These days, if an everyday person knows anything about Japanese culture, it’s that they like ‘cute’ things. But, while that is generally true, Japan is so~~ much more than just cute things and school-girl uniforms. Obviously, I’m only going to talk about their music here, since that’s the point of this blog post, but I encourage everyone to learn more about their culture in general because it’s very interesting ^^ As for their music, it’s as diverse as the American market (their market is also second only to America in sales). They have the usual rock, rap/hip-hop, pop, jazz, etc (in their own style, of course); but, they also have their own unique genres like visual kei and enka. I’m only going to showcase a few here today, but please take the time to look up more! Enjoy!
JPop or Japanese pop/popular music is similar to pop around the world, just with a Japanese style added to it. Japan’s pop scene runs largely on an idol system, but does feature non-idol artists/groups as well. Some popular singers/groups to look into are: Ayumi Hamasaki, Perfume, AKB48, Arashi, Utada Hikaru, and Morning Musume. For this category, I have chosen Exile‘s New Horizon (lyrics)(Japanese). This 19 member (yes, you read that right) group has been around since 1999 and is basically the pinnacle of Japanese boy bands, even their music videos are topnotch!
Moving on to Jrock or Japanese rock music, you can find a myriad of different sub-genres just the same as you can with American rock. Some popular rock artists/groups to check out are Scandal, Miyavi, The Scanty, Uverworld, and One OK Rock. Obviously, there are a lot more I could list given the diversity of this genre, but I’ll leave that for you to explore on your own! For Jrock, I picked a group that is 100% uniquely Japanese; here’s BABYMETAL‘s ギミチョコ！！(Gimme chocolate!!) (lyrics)(Japanese). Fusing metal and idol genres might seem a strange combo to many, but these girls pull it off beautiful!
Next up is visual kei, something that many people come across when first exploring Japanese music and the one most likely to make them go “Japan is weird…”. Yes, I am aware that visual kei isn’t ‘really’ a genre of music and more a whole subculture, but I’m looking at it from a musical perspective for this post. Visual kei bands can play any kind of music, from pop to heavy metal, although they usually fall into the heavier rock categories. These groups are easy to spot with their often elaborate hair styles/make-up and flamboyant costumes (sometimes coupled with androgynous aesthetics). Some groups to look into are Dir En Grey, Malice Mizer, L’Arc-en-Ciel, The Gazette, and Vivid. I picked Royz‘s Egoist (lyrics)(Japanese) for this category. I actually don’t know much about them, having just discovered this song while randomly searching for this post, but I definitely plain to check them out later!
Lastly we have enka, a genre that stylistically resembles traditional Japanese music. Now, I’m not overly familiar with this genre as I don’t listen to it very often, but I am aware that there are traditional and modern styles. Some artists to check out include Keiko Fuji (who also happens to be the mother of Utada Hikaru, whom I mentioned above), Fuyumi Sakamoto, Aya Shimazu, Kiyoshi Hikawa, and Kaori Mizumori. For this category, I picked someone special; here’s Jero‘s Fake Crying (lyrics)(Japanese). Jero is an American of African-American and Japanese descent and is the first black enka singer in Japanese music history. Enka isn’t a popular genre among the younger generations, but African-American culture is, and some hope Jero can bridge the gap. I’d say he’s well on his way! You can learn a bit more about him and enka here.
Have you explored Japanese music before? What are your favorite artists/groups? Leave them in a comment below, and be sure to include any suggestions you may have for future SMILEs!