But getting to a football game while in Japan can be done quite easily with the right planning. And the match day experience is more than worth the effort. Here’s what you need to know about watching football at a stadium in Japan.

Getting a ticket

Now this can be appear to be a major stumbling block at first. But fear not, because getting a ticket doesn’t have to end in frustration and disappointment.

The easiest way to get a ticket is through the official J.League English site, which accepts international debit and credit cards. The following clubs provide this option:

J.League 1

  • Cerezo Osaka
  • Consadole Sapporo
  • Gamba Osaka
  • Kashima Antlers
  • Kawasaki Frontale
  • Sanfrecce Hiroshima
  • Shimizu S-Pulse
  • Shonan Bellmare
  • Urawa Reds
  • Yokohama F. Marinos

J.League 2

  • Fagiano Okayama
  • Kyoto Sanga
  • Omiya Ardija
  • Tokyo Verdy

If the team you’re looking for isn’t listed, then the next best option is to buy a ticket from a convenience store. This method is a bit complicated because you will need to select the ticket from a self-service machine, which is all in Japanese.

But there’s no need to fear this system, because with a bit of preparation it can be fairly straightforward.

Here’s a step-by-step guide of how to use the 7-Eleven ticket machine.

Of course, it’s also possible to buy a ticket from the stadium. In a lot of cases, you should have no problem doing this. But be careful because there are a few exceptions.

Since the arrival of Andres Iniesta, Vissel Kobe matches have been known to sell out in advance. Both home and away games.

Tickets for local derbies can disappear fast, especially if they take place during national holidays.

And some of the well-supported teams in smaller stadiums, such as Kashiwa Reysol and Omiya Ardija, can fill their grounds very quickly.

You’ll also have to pay a bit more if buying tickets on the day, usually around ¥500 (£3.50, $4.50).

If you live in Japan, there are plenty of ways to buy tickets online. But this will require some language ability and a Japanese payment method. If you do have a Japanese credit or debit card, check out the official J.League ticket site.

Where to sit

It’s usually cheapest to go for a 自由席 – an unreserved seat. If booking one of these tickets for a popular game, you will need to arrive at the stadium as soon as the gates open if you want a good seat. The gates usually open two hours before kick off, and fans will be queuing to get into these unreserved sections.

Jubilo Iwata Yamaha Stadium fans J.League Japanese football
Jubilo Iwata fans waiting to get into Yamaha Stadium

Get there late and you’ll be left scrambling for a seat. And you might not even get one. When Matsumoto Yamaga hosted Urawa Reds in the Emperor’s Cup, I spent the entire 90 minutes stood at the back of the stand, leaning against a railing. And I wasn’t the only one. Still, the atmosphere was incredible.

Matsumoto Yamaga J.League J-League japanese football emperor's cup Urawa Reds
Matsumoto Yamaga fans in full force

The stadiums

As well as buying a ticket, you need to think about getting to the stadium.

Most stadiums in the greater Tokyo region are easy to reach. FC Tokyo, Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos – to name a few – play at grounds within easy walking distance of train stations.

However, it’s not always so easy to get to the games, with many stadiums out of town and requiring a bus ride to reach. If you’re new to Japan, I’d recommend going to watch a team with a stadium in a central location or one that has a train station link.

To help you work out where to go, here’s a map of every J.League stadium in 2019. You can toggle between J1, J2 and J3 teams.

I began my Japan ground hopping adventure with a trip to watch Vegalta Sendai host Albirex Niigata in a midweek Levain Cup match. Vegalta’s Yurtec Stadium is easily accessible by train, which was one of the reason’s why I chose it for my first game.

Yurtec Stadium Sendai Japan
Vegalta Sendai’s easy to access Yurtec Stadium

But if you’ve got your heart set on watching the likes of Mito HollyHock or Oita Trinita, don’t let the thought of a bus ride put you off. Most J.League clubs are incredibly organised on match days. Head outside the main train station and you’ll often see club officials at a bus stop. Many clubs run a special service from the train station to the stadium, and then back again at full time.

