Music of Japan

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The music of Japan includes a wide array of performers in distinct styles, both traditional and modern. The word for "music" in Japanese is 音楽 (ongaku), combining the kanji 音 on (sound) with the kanji 楽 gaku (enjoy). [1] Japan is the largest physical music market in the world, worth US$2 billion in sales in physical formats in 2014, and the second-largest overall music market, worth a total retail value of 2.6 billion dollars in 2014 [2]  dominated by Japanese artists, with 37 of the top 50 best-selling albums [3] and 49 of the top 50 best-selling singles in 2014. [4]

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japanese has been grouped with language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.


Local music often appears at karaoke venues, which is on lease from the record labels. Traditional Japanese music differs markedly from Western music, as it is often[ quantify ] based on the intervals of human breathing rather than on mathematical timing.[ weasel words ] [5] [ failed verification ]

A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information. Within the mainstream music industry, recording artists have traditionally been reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on music streaming services, radio, and television. Record labels also provide publicists, who assist performers in gaining positive media coverage, and arrange for their merchandise to be available via stores and other media outlets.

Western culture Norms, values and political systems originating in Europe

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are of European descent. Western culture has its roots in Greco-Roman culture from classical antiquity.

Traditional and folk music

There are two forms of music recognized to be the oldest forms of traditional Japanese music. They are shōmyō (声明 or 聲明), or Buddhist chanting, and gagaku (雅楽), or orchestral court music, both of which date to the Nara and Heian periods. [6] Gagaku is a type of classical music that has been performed at the Imperial court since the Heian period.[ citation needed ] Kagura-uta (神楽歌), Azuma-asobi (東遊) and Yamato-uta (大和歌) are indigenous repertories. Tōgaku (唐楽) and komagaku originated from the Chinese Tang dynasty via the Korean Peninsula.[ citation needed ] In addition, gagaku is divided into kangen (管弦) (instrumental music) and bugaku (舞楽) (dance accompanied by gagaku).


Shōmyō (声明) is a style of Japanese Buddhist chant, used mainly in the Tendai and Shingon sects. There are two styles: ryokyoku and rikkyoku, described as difficult and easy to remember, respectively.

Gagaku is a type of Japanese classical music that has been performed at the Imperial Court in Kyoto for several centuries since the 7th century. It is today, performed by the Board of Ceremonies at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. This kind of music was first imported into Japan from China; however, artistically it differs from the music of the corresponding Chinese form yayue which is a term reserved for ceremonial music. Gagaku consists of three primary repertoires:

  1. Native Shinto religious music and imperial songs and dance, called Kuniburi no utamai
  2. Vocal music based on native folk poetry, called Utaimono
  3. Songs and dance based on foreign music
Nara period Historical period of Japan, AD 710 to 794

The Nara period of the history of Japan covers the years from AD 710 to 794. Empress Genmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō. Except for a five-year period (740–745), when the capital was briefly moved again, it remained the capital of Japanese civilization until Emperor Kanmu established a new capital, Nagaoka-kyō, in 784, before moving to Heian-kyō, modern Kyoto, a decade later in 794.

Originating as early as the 13th century are honkyoku (本曲 "original pieces"). These are single (solo) shakuhachi (尺八) pieces played by mendicant Fuke sect priests of Zen buddhism [ citation needed ]. These priests, called komusō ("emptiness monk"), played honkyoku for alms and enlightenment. The Fuke sect ceased to exist in the 19th century, but a verbal and written lineage of many honkyoku continues today, though this music is now often practiced in a concert or performance setting.[ citation needed ] The samurai often listened to and performed in these music activities, in their practices of enriching their lives and understanding.[ citation needed ]

Honkyoku are the pieces of shakuhachi music played by mendicant Japanese Zen monks called komusō. Komusō played honkyoku for enlightenment and alms as early as the 13th century. Honkyoku is part of the practice of suizen. The Fuke sect which originated from this practice ceased to exist in the 19th century, after which several shakuhachi guilds were formed, and the verbal and written lineage of many honkyoku continues today, though the music is now often practised in a concert or performance setting.

The shakuhachi is a Japanese and Chinese longitudinal, end-blown bamboo-flute.


A mendicant is one who practices mendicancy (begging) and relies chiefly or exclusively on charitable donations to survive. In principle, mendicant religious orders do not own property, either individually or collectively, and members have taken a vow of poverty, in order that all their time and energy could be expended on practicing or preaching and serving the poor. It is a form of asceticism.

Biwa hōshi, Heike biwa, mōsō and goze

Biwa. Gifujyou5848.JPG

The biwa (琵琶 - Chinese: pipa), a form of short-necked lute, was played by a group of itinerant performers (biwa hōshi) (琵琶法師) who used it to accompany stories.[ citation needed ] The most famous of these stories is The Tale of the Heike , a 12th-century history of the triumph of the Minamoto clan over the Taira [ citation needed ]. Biwa hōshi began organizing themselves into a guild-like association (tōdō) for visually impaired men as early as the thirteenth century. This guild eventually controlled a large portion of the musical culture of Japan.[ citation needed ] biwa is Japan's traditional instrument.

<i>Biwa</i> Japanese plucked lute

The biwa (琵琶) is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, often used in narrative storytelling. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Buddhism.The biwa is a plucked string instrument that was first popular in China and then spread throughout East Asia. It is said to have arrived in Japan from China during the Nara period, and is even thought to have roots that trace back to Persia. It is generally 60 - 106cm in length and made from wood. The instrument consists of a water-drop-shaped body with a handle, and while there are generally four strings, five-stringed varieties also exist. In Japan, the biwa is generally plucked with a bachi instead of the fingers, and is often used to play gagaku. In addition, it is used as musical accompaniment when blind monks recite scriptural texts, or when reciting The Tale of the Heike, a war chronicle from the Kamakura era.

