J. League fans may not be cheering yet — but they are returning, with first-division clubs reporting average crowds of 12,515 at games played through the weekend’s fourth round.

While that number is still well below the 2019 average of 20,751, it is a promising sign that Japanese soccer is at last transitioning to the post-pandemic phase and can, after two years of focusing on disinfection protocols, begin the challenging task of reminding fans what they’ve missed so much about their weekly trips to the stadium.

That the league has reached this point is perhaps the greatest legacy of departing chairman Mitsuru Murai, whose eight-year tenure has featured some of the league’s biggest achievements and struggles.