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9 Famous Japanese Singers and Groups for Light-speed Learning

How many times a day do you hear music when you’re out and about in Japan?

Convenience store jingles.

The chime before the train door slides shut.

Restaurant music.

Music is a huge part of Japanese life and culture.

This not only includes standard artists, but busking, live concerts and anime music, as well.

These make a huge impact on the charts along with the massive karaoke market that has flourished in Japan since the 1970s.

All of this can greatly inform your Japanese learning whether you’re actually in Japan or just dreaming of it as you learn online at home.

Listening to Japanese music—whether it’s live, contemporary artists or anime songs with lyrics—can help improve both your Japanese vocabulary and pronunciation.

So in this post, I’m going to share with you nine famous Japanese singers and groups you simply must check out, as well as recommended songs to help boost your Japanese skills.

Learn a foreign language with videos

Japanese Music Genres

Firstly, there are several music genres that are popular in Japan:

  • ジェイポップ (じぇい ぽっぷ) / J-pop: This high-pitched, fast-paced music is often accompanied by colorful and energetic videos.
  • ケイポップ (けい ぽっぷ) / K-pop: This is similar to J-pop, but from South Korea.
  • ジェイメタル (じぇい めたる) / J-metal: Can you guess what the “J” stands for? Japanese metal has its own huge fanbase, and it’s not something you want to miss if you’re a fan of rock and metal.
  • コンテンポラリー音楽 (こんてんぽらりー おんがく) / Contemporary pop: There are J-pop artists, and there are contemporary pop artists whose music sounds more “conventional” than its rather unique counterpart.
  • 海外の音楽 (かいがい の おんがく) / Foreign music: Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and 1-Direction are popular in Japan.

Excluding K-Pop and foreign music, obviously, all the above genres can help you learn Japanese!

9 Famous Japanese Singers and Groups You Have to Check Out

We’ve rounded up some of the most famous Japanese singers whose music also happens to pack a learning punch—and we’ve linked to some awesome music by these singers for you to sample.

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Now warm up those vocal chords and sing along with these nine famous Japanese singers!

1. 宇多田 ヒカル (うただ ひかる) / Utada Hikaru

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Genre: Contemporary pop/country

Level: Beginner and up

Popular and well-known worldwide, Utada Hikaru has dominated the Japanese music charts since 1997. Many of her songs are slow-paced and clearly sung, so they’re excellent for beginner learners.

Check out a few of her songs:

  • “Heart Station” (はーと すてーしょん). “Heart Station” tells the story of two people separated, but still able to communicate by a forbidden radio signal… Utada hopes. Even if you don’t fall in love with the tune, the lyrics are sung clearly, making them easier for you to understand than those in some faster-paced songs.
  • “First Love” (ふぁーすと らぶ) (mostly in Japanese, a few lines in English). This was one of Utada Hikaru’s first popular songs, and is still played in restaurants and shops 17 years after its initial release. It’s an emotional classic that can teach you lots of romantic vocabulary.
  • “Sakura Drops” (さくら どろっぷす). A sad song about heartbreak. This one is slightly harder to understand, but why not challenge yourself?

2. きゃりー ぱみゅ ぱみゅ/ Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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Genre: J-pop

Level: Intermediate and up

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a classic example of J-pop, and her fashion style rivals even that of Lady Gaga.

Her fast-paced songs can sound like a jumbled mess at first, but if you’d like a challenge, have a listen to her most popular songs:

  • “PONPONPON” (ぽん ぽん ぽん) (besides the Japanese, there are some “nonsense” lyrics in there, too). “PONPONPON” is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s most well-known song, and has appeared on taiko and karaoke as well as the radio stations. Give it a listen; it’s catchy!
  • “Ninja Re Bang Bang” (にんじゃり ばんばん). If you like more electronic-sounding J-pop, this song might be up your street. It has a nostalgic feel to it; if you’ve seen the anime series “Monogatari,” you may have heard “Ninja Re Bang Bang” before. It’s a real toe-tapper.
  • Love fake eyelashes? Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also sang a song all about 睫 (まつげ) or… eyelashes. The music video of this song, which is called “Tsukematsukeru” (つけま つける), is also something to behold.

3. 初音ミク (はつね みく) / Hatsune Miku

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Genre: J-pop

Level: Intermediate and up

What makes Hatsune Miku special? Only the fact that she isn’t real. Not in our world, anyway. Hatsune Miku is best described by Wikipedia as a “humanoid persona voiced by a singing synthesizer application developed by Crypton Future Media.”

In other words, Miku is a 16-year-old, turquoise-haired cartoon with a voice created by a computer. And the good people of Japan love her for it. And yes, she holds live concerts. To be fair, if you closed her eyes, would you be able to tell that wasn’t a human’s voice?