Pipa Chinese plucked lute

The pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the Chinese lute, the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26. Another Chinese four-string plucked lute is the liuqin, which looks like a smaller version of the pipa. The pear-shaped instrument may have existed in China as early as the Han dynasty, and although historically the term pipa was once used to refer to a variety of plucked chordophones, its usage since the Song dynasty refers exclusively to the pear-shaped instrument.

Lute musical instrument

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. More specifically, the term "lute" can refer to an instrument from the family of European lutes. The term also refers generally to any string instrument having the strings running in a plane parallel to the sound table. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the end of the neck, which have some type of turning mechanism to enable the player to tighten the tension on the string or loosen the tension before playing, so that each string is tuned to a specific pitch. The lute is plucked or strummed with one hand while the other hand "frets" the strings on the neck's fingerboard. By pressing the strings on different places of the fingerboard, the player can shorten or lengthen the part of the string that is vibrating, thus producing higher or lower pitches (notes).

In addition, numerous smaller groups of itinerant blind musicians were formed especially in the Kyushu area[ citation needed ]. These musicians, known as mōsō (盲僧 blind monk) toured their local areas and performed a variety of religious and semi-religious texts to purify households and bring about good health and good luck. They also maintained a repertory of secular genres. The biwa that they played was considerably smaller than the Heike biwa (平家琵琶) played by the biwa hōshi.[ citation needed ]

Lafcadio Hearn related in his book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things "Mimi-nashi Hoichi" (Hoichi the Earless), a Japanese ghost story about a blind biwa hōshi who performs "The Tale of the Heike"

Blind women, known as goze (瞽女), also toured the land since the medieval era, singing songs and playing accompanying music on a lap drum.[ citation needed ] From the seventeenth century they often played the koto or the shamisen. Goze organizations sprung up throughout the land, and existed until recently in what is today Niigata prefecture.[ citation needed ]


Taiko performing Taiko drum.jpg
Taiko performing

The taiko (太鼓), is a Japanese drum that comes in various sizes and is used to play a variety of musical genres. It has become particularly popular in recent years as the central instrument of percussion ensembles whose repertory is based on a variety of folk and festival music of the past. Such taiko music is played by large drum ensembles called kumi-daiko. Its origins are uncertain, but can be stretched out as far back as the 7th centuries, when a clay figure of a drummer indicates its existence. China influences followed, but the instrument and its music remained uniquely Japanese. [7] Taiko drums during this period were used during battle to intimidate the enemy and to communicate commands. Taiko continue to be used in the religious music of Buddhism and Shintō. In the past players were holy men, who played only at special occasions and in small groups, but in time secular men (rarely women) also played the taiko in semi-religious festivals such as the bon dance.

Modern ensemble taiko is said to have been invented by Daihachi Oguchi in 1951. [8] A jazz drummer, Oguchi incorporated his musical background into large ensembles, which he had also designed. His energetic style made his group popular throughout Japan, and made the Hokuriku region a center for taiko music. Musical groups to arise from this wave of popularity included Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, with Seido Kobayashi. 1969 saw a group called Za Ondekoza founded by Tagayasu Den; Za Ondekoza gathered together young performers who innovated a new roots revival version of taiko, which was used as a way of life in communal lifestyles. During the 1970s, the Japanese government allocated funds to preserve Japanese culture, and many community taiko groups were formed. Later in the century, taiko groups spread across the world, especially to the United States. The video game Taiko no Tatsujin is based around taiko. One example of a modern Taiko band is Gocoo.

Min'yō folk music

A Japanese folkswoman with her shamisen, 1904 Geishashamisen053.jpg
A Japanese folkswoman with her shamisen, 1904

Japanese folk songs (min'yō) can be grouped and classified in many ways but it is often convenient to think of four main categories: work songs, religious songs (such as sato kagura, a form of Shintoist music), songs used for gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and festivals (matsuri, especially Obon), and children's songs (warabe uta).

In min'yō, singers are typically accompanied by the three-stringed lute known as the shamisen, taiko drums, and a bamboo flute called shakuhachi. [9] Other instruments that could accompany are a transverse flute known as the shinobue, a bell known as kane, a hand drum called the tsuzumi, and/or a 13-stringed zither known as the koto. In Okinawa, the main instrument is the sanshin. These are traditional Japanese instruments, but modern instrumentation, such as electric guitars and synthesizers, is also used in this day and age, when enka singers cover traditional min'yō songs (Enka being a Japanese music genre all its own). [10]

Terms often heard when speaking about min'yō are ondo, bushi, bon uta, and komori uta. An ondo generally describes any folk song with a distinctive swing that may be heard as 2/4 time rhythm (though performers usually do not group beats). The typical folk song heard at Obon festival dances will most likely be an ondo. A bushi is a song with a distinctive melody. Its very name, which is pronounced "bushi" in compounds, means "melody" or "rhythm." The word is rarely used on its own, but is usually prefixed by a term referring to occupation, location, personal name or the like. Bon uta, as the name describes, are songs for Obon, the lantern festival of the dead. Komori uta are children's lullabies. The names of min'yo songs often include descriptive term, usually at the end. For example: Tokyo Ondo, Kushimoto Bushi, Hokkai Bon Uta, and Itsuki no Komoriuta.

Many of these songs include extra stress on certain syllables as well as pitched shouts (kakegoe). Kakegoe are generally shouts of cheer but in min'yō, they are often included as parts of choruses. There are many kakegoe, though they vary from region to region. In Okinawa Min'yō, for example, one will hear the common "ha iya sasa!" In mainland Japan, however, one will be more likely to hear "a yoisho!," "sate!," or "a sore!" Others are "a donto koi!," and "dokoisho!"

Recently a guild-based system known as the iemoto system has been applied to some forms of min'yō; it is called. This system was originally developed for transmitting classical genres such as nagauta, shakuhachi, or koto music, but since it proved profitable to teachers and was supported by students who wished to obtain certificates of proficiency and artist's names continues to spread to genres such as min'yō, Tsugaru-jamisen and other forms of music that were traditionally transmitted more informally. Today some min'yō are passed on in such pseudo-family organizations and long apprenticeships are common.