Travelling around Japan

If you decide to go on a bit of an adventure, there are many ways to travel around Japan. And if you’re visiting on holiday, the best way is to get a Japan Rail Pass.

These passes, which are only available for overseas tourists, offer unlimited travel for seven, 14 or 21 days. And that includes some bullet trains. Getting one of these is a no-brainer if you intend to travel to various games around the country during a short space of time. It will save you a tonne of money.

SCMAGLEV Museum Railway Park Nagoya bullet trains shinkansen Japan
Bullet trains at the SCMAGLEV Museum and Railyway Park in Nagoya

If you aren’t eligible for a Japan Rail Pass, or it doesn’t suit your schedule, the next best option for long distance travel is by plane. This will almost certainly be the case if you’re heading up north to Hokkaido or down south to Kyushu.

Low cost airlines aren’t prevalent in Japan, but Jetstar offer some decent prices on flights to the likes of Sapporo and Nagasaki.

JetStar Japan Narita AIrport
Check out JetStar for reasonably-priced domestic flights in Japan

It’s usually cheaper to fly than to take the bullet train, although the time isn’t much different in some cases. Flying to Osaka versus taking the train can work out at about the same duration when you take consider all the airport procedures compared with stepping off the train in the centre of the city.

For those of us on a budget, the bus is the way to go. Highway buses in Japan run between almost every destination. On popular routes, such as between Tokyo and Nagoya, single tickets can cost as little as ¥3,000 (£21, $27).

To book bus tickets in English, check out Willer Express, Kousoku Bus and Japan Bus Online.

Another travel option to consider is the seishun juhachi kippu (青春18きっぷ). This special train pass is only available at certain times of the year, but offers unlimited travel on local and rapid trains for up to five days. It can also be shared between a group travelling together. The cost is ¥11,850 (£83, $107), which makes it quite a bargain if you don’t mind travelling on the slower trains. It can’t be used on express services or the bullet train.

Takamatsu Station Kagawa Shikoku trains Japan
Trains at Takamatsu Station in Kagawa prefecture, Shikoku

When to go

It’s also wise to consider the major Japanese holidays when travelling around Japan. The two that have the biggest effect on the football season are Golden Week and Obon.

Golden Week, a collection of national holidays, will cause travel congestion from Saturday, April 27 through to Monday, May 6 in 2019.

Obon is a traditional Buddhist festival during which people honour their ancestors. In 2019, expect it to be busy from Saturday, August 10 to Sunday August 18.

During both of these events, ticket prices will be higher for trains, buses and planes, and many will sell out fast. Hotels will also be more expensive, and often booked out.

What to wear

Don’t worry, this isn’t fashion advice. You can wear whatever you want, within reason… But you might want to consider some waterproof clothing. An unfortunate number of Japanese football stadiums are uncovered, especially in the cheap seats. I’ve found out this the hard way through a Biblical downpour in Matsumoto and a blizzard in Kofu.

Taking a lightweight poncho with you is highly recommended for most games. Japan’s weather is unpredictable, and can change fast.

Early in the season, especially in February and March, the temperatures can be quite low, especially in Tohoku and Hokkaido, but even in Tokyo and Osaka.

Japan’s rainy season starts in Okinawa from May and gradually makes its way as far north as Tohoku, so – again – don’t forget your poncho!

July and August can be extremely hot. Suncream, sunglasses and hats are important then.

Also beware that typhoons can wreak havoc with the fixture list. You’re most likely to experience these in August, September and October. Your poncho won’t help you in this situation.

Enjoy the experience!

Watching football in Japan is an amazing experience. You get to see a completely different side to the country, especially when attending games in some of the smaller towns.

Some of Japan’s best kept secrets can be discovered when visiting place that you only know because of its football team.

And when in the stadium, it’s impossible not to get carried along with the enthusiasm of the of the tireless fans.

Have your say

If you’ve experienced a football game in Japan, travelled around the country or have anything you’d like to ask, please leave a comment below.

See you at a stadium somewhere in Japan!

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