Whether you’re a football fan who’s residing in Japan or simply visiting, there are plenty of opportunities to amuse yourself at some of the football “temples” of Japan—I am talking, of course, about football stadiums.
With 40 teams in the J. League’s top two divisions, there are dozens of fantastic venues across the country, many of which can be enjoyed as part of a tour of the local area. Here’s a great list of five stadiums to start with – and don’t forget to enjoy the local delicacies in and around the stadiums!
1) Sapporo Dome (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
Just a short walk from Fukuzumi subway station, the Sapporo Dome seen from outside resembles a 1960s science fiction spaceship. A covered, fully air-conditioned structure, the Dome supports baseball games as well as local football club Consadole Sapporo thanks to a state-of-the-art sliding floor. The Sapporo Dome seats over 40,000, but expect only some 10,000 to attend J. League football games. The atmosphere is feisty overall, with lots of beer sold in the concourse.
2) Noevir Stadium (Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture)
Possibly the most beautiful stadium in Japan, the Noevir in Kobe is just a quick stroll from the Misaki-koen subway station and you’ll only have to follow the Vissel Kobe supporters wearing their maroon uniforms to find it. Boasting a roof that can be opened and closed to protect the pitch and the players, this stadium as well can fit over 40,000, but expect between 20,000 and 30,000 for J. League games. If you are sitting (or jumping around) in the visitors stands, please pay attention to the P.A. announcements: during evening games you might be politely asked to keep quiet, as the Noevir away terraces are located next to a hospital!
3) Toyota Stadium (Toyota, just outside Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture)
J1 League regulars Nagoya Grampus main stadium (not to be confused with their other venue, the old Paloma Mizuho Stadium) can be reached from downtown by an hour-long train ride. Upon arriving at Toyota-shi station, there is a 10-minute walk before the majestic structure appears across the Yahagi River. This fantastic stadium is often used for Japanese national team games as well as the FIFA Club World Cup. The venue features a removable roof that is seldom closed due to high costs (it’s said to be as high as US$ 30,000 for a single opening and closing). The stadium can host as many as 45,000 and regularly sees more than 15,000 for J. League games. When visiting, make sure you put aside a few minutes for a free-of-charge visit to the stadium museum, which is within the structure.
By Waka77 (撮影者自身による投稿) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
4) Oita Bank Dome (Oita, Oita Prefecture)
Possibly the most daringly designed stadium in Japan, the Oita Bank Dome sits on the top of a hill just outside Oita City. The modern structure was built for the 2002 World Cup and is supposed to be shaped after a turtle, which is the symbol of the local team, second division Oita Trinita. Unfortunately access to this stadium is only via car or bus, so if you don’t drive your vehicle make sure you don’t miss the last bus or you might be forced to pay for a costly taxi ride back to town.
5) Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium (Kashiwa, just outside Tokyo, Chiba Prefecture)
For something completely different from the super-structures described above, you can try the intimate atmosphere of the Hitachi-dai. The small stadium lies in a park just a 20-minute walk from Kashiwa Station, and often gets packed by J. League supporters wearing the yellow uniforms of Kashiwa Reysol, the local small club that in recent years won three major titles and made it to the semifinals of the AFC Champions League.
Other highly recommended small stadiums are the Alwin in Matsumoto, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains; the Nack5 in Omiya, just across a beautiful park featuring a Shinto shrine; and the small Yokohama Mitsuzawa stadium in Yokohama, where on a clear day you can smell the sea that is just a few kilometers below.
For more advice on combining your love of travel and football, check out Ben Mabley’s article Exploring Japan Via the J. League Football Stadiums. Want to know more about what makes the J. League stand out? How about J. League: The Thrill of Unpredictability.