See also Ainu music of north Japan.

Okinawan folk music

Umui, religious songs, shima uta, dance songs, and, especially kachāshī, lively celebratory music, were all popular.

Okinawan folk music varies from mainland Japanese folk music in several ways.

First, Okinawan folk music is often accompanied by the sanshin whereas in mainland Japan, the shamisen accompanies instead. Other Okinawan instruments include the sanba (which produce a clicking sound similar to that of castanets), taiko and a sharp finger whistling called yubi-bue(指笛).

Second, tonality. A pentatonic scale, which coincides with the major pentatonic scale of Western musical disciplines, is often heard in min'yō from the main islands of Japan, see minyō scale. In this pentatonic scale the subdominant and leading tone (scale degrees 4 and 7 of the Western major scale) are omitted, resulting in a musical scale with no half steps between each note. (Do, Re, Mi, So, La in solfeggio, or scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6) Okinawan min'yō, however, is characterized by scales that include the half-steps omitted in the aforementioned pentatonic scale, when analyzed in the Western discipline of music. In fact, the most common scale used in Okinawan min'yō includes scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Traditional instruments

Arrival of Western music

Traditional pop music

After the Meiji Restoration introduced Western musical instruction, a bureaucrat named Izawa Shuji compiled songs like "Auld Lang Syne" and commissioned songs using a pentatonic melody.[ citation needed ] Western music, especially military marches, soon became popular in Japan.[ citation needed ] Two major forms of music that developed during this period were shoka, which was composed to bring western music to schools, and gunka, which are military marches with some Japanese elements.[ citation needed ]

As Japan moved towards representative democracy in the late 19th century, leaders hired singers to sell copies of songs that aired their messages, since the leaders themselves were usually prohibited from speaking in public. The street performers were called enka-shi.[ citation needed ] Also at the end of the 19th century, an Osakan form of streetcorner singing became popular; this was called rōkyoku. This included the first two Japanese stars, Yoshida Naramaru and Tochuken Kumoemon.[ citation needed ]

Ichiro Fujiyama, influential ryukoka singer Teng Shan Yi Lang .jpg
Ichiro Fujiyama, influential ryūkōka singer

Westernized pop music is called kayōkyoku, which is said to have and first appeared in a dramatization of Resurrection by Tolstoy. The song "Kachūsha no Uta", composed by Shinpei Nakayama, was sung by Sumako Matsui in 1914. The song became a hit among enka-shi, and was one of the first major best-selling records in Japan.[ citation needed ] . Ryūkōka, which adopted Western classical music, made waves across the country in the prewar period.[ citation needed ] Ichiro Fujiyama became popular in the prewar period, but war songs later became popular when the World War II occurred.[ citation needed ]

Kayōkyoku became a major industry, especially after the arrival of superstar Misora Hibari.[ citation needed ] In the 1950s, tango and other kinds of Latin music, especially Cuban music, became very popular in Japan.[ citation needed ] A distinctively Japanese form of tango called dodompa also developed. Kayōkyoku became associated entirely with traditional Japanese structures, while more Western-style music was called Japanese pop ( or simply 'JPop').[ citation needed ] Enka music, adopting Japanese traditional structures, became quite popular in the postwar period, though its popularity has waned since the 1970s and enjoys little favour with contemporary youth.[ citation needed ] Famous enka singers include Hibari Misora, Saburo Kitajima, Ikuzo Yoshi and Kiyoshi Hikawa.

Art music

Western classical music

Shuji Isawa (1851-1917) studied music at Bridgewater Normal School and Harvard University and was an important figure in the development of Western-influenced Japanese music in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). On returning to Japan in 1879, Isawa formed the Ongaku-Torishirabe-Gakari (Music Investigation Agency), a national research center for Western music; it was later renamed the Tokyo Music School (Tôkyô ongaku gakkô). In 1880, Isawa's American friend and teacher, Luther Whiting Mason, took up a two-year appointment to further develop the music curriculum of Japanese schools. Kosaku Yamada, Yoshinao Nakada, and Toru Takemitsu are Japanese composers who have successively developed what is now known as Japanese Classical Music. [11]

Western classical music now has a strong presence in Japan and the country is one of the most important markets for this music tradition, [12] with Toru Takemitsu (famous as well for his avant-garde works and movie scoring) being the best known.[ citation needed ] Also famous is the conductor Seiji Ozawa. Since 1999 the pianist Fujiko Hemming, who plays Liszt and Chopin, has been famous and her CDs have sold millions of copies.[ citation needed ] Japan is also home to the world's leading wind band.[ citation needed ], the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and the largest music competition of any kind, the All-Japan Band Association national contest.[ citation needed ] Western classical music does not represent Japan's original culture. The Japanese were first exposed to it in the second half of the 19th century, after more than 200 years of national isolation during the Edo Period.[ citation needed ] But after that, Japanese studied classical music earnestly to make it a part of their own artistic culture.



From the 1930s on (except during World War II, when it was repressed as music of the enemy)[ citation needed ] jazz has had a strong presence in Japan.[ citation needed ] The country is an important market for the music, and it is common that recordings unavailable in the United States or Europe are available there. A number of Japanese jazz musicians have achieved popularity abroad as well as at home.[ citation needed ] Musicians such as June (born in Japan) and Dan (third generation American born, of Hiroshima fame), and Sadao Watanabe have a large fan base outside their native country.

Lately, club jazz or nu-jazz has become popular with a growing number of young Japanese.[ citation needed ] Native DJs such as Ryota Nozaki (Jazztronik), the two brothers Okino Shuya and Okino Yoshihiro of Kyoto Jazz Massive, Toshio Matsuura (former member of the United Future Organization) and DJ Shundai Matsuo creator of the popular monthly DJ event, Creole in Beppu, Japan as well as nu-jazz artists, Sleepwalker, GrooveLine, and Soil & "Pimp" Sessions have brought great change to the traditional notions of jazz in Japan.

