On that Saturday evening in November 1921, three football teams met in Hibiya Park to compete in the Emperor’s Cup. The two national football tournaments, the Emperor’s Cup, have over eighty years of history and are only open to men’s teams. Firstly, the Emperor’s Cup is not tied to one football tournament but consists of many competitions under the patronage of Japanese Soccer.
Each club in Japan’s professional league system, the J League, is automatically granted access to Japan’s premier cup competition, where they are joined by teams that have won their respective Regional Cups. It’s not uncommon for college teams to beat local semi-professional teams. Still, it’s only on almost mythical occasions that high school teams beat them before them, win the trophy, and advance to the Japan Cup main event.
From 1965 to 1971, the top four Japanese Football League clubs at the end of the season qualified for the Cup, with finalists from colleges filling the remaining four spots. As the League grew in size from 1972 to 1995, the complete top division teams were automatically entered, while the second tier’s member clubs competed in regional stages with other clubs. Beginning in 1996, second-tier clubs (at the time, the old Japan Football League) were entered immediately rather than having to compete in regional rounds, which were later renamed prefectural stages.
Their cup competition encourages participation from college, college and even high school teams, which is why Funabashi High School found itself at a crossroads in 2003, trying to knock out the Japanese champions. Since this is a competition to determine the “best soccer team in Japan”, the cup is now open to all JFA member clubs, from J1 and J2 (J.League Division 1 and 2) to J3, JFL, regional leagues, and top college and high school teams from all over Japan.
If the cup winner has already earned a place in the AFC Champions League by finishing above third in the Japan Football League, the last class will be awarded to the fourth J1 team. While many consider the Emperor’s Cup nothing more than a consolation prize, I’m delighted that the winners are Japan’s fourth and last place in the Asian Champions League. However, despite the history and lore associated with the FA Cup, few big English teams are too concerned with competition. Fourth place in the Premier League offers more financial rewards and a chance to play in the Champions League.
The English Football Association presented the JFA with the initial All Japan Championship Tournament trophy in 1919. This trophy was utilised until January 1945, when it was confiscated and melted down to obtain more metal for the war effort. When the event was reintroduced, the current trophy, depicting the Imperial chrysanthemum seal, was introduced.