Thirty years ago this year, the future of Japanese football received a major boost. The advent of the J-League's inaugural season was the first time professional football had reached Nippon shores. 

The J-league launched in 1993 to much fanfare. First-season appearances by several world-class, if ageing, footballers heightened international intrigue. Japan's football fans welcomed England's Gary Lineker and Pierre Littbarski of Germany. The Brazilian star Zico, and his compatriot, Jorginho, were also popular additions.

In 2002, Japan co-hosted the FIFA World Cup with South Korea. Turkey eliminated Japan in the last 16 of the tournament. This meant that South Korea's run to the semi-finals and eventual fourth place eclipsed the Japanese for Asian bragging rights.

Sadly, international interest in the J-League filtered off after the 2002 World Cup. 

In the years before hosting the tournament, Japanese clubs had managed to sign some further international stars. These included the likes of Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria), Michael Laudrup (Denmark) and Dunga (Brazil). The Italian 80s World Cup star, Toto Schillaci, also signed in Japan. 

After the tournament, though, the number of the J-League's major foreign signings grew fewer.

Fortunately, after a long period of inactivity, J-League clubs have started signing some top players again. This renewed some overseas spectator interest, as the Uruguayan star, Diego Forlán, began the trend by signing for Cerezo Osaka in 2014. German international Lukas Podolski then joined Vissel Kobe in 2017. A season later, Spanish maestro Andrés Iniesta joined him there.

Iniesta was a long-time player for the Spanish giants Barcelona. As a member of one of the biggest clubs in the world, he is a prime example of the quality of players the J-League is now attracting again. With a few more similar signings, international exposure for the league will reach new heights.

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With these big signings and Japan's 2022 FIFA World Cup giant-killing performances, online sportsbooks began offering odds on J-League matches. This, on its own, proved to be a boost for the J-League's international following.

These bookmakers are raising interest in the league considerably. International sports bettors are paying attention to the league, resulting in greater exposure. As a result, the number of bookmakers for J-League betting is growing all the time. With this added interest comes more of a willingness by European clubs to send scouts to Japan. Many top clubs are investigating building relationships with J-League clubs there and in other parts of Asia.

Japanese rugby union clubs have been signing major international players for several years now. If J-League football clubs can do the same, their quality of football will improve as rugby has. This will create a knock-on effect to grow foreign interest even further. 

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It's unlikely that the J-League will ever be as popular as the top European football leagues. In 2020, an average of 356,000 Japanese viewers watched each J-League match. With the performance of the Japanese national football team in Qatar last year, these figures have likely improved a great deal since. 

Increased sports betting coverage and continued Japanese league and national improvement are evident. Due to this, there is no reason why international J-League viewing cannot show similar statistical growth.