Some of the newer bands include Ego-Wrappin' and Sakerock along with more experimental musicians such as Otomo Yoshihide and Keiji Haino.


J-pop, an abbreviation for Japanese pop, is a loosely defined musical genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s. Modern J-pop has its roots in 1960s pop and rock music, such as The Beatles, which led to bands such as Happy End fusing rock with Japanese music. [13] J-pop was further defined by Japanese new wave bands such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Southern All Stars in the late 1970s. [14] Eventually, J-pop replaced kayōkyoku ("Lyric Singing Music", a term for Japanese pop music from the 1920s to the 1980s) in the Japanese music scene. [15] The term was coined by the Japanese media to distinguish Japanese music from foreign music.

Idol music

Japanese idol musical artists are a significant part of the music market, with girl groups and boy bands regularly topping the singles chart. These include boy band Arashi, that had the best-selling singles of 2008 and 2009, and girl group AKB48, that have had the best-selling singles each year since 2010.

Since the end of the 2010s, more and more idol groups have emerged. The high number of idol groups in the Japanese entertainment industry is sometimes called "Idol sengoku jidai" (アイドル戦国時代; lit. Idol war age). [16]

In 2014, about 486,000 people attended Momoiro Clover Z's live concerts, which was the highest record for female musicians in Japan for this year. [17]

SMAP was a Japanese boy band, recognized. The group was created in 1988.

Dance and disco music

In 1984, American musician Michael Jackson's album Thriller became the first album by a Western artist to sell over one million copies in Japanese Oricon charts history. [18] His style is cited as one of the models for Japanese dance music, leading the popularity of Avex Group and Johnny & Associates. [19]

In 1990, Avex Trax began to release the Super Eurobeat series in Japan. Eurobeat in Japan led the popularity of group dance form Para Para. While Avex's artists such as Every Little Thing and Ayumi Hamasaki became popular in the 1990s, new names in the late 1990s included Hikaru Utada and Morning Musume. Hikaru Utada's debut album, First Love , went on to be the highest-selling album in Japan with over 7 million copies sold, whereas Ayumi Hamasaki became Japan's top selling female and solo artist, and Morning Musume remains one of the most well-known girl groups in the Japanese pop music industry.


In the 1960s, many Japanese rock bands were influenced by Western rock musicians such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, along with other Appalachian folk music, psychedelic rock, mod and similar genres: a phenomenon that was called Group Sounds (G.S.). John Lennon of The Beatles later became one of the most popular Western musicians in Japan. [20] Group Sounds is a genre of Japanese rock music that was popular in the mid to late 1960s.[ citation needed ] After the boom of Group Sounds, there were several influential singer-songwriters. Nobuyasu Okabayashi was the first who became widely recognized.[ citation needed ] Wataru Takada, inspired by Woody Guthrie, also became popular.[ citation needed ]. They both were influenced by American folk music but wrote Japanese lyrics. Takada used modern Japanese poetry as lyrics, while Kazuki Tomokawa made an album using Chuya Nakahara's poems. Tomobe Masato, inspired by Bob Dylan, wrote critically acclaimed lyrics.[ citation needed ] The Tigers was the most popular Group Sounds band in the era. Later, some of the members of The Tigers, The Tempters and The Spiders formed the first Japanese supergroup Pyg.

Homegrown Japanese folk rock had developed by the late 1960s.[ citation needed ] Artists like Happy End are considered to have virtually developed the genre. During the 1970s, it grew more popular.[ citation needed ] The Okinawan band Champloose, along with Carol (led by Eikichi Yazawa), RC Succession and Shinji Harada were especially famous and helped define the genre's sound. Sometimes also beginning in the late sixties, but mostly active in the seventies, are musicians mixing rock music with American-style folk and pop elements, usually labelled "folk" by the Japanese because of their regular use of the acoustic guitar. This includes bands like Off Course, Tulip, Alice (led by Shinji Tanimura), Kaguyahime, Banban, Garo and Gedō. Solo artists of the same movement include Yosui Inoue, Yuming, and Iruka. Later groups, like Kai Band (led by Yoshihiro Kai) and early Southern All Stars, are often attached to the same movement.

Yellow Magic Orchestra in 2008 Yellow Magic Orchestra in 2008.jpg
Yellow Magic Orchestra in 2008

Several Japanese musicians began experimenting with electronic rock in the early 1970s. The most notable was the internationally renowned Isao Tomita, whose 1972 album Electric Samurai: Switched on Rock featured electronic synthesizer renditions of contemporary rock and pop songs. [21] Other early examples of electronic rock records include Inoue Yousui's folk rock and pop rock album Ice World (1973) and Osamu Kitajima's progressive psychedelic rock album Benzaiten (1974), both of which involved contributions from Haruomi Hosono, [22] [23] who later started the electronic music group "Yellow Magic Band" (later known as Yellow Magic Orchestra) in 1977. [24] Most influentially, the 1970s spawned the electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra, led by Haruomi Hosono.

In the 1980s, Boøwy inspired alternative rock bands like Shonen Knife, The Pillows, and Tama & Little Creatures as well as more experimental bands such as Boredoms and mainstream bands such as Glay. In 1980, Huruoma and Ry Cooder, an American musician, collaborated on a rock album with Shoukichi Kina, driving force behind the aforementioned Okinawan band Champloose. They were followed by Sandii & the Sunsetz, who further mixed Japanese and Okinawan influences. Also during the 1980s, Japanese metal and rock bands gave birth to the movement known as visual kei, represented during its history by bands like X Japan, Buck-Tick, Luna Sea, Malice Mizer and many others, some of which experienced national, and international success in the latest years.

