Music of Japan  

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Canon: Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yasuaki Shimizu, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Susumu Yokota

"Over the last few years, obscure Japanese ambient classics like Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Green and Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass have surged in popularity. Lewis Gordon investigates the phenomenon, talking to the record collectors and vendors in the US, UK and Japan that helped inform a new wave of interest." --Factmag[1]

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Arrival of Western 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. Western music, especially military marches, soon became popular in Japan. 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.

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. This developed into a form of ballad called enka, which became quite popular in the 20th century, though its popularity has waned since the 1970s and enjoys little favour with contemporary youth. Famous enka singers include Misora Hibari and Ikuzo Yoshi. Also at the end of the 19th century, an Osakan form of streetcorner singing became popular; this was called ryūkōka. This included the first two Japanese stars, Yoshida Naramura and Tochuken Kumoemon.

Westernized pop music is called kayōkyoku, which is said to have and first appeared in a dramatization of Resurrection by Tolstoy, sung by Matsui Samako. The song became a hit among enka singers, and was one of the first major best-selling records in Japan. Kayōkyoku became a major industry, especially after the arrival of superstar Misora Hibari.

Later, in the 1950s, tango and other kinds of Latin music, especially Cuban music, became very popular in Japan. 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 pops. In the 1960s, Japanese bands imitated The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, along with other Appalachian folk music, psychedelic rock, mod and similar genres; this was called Group Sounds.

Since then, bubblegum pop and J-Pop have become some of the best-selling forms of music, and are often used in films and television, especially in Japanese animation. The rise of disposable pop has been linked with the popularity of karaoke, leading to much criticism that |consumerist]] and shallow. For example, Kazufumi Miyazawa of The Boom, claims "I hate that buy, listen, and throw away and sing at a karaoke bar mentality."

Electronic pop music in Japan became a successful commodity with the Technopop craze of the late 70s and 80s, beginning with Yellow Magic Orchestra and solo albums of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono in 1978 before hitting popularity in 79/80. 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; 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 70s 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 80s. 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.

The late 90's brought the arrival of many new artists and groups, including Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada Hikaru, and Morning Musume. Utada Hikaru's debut album, "First Love", went on to be the highest-selling album in Japan with 10 million copies sold, and Morning Musume remains one of the most well-known girl groups in the Japanese pop music industry, becoming Japan's best-selling female group with their 33rd single, Kanashimi Twilight.

Western classical music

Western classical music has a strong presence in Japan and the country is one of the most important markets music tradition, with Toru Takemitsu (famous as well for his avant-garde works and movie scoring) being the best known. 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. Japan is also home to the world's leading wind band, the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and the largest music competition of any kind, the All-Japan Band Association national contest.


From the 1930s on (except during World War II, when it was repressed as music of the enemy), jazz has had a strong presence in Japan. The country is an important market for the music, and it is common that recordings no longer available in the United States are available in Japan. A number of Japanese jazz musicians have achieved popularity abroad as well as at home. 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.

Rock music

Homegrown Japanese country rock had developed by the late 1960s. Artists like Happy End are considered to have virtually developed the genre. During the 1970s, it grew more popular. The Okinawan band Champloose, along with Carol, RC Succession and Shinji Harada were especially famous and helped define the genre's sound. In the 1980s, the Boøwy, Southern All Stars became the biggest band in Japanese rock's history, and inspired alternative rock bands like Shonen Knife & the Boredoms and Tama & Little Creatures. Most influentially, the 1980s spawned Yellow Magic Orchestra, which was inspired by developing electronic music, led by Haruomi Hosono. In the latter period, B'z has won number 1 in Oricon single chart from 1990's "Taiyō no Komachi Angel" to the present day.

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 80's, Japanese rock bands gave birth to the movement known as visual kei, represented during its history by bands like Buck-Tick, X Japan, Luna Sea, Dir en grey and many other, some of which success in the recent years. L'Arc~en~Ciel has remained popular since the 1990s and vocalist Hyde became more notable in the early 2000s with an alternative rock solo project, most notably with the album Faith.

