The J League is simply outstanding when it comes to football shirts.
Since the league’s launch in 1992, we’ve seen a constant stream of beautiful kits that have put other leagues to shame. Though all competitions have their comparative strengths, Japanese club shirts so often have that x-factor which elevates them from the pack, and for many collectors the hunt for a J League shirt is worth the extra time and effort.
One particular strength of Japanese shirts has been the vibrant palette of colours across the board. Many professional leagues ‘suffer’ from a relatively bland slate of colours, but that’s not the case with Japan. Pretty much every colour in the rainbow can be found on the home kits of teams in the J League, making it a wonderful place to go to if you like football shirts on the more interesting side of the spectrum.
Atletico Mineiro might have dropped a stunning map shirt this season, but they’re just pretenders to the throne occupied firmly by Shimizu S-Pulse 🗺
Helping to complete the orange portion of the rainbow is Shimizu S-Pulse; a team famous for their bright orange colour scheme and the maps often found on their shirts.
Many teams have dabbled with maps on their shirts over the years, with the recent fan designed Atlético Mineiro shirt lighting up social media for all the right reasons. Tottenham’s popular blue and green third shirt from the 2018/19 season featured an abstract map of North London, whilst Ukraine’s latest shirts threatened to spark a diplomatic situation with Russia on the basis of the map that was included.
Shimizu S-Pulse didn’t just dabble with maps on their shirts though, they made it a core part of their visual identity. The very first S-Pulse shirt featured a graphic of a globe on the front, and subsequent designs continued the map aesthetic in a big map.
We saw a variety of approaches to maps, from more abstract looks to full blown, atlases on shirts. The design used for cup competitions between 1993-96 (seen in the first image above) is a personal favourite, but in truth every Shimizu S-Pulse shirt had something about it because of the novel approach.
Why did Shimizu S-Pulse shirts feature giant maps or globes as part of their design? The reason is quite simple and staring right at you if you’re looking at a shirt. Primary sponsor JAL were as tied to S-Pulse as Pirelli were to Inter for so many years, and if you haven’t guessed JAL stands for Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.
From the club’s inception in 1991 through to 2005, the JAL logo featured on the front of the S-Pulse shirts, and interestingly the company stayed on as a partner even after making way on the shirts for transportation company Suzuyo in 2006/07.
As a nod to their history, various S-Pulse shirts have included some sort of map or globe detail since JAL vacated their main sponsor position. The recurring theme is one of my favourite in football, and it’s quite simply one of the most fascinating examples of a sponsor working with a team.
Yes, the idea of putting a map on a shirt to reference an airline company sounds quite jarring on paper, but when seen in practice the decision worked. It gave Shimizu S-Pulse a unique identity in the crowded world of shirts and there are few, if any, club x sponsor partnerships who have achieved the same level of seamless integration.
Good news: a couple of vintage Shimizu S-Pulse shirts are included in our latest Japan drop! We’re adding a bunch of Japanese club and country shirts, so snap up a great new colourful addition for the collection from Friday 29th October.