In the 1990s, Japanese rock musicians such as B'z, Mr. Children, Glay, Southern All Stars, L'Arc-en-Ciel, Tube, Spitz, Wands, T-Bolan, Judy and Mary, Asian Kung–Fu Generation, Field of View, Deen, Ulfuls, Lindberg, Sharam Q, The Yellow Monkey, The Brilliant Green and Dragon Ash achieved great commercial success.[ citation needed ] B'z is the #1 best selling act in Japanese music since Oricon started to count.[ citation needed ], followed by Mr. Children.[ citation needed ] In the 1990s, pop songs were often used in films, anime, television advertisement and dramatic programming, becoming some of the best-selling forms of music in Japan.[ citation needed ] The rise of disposable pop has been linked with the popularity of karaoke, leading to criticism that it is consumerist: Kazufumi Miyazawa of The Boom said "I hate that buy, listen, and throw away and sing at a karaoke bar mentality." Of the visual kei bands, Luna Sea, whose members toned down their on-stage attire with on-going success, was very successful, while Malice Mizer, La'cryma Christi, Shazna, Janne Da Arc, and Fanatic Crisis also achieved commercial success in the late 1990s.[ citation needed ]

The rock band Supercar, which has been characterized as having "almost foundational importance to 21st century Japanese indie rock", [25] released its influential first album in 1998. [26] They remained active through 2005, with their later albums containing more electronic rock.

Green Stage of the Fuji Rock Festival FujiGreenStage.jpg
Green Stage of the Fuji Rock Festival

The first Fuji Rock Festival opened in 1997. Rising Sun Rock Festival opened in 1999. Summer Sonic Festival and Rock in Japan Festival opened in 2000. Though the rock scene in the 2000s is not as strong, newer bands such as Bump of Chicken, One Ok Rock, Sambomaster, Flow, Orange Range, Remioromen, Uverworld, Radwimps, Ling tosite Sigure and Aqua Timez, which are considered rock bands, have achieved success. Orange Range also adopts[ clarification needed ] hip hop. Established bands as B'z, Mr. Children, Glay, and L'Arc-en-Ciel also continue to top charts, though B'z and Mr. Children are the only bands to maintain a high standards of their sales along the years.

Japanese rock has a vibrant underground rock scene,[ citation needed ] best known internationally for noise rock bands such as Boredoms and Melt Banana, as well as stoner rock bands such as Boris, psychedelic rock bands such as Acid Mothers Temple, and alternative acts such as Shonen Knife (who were championed in the West by Kurt Cobain), Pizzicato Five and The Pillows (who gained international attention in 1999 for the FLCL soundtrack). More conventional indie rock artists such as Eastern Youth, The Band Apart and Number Girl have found some success in Japan[ citation needed ], but little recognition outside of their home country. Other notable international touring indie rock acts are Mono and Nisennenmondai.

Punk rock / alternative

Early examples of punk rock in Japan include SS, The Star Club, The Stalin, INU  [ ja ], Gaseneta  [ ja ], Bomb Factory, Lizard (who were produced by the Stranglers) and Friction (whose guitarist Reck had previously played with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks before returning to Tokyo) and The Blue Hearts. The early punk scene was immortalized on film by Sogo Ishii, who directed the 1982 film Burst City featuring a cast of punk bands/musicians and also filmed videos for The Stalin. In the 1980s, hardcore bands such as GISM, Gauze, Confuse, Lip Cream and Systematic Death began appearing, some incorporating crossover elements.[ citation needed ] The independent scene also included a diverse number of alternative/post-punk/new wave artists such as Aburadako, P-Model, Uchoten, Auto-Mod, Buck-Tick, Guernica and Yapoos (both of which featured Jun Togawa), G-Schmitt, Totsuzen Danball and Jagatara, along with noise/industrial bands such as Hijokaidan and Hanatarashi.

Ska-punk bands of the late nineties extending in the years 2000 include Shakalabbits and 175R (pronounced "inago rider").

Heavy metal

Japan is known for being a successful area for metal bands touring around the world and many live albums are recorded in Japan. Notable examples are Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East , Deep Purple's Made in Japan , Iron Maiden's Maiden Japan , Michael Schenker Group's One Night at Budokan and Dream Theater's Live at Budokan .

Japanese heavy metal bands started emerging in the late 1970s, pioneered by bands like Bow Wow, formed in 1975 by guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto, and Loudness, formed in 1981 by guitarist Akira Takasaki. Although there existed other contemporary bands, like Earthshaker, Anthem and 44 Magnum, their debut albums were released only around the mid eighties when metal bands started getting a major exposure. First oversease live performances were by Bow Wow in 1978 in Hong Kong and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, as well played at the Reading Festival in England in 1982. [27] In 1983, Loudness toured United States and Europe, and started focusing more on an international career. In 1985, the first Japanese metal act was signed to a major label in the United States. Their albums Thunder in the East and Lightning Strikes , released in 1985 and 1986, peaked at number 74 (while number 4 in homeland Oricon chart), and number 64 in the Billboard 200 charts respectively. [28] [29] Till the end of the eighties only two other bands, Ezo and Dead End, got their albums released in the United States. In the eighties few bands had a female members, like all-female band Show-Ya fronted by Keiko Terada, and Terra Rosa with Kazue Akao on vocals. In September 1989, Show-Ya's album Outerlimits was released, it reached number 3 in the Oricon album chart. [30] Heavy metal bands reached their peak in the late 1980s and many disbanded until the mid-1990s.

Concert of pioneer of visual kei, X Japan at Hong Kong in 2009 after their 2007 reunion. Xjapan hongkong.jpg
Concert of pioneer of visual kei, X Japan at Hong Kong in 2009 after their 2007 reunion.

