Ice hockey was brought to Japan by the English at the beginning of the 20th century. Games were held as early as 1912 and the new sport gained popularity, particularly in the northern regions of the country. Teams from Tokyo, Waseda, and Tomakomai founded the Japan Ice Hockey Federation in 1929.
Japan became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation on January 26, 1930. That same year, the IIHF made a decision to hold the World Hockey Championships in conjunction with the European Championships if a team was present from either Canada, the United States, or Japan. The Japanese National Team played its first international game at the World tournament in Davos, Switzerland in 1930, losing to England 3-0. Japan continued to participate in major tournaments including the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics where goaltender Teiji Honma surprised everyone by wearing a mask.
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan was barred from the IIHF from April 27, 1946 until March 10, 1951. The Japanese competed in six consecutive Olympiads between 1960 and 1980. One of their best players during the 1960's was netminder Shoichi Tomita. He later served as his country's representative on the IIHF Council. Japan hosted the 1972 Sapporo Olympics and finished ninth after defeating West Germany and Yugoslavia. As Olympic hosts at Nagano in 1988, they proved difficult to beat in the Preliminary Round. Even though they did not qualify for the Championship round, Japan tied Belarus 2-2 and only lost 3-1 to the favored Germans. The national team since the 1960's has played chiefly at the "B" Pool level with the odd relegation to "C" Pool.
The first Japanese domestic championship was won by Keio University in 1931. A few years later the league split into two sections. The first contained University teams while the other consisted of semi-professional players sponsored by industrial companies. The top clubs were located on the north island of Hokkaido and in the Greater Tokyo region. The dominant club was Hokkaido's Oji Seishi from Tomakomai-80km south of Sapporo. Yukijurushi from Sapporo and Jujo Seishi from Kushiro. The Tokyo area teams were Seibu Tetsudo, Kokudo Keikaku and Furukawa Denko.
Beginning in the late 1970's, Japanese teams utilized foreign players, especially from Canada, Czechoslovakia and the USSR. The list of prominent players included Soviet stars Yuri Liapkin, Viacheslav Starshinov and Helmut Balderis, Czechoslvaks Jiri Holocek and Frantisek Pospisil and Canadian Randy Gregg. In 1984, the Japan Ice Hockey Federation banned the use of foreign players-though foreigners were permitted to coach. The ruling was overturned during the 1990s. Japanese hockey got a boost when former Canadian National coach Dave King, who had also been the head coach of the NHL's Calgary Flames; turned down NHL offers and a chance to be the head coach of the Swiss National team to become a special consultant for the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation. King would work with the National team as well as six club teams in the Japanese League. He later returned to North America to take a job as an assitant coach with the Montreal Canadiens and later became the first head coach of the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets. Notable Canadians playing in Japan during the latter part of the decade included former junior stars Ryan Kuwabara and Steve Tsujuira as well as former NHL defensemen Tom Kurvers and Tom Pedersen. The Japanese Women's team participated at the inaugural IIHF championships in 1990 but were unseated as Asia's representatives by China the following year.