In just three decades, the J. League has propelled Japan from regional minnow to global giant-killer and proven itself capable not only of establishing soccer’s foothold in the land of baseball and sumo, but of regularly developing players who have gone on to star in some of the world’s top leagues.

All this and more are sure to be celebrated during the league’s 30th season, which kicks off Friday when Kawasaki Frontale host reigning J1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos at Todoroki Stadium.

That tickets for the Kanagawa derby sold out within five minutes should be taken as a strong sign that fans will be returning in droves after three years of COVID-related restrictions — and with songs and chants now allowed at full venue capacity, it won’t be long before match-day atmospheres start to resemble those that helped set the J. League’s current attendance records in 2019.