In 1982, some of the first Japanese glam metal bands were formed, like Seikima-II with Kabuki-inspired makeup, and X Japan who pioneered the Japanese movement known as visual kei, and became the best-selling metal band. [31] In 1985, Seikima-II's album Seikima-II - Akuma ga Kitarite Heavy Metal was released and although it reached number 48 on the Oricon album chart, it exceeded 100,000 in sales, the first time for any Japanese metal band. Their albums charted regularly in the top ten until the mid 1990s. In April 1989, X Japan's second album Blue Blood was released and went to number 6, and after 108 weeks on charts sold 712,000 copies. [32] Their third and best-selling album Jelaousy was released in July 1991; it topped the charts and sold 1.11 million copies. [32] There were released more two number one studio albums, Art of Life and Dahlia , a singles compilation X Singles , all selling more than half a million, [33] and since the formation had thirteenth top five singles, disbanding in 1997. [34]

Japanese metal came to global attention in 2014 with the international success of "kawaii metal" band Babymetal. This was brought about through viral YouTube hits like "Gimme Chocolate!!" as well as successful international live shows including the UK's Sonisphere Festival 2014 and Canada's Heavy Montréal alongside the likes of Metallica and Slayer. Babymetal was also the opening act to five of Lady Gaga's concerts in her ArtRave: The Artpop Ball 2014 tour. [35] [36] Babymetal won numerous awards including Kerrang!'s The Spirit of Independence Award and Metal Hammer's Breakthrough Band Award. In 2016 they are due to begin a world tour at London's Wembley Arena before concluding in Japan with the band's debut performance in the Tokyo Dome. [37]

Extreme metal

Japanese extreme metal bands formed in the wake of American and European wave, but didn't get any bigger exposure until the 1990s, and like overseas the genre is usually treated as an underground form of music in Japan.[ citation needed ] First thrash metal bands formed in the early 1980s, like United, whose music also incorporates death metal elements, and Outrage. United's first international performance took place in Los Angeles at the metal festival "Foundations Forum" in September 1995 and had few albums released in North America. Formed in the mid 1980s, Doom played a gig in the United States in October 1988 at CBGB, and was active until 2000 when disbanded.

The first bands to play black metal music were Sabbat, who is still active, and Bellzlleb, who was active until the early 1990s. Another notable acts are Sigh, Abigail, and Gallhammer.

Doom metal has also gained an audience in Japan. The two best-known Japanese doom metal acts are Church of Misery and Boris, both of whom have gained considerable popularity outside the country.

Hip hop

Hip-hop is a newer form of music on the Japanese music scene. Many felt it was a trend that would immediately pass. However, the genre has lasted for many years and is still thriving. In fact, rappers in Japan did not achieve the success of hip-hop artists in other countries until the late 1980s. This was mainly due to the music world's belief that "Japanese sentences were not capable of forming the rhyming effect that was contained in American rappers' songs." [38] There is a certain, well-defined structure to the music industry called "The Pyramid Structure of a Music Scene". As Ian Condry notes, "viewing a music scene in terms of a pyramid provides a more nuanced understanding of how to interpret the significance of different levels and kinds of success." [39] The levels are as follows (from lowest to highest): fans and potential artists, performing artists, recording artists (indies), major label artists, and mega-hit stars. These different levels can be clearly seen at a genba, or nightclub. Different "families" of rappers perform on stage. A family is essentially a collection of rap groups that are usually headed by one of the more famous Tokyo acts, which also include a number of proteges. [40] They are important because they are "the key to understanding stylistic differences between groups." [40] Hip-hop fans in the audience are the ones in control of the night club. They are the judges who determine the winners in rap battles on stage. An example of this can be seen with the battle between rap artists Dabo (a major label artist) and Kan (an indie artist). Kan challenged Dabo to a battle on stage while Dabo was mid-performance. Another important part of night clubs was displayed at this time. It showed "the openness of the scene and the fluidity of boundaries in clubs." [41]


Grime is a British electronic genre [42] [43] that emerged in the early 2000s derivative of UK garage and jungle, [44] and draws influence from dancehall, ragga, and hip hop. [45] The style is typified by rapid, syncopated breakbeats, generally around 140 bpm, [46] [47] and often features an aggressive or jagged electronic sound. [48] Rapping is also a significant element of the style, and lyrics often revolve around gritty depictions of urban life. [49]

In 2004, Japanese DJ's had begun to play grime. [50] It wasn't until 2008 that MC's, primarily from Osaka, began to emerge. The MC's were inspired by British grime crew Roll Deep, and their mixtape Rules And Regulations. The Osaka MC's consisted of pioneers MC Dekishi, MC Duff and MC Tacquilacci. [51] [52] MC Dekishi released the first ever Japanese grime mixtape in 2009, titled "Grime City Volume 1". [50] Osaka MC's are known for rapping extremely fast. [53] Another scene sprung up in the Tokyo region of Shibuya led by Carpainter, Double Clapperz, MC ONJUICY, PAKIN and Sakana Lavenda. [51]

Electropop and club music

Electronic pop music in Japan became a successful commodity with the "technopop" craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.[ citation needed ], beginning with Yellow Magic Orchestra and solo albums of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono in 1978 before hitting popularity in 1979 and 1980. Influenced by disco, impressionistic and 20th century classical composition, jazz/fusion pop, new wave and technopop artists such as Kraftwerk and Telex, these artists were commercial yet uncompromising.[ citation needed ] Ryuichi Sakamoto claims that "to me, making pop music is not a compromise because I enjoy doing it". The artists that fall under the banner of technopop in Japan are as loose as those that do so in the West, thus new wave bands such as P-Model and The Plastics fall under the category alongside the symphonic techno arrangements of Yellow Magic Orchestra. The popularity of this music meant that many popular artists of the 1970s that previously were known for acoustic music turned to techno production, such as Taeko Onuki and Akiko Yano, and idol producers began employing electronic arrangements for new singers in the 1980s.[ citation needed ] In the 1990s, Denki Groove and Capsule formed and have been mainstays of the Japanese electronica scene. Today, newer artists such as Polysics pay explicit homage to this era of Japanese popular (and in some cases underground or difficult to obtain) music.[ citation needed ] Capsule's Yasutaka Nakata has also been involved behind the scenes of popular electropop acts Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, both of which have had success domestically and internationally; Kyary in particular has been dubbed the "Kawaii Harajuku Ambassador" for her visibility internationally.