Japanese rock, also known by the abbreviation "J-rock", has a vibrant underground rock scene, best known internationally for noise rock bands such as Boredoms and Melt Banana, as well as stoner rock and doom metal bands such as Boris and Church of Misery. More conventional indie rock artists such as Eastern Youth and Number Girl have found some mainstream success in Japan, but relatively little recognition outside of their home country.

Punk rock / alternative

Early examples of punk rock / no wave in Japan include The SS, The Star Club, The Stalin, INU, Gaseneta, 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). The early punk scene was immortalised 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 80s, hardcore bands such as G.I.S.M, Gauze, Confuse, Lip Cream and Systematic Death began appearing, some incorporating crossover elements. 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, La-ppisch, 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.

Later examples of Japanese alternative bands are Ellegarden, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, The Blue Hearts, Shonen Knife, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation.

Another subgenre is characterized by highly technical, yet dissonant, instrumentals. The vocal style runs the gamut from J-Pop style, to incoherent screeching, to traditional Japanese style singing. Lyrics may be generally nonsensical and random. Their visual style also reflects this and may run to the extremes in Visual kei bands. This style seems to be a conscious rejection of the old Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks out will be hammered down." When their culture prides itself on conformity and harmony, these artists strive to create dissonance and attract the wrong kind of attention. This is relatively new genre, getting its start in the late 1990s and just now getting its voice heard. Notable bands in this subgenre include: Limited Express (has gone?), Alice Nine, GazettE, Peaches55, Musyaburui and Peelander-Z.

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 Rinkenband. A new wave of bands followed, including the comebacks of Champluse and Kina, as , led by Kikusuimaru Kawachiya; very similar to kawachi ondo is Tademaru Sakuragawa's goshu ondo.

Heavy metal

Japan is known for being a successful area for metal bands touring around the world and as a result, most of the recorded live albums are done in Japan. Some notable examples are Deep Purple's Made In Japan, Blind Guardian's Tokyo Tales, Children Of Bodom's Tokyo Warhearts and Ozzy Osbourne's Live At Budokan.

The most popular metal genre in Japan is Neo-classical Metal and Power Metal. Bands such as Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Angra, DragonForce, Firewind, and Sinergy have had major success in Japan. Japanese Neo-classical bands also had success among international Neo-classical fans with Concerto Moon and Ark Storm being the leading bands.

Speed Metal, Melodic Death Metal and Doom Metal also has followings. Many of the older Japanese metal bands (1980's to 1990's) are speed metal due to the success of X Japan. Extreme metal is usually treated as an underground form of music in Japan. Notable bands are Blood Stain Child and Sigh. It should be noted that despite being a death metal band, Arch Enemy have had major success in Japan.

Loudness is the most successful Japanese heavy metal band outside Japan. Their 6th album Lightning Strikes peaked at #64 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart.

Latin, Reggae and Ska music

Other forms of music, from Indonesia, Jamaica and elsewhere, were assimilated. African soukous and Latin music was popular as was Jamaican reggae and ska, exemplified by Mute Beat and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

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 the 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 of Mistwalker. Even Uematsu's earlier compositions for the game series, Final Fantasy, on Famicom (Nintendo in America) are being arranged for full orchestral score. In 2003, he even took his rock-based tunes from their original MIDI format and created The Black Mages.

Yasunori Mitsuda is also a highly known composer when it comes to the music video game industry. From Xenogears to Xenosaga Episode I to Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger, Mitsuda has performed an amazing array of songs.

Koji Kondo, the main composer for Nintendo, is also prominent on the Japanese game music scene. He is best-known for the Zelda and Mario themes.

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. Famous singers like Utada Hikaru sometimes sing songs for games as well, and this is also seen as a way for unknown singers to make their names for themselves.

The Komoriuta is also a form of traditional Japanese music, it being a a form of lullaby.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Music of Japan" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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