Officials from the Japan Football Association spoke to reporters in Tokyo on Monday to promote the 97th Emperor’s Cup, which kicks off this coming weekend.
The opening round of the country’s top cup tournament will be contested by 47 prefectural representatives as well as reigning Japan Football League champions Honda FC.
J1 and J2 League clubs will join from the second round, which will be held on June 21. The final of the tournament will take place on New Year’s Day, as it has for most of its history.
In addition from seeings its traditional August start moved up by four months, the tournament’s schedule has also been revised so that all matches from the second round will take place on Wednesdays, allowing clubs to field their star international players.
The championship purse has also been increased from 100 million yen ($920,000) to 150 million yen ($1.38 million).
“By giving national team players a chance to participate, teams will be able to contest the Emperor’s Cup with their strongest possible squad,” JFA president Kohzo Tashima said. “I believe that it will be an even more thrilling and high-level tournament than before.”
Kashima Antlers manager Masatada Ishii and defender Naomichi Ueda were also on hand to return the tournament’s trophy, which the reigning J.League champions captured in January with a 2-1 extra time win over Kawasaki Frontale.
“It’s rare to play in January and the Emperor’s Cup final was something I’d only seen on television,” Ueda said. “To win the title in that unique atmosphere was something special, and I want to win it again.”
“It’s a competition with a lot of history that opens the door to the AFC Champions League,” Ishii noted. “Our local fans consider it to be a very important tournament, and I want our side to work hard and play at Saitama Stadium on New Year’s Day.”