Roots music

In the late 1980s, roots bands like Shang Shang Typhoon and The Boom became popular. Okinawan roots bands like Nenes and Kina were also commercially and critically successful. This led to the second wave of Okinawan music, led by the sudden success of Rinken Band. A new wave of bands followed, including the comebacks of Champluse and Kina, as led by Kikusuimaru Kawachiya; very similar to kawachi ondo is Tadamaru Sakuragawa's goshu ondo.

Latin, reggae and ska music

Other forms of music from Indonesia, Jamaica and elsewhere were assimilated. African soukous and Latin music, like Orquesta de la Luz (オルケスタ・デ・ラ・ルス), was popular as was Jamaican reggae and ska, exemplified by Mice Teeth, Mute Beat, La-ppisch, Home Grown and Ska Flames, Determinations, and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

Noise music

Another recognized music form from Japan is noise music. The noise from this country is called Japanoise. Its most prominent representative is Masami Akita with his project Merzbow.

Theme music

Theme music composed for films, anime (anison(アニソン)), tokusatsu and Japanese television dramas are considered a separate music genre. While musicians and bands from all genres of Japanese popular music have recorded songs and scores for Japanese television and film, there are several prominent musical artists and groups who have spent most of their musical careers performing theme songs and composing soundtracks for visual media. Such artists include Masato Shimon (current holder of the world record for most successful single in Japan for "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun"), [54] Ichirou Mizuki, all of the members of JAM Project (i.e. Hironobu Kageyama Who sung the Openings for ‘’Dengeki Sentai Changeman’’ And ‘’Dragon Ball Z’’), Akira Kushida, members of Project.R, Isao Sasaki and Mitsuko Horie. Notable composers of Japanese theme music include Joe Hisaishi, Michiru Oshima, Yoko Kanno, Toshihiko Sahashi, Yuki Kajiura, Kōtarō Nakagawa, Shunsuke Kikuchi and Yuki Hayashi.

Game music

When the first electronic games were sold, they only had rudimentary sound chips with which to produce music. As the technology advanced, the quality of sound and music these game machines could produce increased dramatically. The first game to take credit for its music was Xevious , also noteworthy for its deeply (at that time) constructed stories. Though many games have had beautiful music to accompany their gameplay, one of the most important games in the history of the video game music is Dragon Quest . Koichi Sugiyama, a composer who was known for his music for various anime and TV shows, including Cyborg 009 and a feature film of Godzilla vs. Biollante , got involved in the project out of pure curiosity and proved that games can have serious soundtracks. Until his involvement, music and sounds were often neglected in the development of video games and programmers with little musical knowledge were forced to write the soundtracks as well. Undaunted by technological limits, Sugiyama worked with only 8 part polyphony to create a soundtrack that would not tire the player despite hours and hours of gameplay.

Another well-known author of video game music is Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu's earlier compositions for the game series, Final Fantasy , on Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System in America), are being arranged for full orchestral score. In 2003, he took his rock-based tunes from their original MIDI format and created The Black Mages.

Yasunori Mitsuda is the composer of music for such games as Xenogears , Xenosaga Episode I , Chrono Cross , and Chrono Trigger .

Koji Kondo, the sound manager for Nintendo, is also prominent on the Japanese game music scene. He is best known for his Zelda and Mario themes.

Jun Senoue is well known for composing music for Sonic the Hedgehog. He also is the main guitarist of Crush 40, who is known for creating the theme songs to Sonic Adventure , Sonic Adventure 2 , Sonic Heroes , Shadow the Hedgehog , and Sonic and the Black Knight , as well as providing music to other Sonic games.

Motoi Sakuraba is another well-known video game composer. He is known for composing the Tales of series , Dark Souls , Eternal Sonata , Star Ocean , Valkyrie Profile , Golden Sun , and the Baten Kaitos games, as well as numerous Mario sports games.

Yuzo Koshiro is also noted for his work with games, having composed electronic music-influenced soundtracks for games like Revenge of Shinobi and the Streets of Rage series.

The techno/trance music production group I've Sound has made a name for themselves first by making themes for eroge computer games, and then by breaking into the anime scene by composing themes for them. Unlike others, this group was able to find fans in other parts of the world through their eroge and anime themes.

Today, game soundtracks are sold on CD, as well on digitally on websites such as iTunes. Famous singers like Hikaru Utada, Nana Mizuki and BoA sometimes sing songs for games as well, and this is also seen as a way for singers to make a names for themselves.

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

The music of Australia has an extensive history made of music societies. Indigenous Australian music is a part of the unique heritage of a 40,000 to 60,000 year history which produced the iconic didgeridoo. Contemporary fusions of indigenous and Western styles mark distinctly Australian contributions to world music. During its early western history, Australia was a collection of British colonies, and Australian folk music and bush ballads such as "Waltzing Matilda" were heavily influenced by Anglo-Celtic traditions, while classical forms were derived from those of Europe. Contemporary Australian music ranges across a broad spectrum with trends often concurrent with those of the US, the UK, and similar nations – notably in the Australian rock and Australian country music genres. Tastes have diversified along with post-World War II multicultural immigration to Australia.

Yellow Magic Orchestra Japanese electronic music group

Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) are a Japanese electronic music band formed in Tokyo in 1978 by Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The group is considered influential and innovative in the field of popular electronic music. They were pioneers in their use of synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines, computers, and digital recording technology in popular music, and effectively anticipated the "electropop boom" of the 1980s. They are credited with playing a key role in the development of several electronic genres, including synthpop, J-pop, electro, and techno, while exploring subversive sociopolitical themes throughout their career.

