Football in Japan is split over seven levels.
Level 1: J League Division 1
The top level of Japanese football. Top three sides are awarded a place in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League. Bottom three teams are relegated to J2.
Level 2: J League Division 2
Two top teams get automatic promotion with 3rd to 6th placed teams entering a playoff to gain promotion. Bottom team relegated and the second bottom team enter in a playoff against a JFL team for survival.
Level 3: J League Division 3
New for 2014, the league will be played in three rounds, each team playing a total of 33 matches.
In order to be promoted, a club must hold a J2 license and finish in top 2 of the league. The U22 team is not eligible for promotion regardless of their final position. The champions will be promoted directly, in exchange to 22nd-placed J2 club; and the runners-up will participate in the playoffs with 21st J2 club. If either or both top 2 finishers are ineligible for promotion, the playoffs and/or direct exchange will not be held in accordance to the exact positions of promotion-eligible clubs.
Level 4: Japan Football League
This division is currently the top amateur division in the country, however some teams in the division are professional and most are at least semi-professional.
For 2014, the league will be held in a two stage format. Two single round-robin stages will be held, and winners of each stage will determine the champion in the post-season home and away championship playoffs. If the same team manages to win both stages, no play-offs will be held, and they will be automatically declared champions.
Levels 5 & 6: 9 Regional Leagues
Tier four of the Japan football system is split into nine different divisions, with include clubs from that region. The fifth tier of Japanese football is slightly different however, as five of these regional leagues have second divisions which at as the fifth level whereas some do not.
Levels 7 & 8: 47 Prefectural Leagues
For the teams which are in the fifth tier of Japanese football but are not in one of the five regional second divisions, they play in their prefecture’s league. Most of the prefectures have a first and second division which are levels five and six on the Japanese football pyramid.
The main cup competition in Japan is the Emperor’s Cup which is similar to the English FA Cup. It starts in September with the teams in J1 and J2 starting the second round. Starting in the first round are the 47 prefectural cup winners and the best placed JFL team which is not one of those winners. It is a straight knockout tournament from round 1 to the final. The winner of the cup qualifies for the AFC Champions League so long as they have a J1 license.
There is also a cup participated by only J1 teams, which is called the J League Cup or by the sponsors name, Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The format of this tournament is two groups of seven teams who all play each other once with the top two in each cup progressing to the quarter finals. The four teams in the AFC Champions League receive a bye to the quarters. There are then the semi finals and the final.
Similar to the English Charity Shield, there is a one off match at the start of the season between the J1 winners and Emperor’s Cup winners, called the Japanese Super Cup.
There are also the Surugu Bank Championship, which is a one off match between the winners of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup and the winners of the Copa Sudamericana, which South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.
To earn promotion from the regional divisions to the JFL, there is a tournament called the All Japan Regional Promotion League Series. This where all the regional league winners, plus the All Japan Senior Cup winner and a team recomended by the Japan FA compete to win promotion to the JFL. The 12 teams are grouped into three groups of four who play each other in a round robin format. The three group winners and the best runners up are then put into another group which play each other in a round robin. Top two teams are promoted to the JFL whilst the third place team has a playoff against a JFL team for promotion.
The All Japan Senior Cup is a competition between the best 32 teams from the regional leagues. The format is a week long elimination tournament held in one location. The winner qualifies for the All Japan Regional Promotion League Series.