The music of Finland can be roughly divided into categories of folk music, classical and contemporary art music, and contemporary popular music.

Music of Indonesia

The music of Indonesia demonstrates its cultural diversity, the local musical creativity, as well as subsequent foreign musical influences that shaped contemporary music scenes of Indonesia. Nearly thousands of Indonesian islands having its own cultural and artistic history and character. This results in hundreds of different forms of music, which often accompanies by dance and theatre.

J-pop, natively also known simply as pops, is a musical genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s. Modern J-pop has its roots in traditional Japanese music, but significantly in 1960s pop and rock music, such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys, which led to Japanese rock bands such as Happy End fusing rock with Japanese music in the early 1970s. J-pop was further defined by new wave groups in the late 1970s, particularly electronic synth-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra and pop rock band Southern All Stars.

Lounge music is a type of easy listening music popular in the 1950s and 1960s. It may be meant to evoke in the listeners the feeling of being in a place, usually with a tranquil theme, such as a jungle, an island paradise or outer space. The range of lounge music encompasses beautiful music–influenced instrumentals, modern electronica, while remaining thematically focused on its retro-space-age cultural elements. The earliest type of lounge music appeared during the 1920s and 1930s, and was known as light music. In the 21st century, the term lounge music may also be used to describe the types of music played in hotels, casinos, supermarkets, several restaurants, and piano bars.

Southern All Stars, also known by the abbreviations Sazan (サザン) and SAS, are a Japanese rock band that first formed in 1974.

Okinawan music, also known as Ryukyuan music, is the music of the Okinawa Islands of southwestern Japan. In modern times, it may also refer to the musical traditions of Okinawa Prefecture, which also covers the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands, and sometimes the Amami Islands.

Funk rock music genre that fuses funk and rock elements

Funk rock is a fusion genre that mixes elements of funk and rock. James Brown and others declared that Little Richard and his mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, were the first to put the funk in the rock and roll beat, with a biographer stating that their music "spark[ed] the musical transition from fifties rock and roll to sixties funk."

Soul Flower Union, also known as SFU, is a Japanese musical group that incorporates Asian styles and world music styles into a rock and roll band. They are known for their blend of psychedelic, rock, Okinawan music, Celtic music, chindon, swing jazz, as well as Japanese, Chinese and Korean folk musics. Most of their songs are written and performed in Japanese, although they are fond of using phrases from a number of other languages, including English, French, Italian, Korean, Arabic and Ainu.

Wont Be Long 1990 single by Da Bubblegum Brothers

"Won't Be Long" is a collaboration single by Japanese group Exile and singer-songwriter Koda Kumi. It debuted on #2 on Oricon and stayed there for the weekly ranking, bringing its monthly rank to #6.

Japanese ska is ska music made in Japan. It is, along with its counterparts elsewhere in the world, part of what has been called the "third wave of ska [that] combines the traditional Jamaican Club sound with metal, punk, folk, funk, and/or country."

Funky Monkey Babys (ファンキー・モンキー・ベイビーズ) is a Japanese band formed in 2004 under the record company Dreamusic Incorporated.

Linda Linda 1987 single by The Blue Hearts

"Linda Linda" (リンダリンダ) is a single by the Japanese rock band The Blue Hearts that was first released on May 1, 1987. Lyrics and music were written by Hiroto Kōmoto, the band's lead vocalist, and was arranged by The Blue Hearts. The track reached #38 on the Oricon charts during its release year.

<i>Montage</i> (Yen Town Band album) 1996 studio album by Yen Town Band (Chara)

Montage is the concept album by Yen Town Band, fictional music group from the 1996 motion picture Swallowtail directed by Shunji Iwai. The album was actually recorded by a Japanese singer-songwriter Chara who played the starring role in the film. It was released by the Sony Music Entertainment Japan in September 1996.

Babymetal Japanese all-female metal group

Babymetal are a Japanese kawaii metal band. The band consists of Suzuka Nakamoto as "Su-metal" and Moa Kikuchi as "Moametal". The band is produced by Kobametal from the Amuse talent agency. Their vocals are backed by heavy metal instrumentation, performed by a group of session musicians known as the "Kami Band" at performances.

Sekai no Owari band from Japan

Sekai no Owari is a Japanese pop band, originating from Tokyo. The band was formed in 2005 and has four members: Nakajin, Fukase, Saori and DJ Love.

City pop is a loosely defined subset of pop music that originated in Japan in the late 1970s. It was originally termed as an offshoot of Japan's Western-influenced "new music", but came to include a wide range of styles associated with the country's nascent economic boom, such as AOR, soft rock, R&B, funk, and boogie. The genre reached the peak of its popularity in the 1980s before losing mainstream appeal. Since the 2010s, city pop has gained an international online following as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.

Kamijo (musician) Japanese singer

Kamijo is a Japanese singer-songwriter, musician, and music producer. He is best known as lead singer of the visual kei bands Lareine and Versailles. He has also been the head of two independent record labels; the first being Applause Records, and currently Sherow Artist Society since 2006. His music covers many genres, Lareine having mainly a baroque pop style, and Versailles a clear symphonic and neoclassical metal sound. He has an extensive discography with the bands Lareine, New Sodmy and Versailles, consisting of 15 albums, and a large amount of EPs and singles. In 2013, Kamijo began a solo career with his debut single "Louis ~Enketsu no La Vie en Rose~".

Japanese rock, sometimes abbreviated to J-rock, is rock music from Japan. Influenced by American and British rock of the 1960s, the first rock bands in Japan performed what is called Group Sounds, with lyrics almost exclusively in English. Folk rock band Happy End in the early 1970s are credited as the first to sing rock music in the Japanese language. Punk rock bands Boøwy and The Blue Hearts and hard rock/heavy metal groups X Japan and B'z led Japanese rock in the late 1980s and early 1990s by achieving major mainstream success.


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