  • “World Is Mine” (わーるど いず まいん) is one of her classics; it’s a song by Supercell where Hatsune Miku provided the vocals. Or the software producer guy, if you want to split hairs. It’s a good one to start out with.
  • Another popular Hatsune Miku song is “Yellow” (いえろー), though it’s a bit more autotune-esque than “World Is Mine.”

4. エー ケー ビー フォーティエイト(えー けー びー ふぉーてぃえいと) / AKB48

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Genre: Pop / J-pop

Level: Beginner and up

AKB48 is a massive Japanese girl band. AKB stands for Akihabara, a district in Tokyo, and 48 stands for the 48 members of the band. AKB48 is an example of pop culture gone wild; there was even a news story detailing how a member shaved her head in shame after being caught dating a man (here’s the story in English). AKB48 has churned out some great songs over the years.

Here are a couple of their best:

  • “Heavy Rotation” (へびー ろーてーしょん) (Japanese with a few lines in English). This is probably the group’s most well-known song due to its catchy tune… and perhaps its music video. Typical fast-paced, high-pitched J-pop.

5. バンプ オブ チキン (ばんぷ おぶ ちきん) / Bump of Chicken

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Genre: Alternative rock

Level: Upper-intermediate and up

Bump of Chicken is a very popular alternative rock band consisting of four men from Chiba. Their easily recognizable songs have been influencing the Japanese music charts since 1994.

Check out these differently-paced ones:

  • “Karma” (かるま) (fast-paced). “Karma” was released in 2006 and is still one of their best songs. The lyrics are quite metaphorical, making them a challenging listen. It’s also very catchy and fast.
  • “Colony” (ころにー) (slow-paced). This song is almost opposite to “Karma.” It’s relaxing, slow-paced and the lyrics are a poetic description of sadness and loss. It also has a pretty amazing music video.
  • “Star Gazing” (てんたい かんそく) (mid-to-fast-paced). This is a song about stargazing as a child. It’s a tune of nostalgia and friendship.
  • There’s also Bump of Chicken’s song “Aria” (ありあ) (mid-paced), which also happens to be the theme song for the drama “Aogeba Toutoshi.” As always, BOC’s lyrics are poetic and metaphorical, making them a fun challenge for Japanese learners.

6. 嵐 (あらし) / Arashi

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Genre: J-pop

Level: Beginner and up

If we’re going to talk about Japanese all-male bands, then it would be a sin to not mention Arashi. This pop boy band has been active since 1999 and still releases albums today, the latest of which was “Are You Happy?”

Individual members of the band often do things besides singing with the group, as they’re considered “idols” in Japan. For example, Satoshi Ohno, nicknamed “Leader,” often appears on television as a solo act. Jun Matsumoto is also a talented actor, probably best known for his role in the J-drama “Hana Yori Dango.”

Here are some great songs by Arashi. They’re family-friendly, catchy and great for a car ride.

  • “Love So Sweet” (らぶ そー すいーと) (Japanese with a few lines in English). As the title suggests, this song is about love, holding a lot of nice romantic vocabulary for you to sink your teeth into.
  • “Monster” (もんすたー) is a popular song that’s very easy to understand for Japanese learners. Imagine Halloween, but throw in a bunch of J-pop cuteness and handsome men.
  • “Power of the Paradise” (ぱわー おぶ ざ ぱらだいす) (Japanese, a few lines in English), a newer song. Arashi really moves with the times, and this new catchy tune is still in their style, but sounds modern and attractive.

7. 倖田來未 (こうだ くみ) / Koda Kumi

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Genre: Pop

Level: Lower-intermediate and up

Koda Kumi is well-known for her unusually deep and husky voice. If you’re a fan of the “Final Fantasy” games, these songs may sound familiar:

  • “Real Emotion” (りある えもーしょん) (mostly Japanese with a few lines in English; mid-paced). Featured in “Final Fantasy X-2,” this song describes a bond between her and an unnamed man. Perhaps it’s a reference to the previous game.
  • “1000 Words” (せん の ことば) (slow-paced). This song has a lot of useful vocabulary to learn, and tells the heartbreaking story of two lovers coming to an untimely end. There’s also an English version of the same song.
  • If you haven’t played “Final Fantasy,” there’s still plenty of Koda Kumi for you to sink your teeth into, such as “You” (ゆー) (a song about meeting her lover in the snow) and “Moon Crying” (むーん くらいんぐ) (slow-paced).

8. 大塚愛 (おおつか あい) / Ai Otsuka

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Genre: J-pop / pop

Level: Lower-intermediate and up

Ai Otsuka is from Osaka, and her song “Sakuranbo” (さくらんぼ) was on the top 200 singles chart for 103 weeks in a row.

Other songs of hers include:

  • “Planetarium” (ぷらねたりうむ). If you loved “Hana Yori Dango,” mentioned earlier, you might recognize this song.
  • “Love Is Born” (もも の はなびら). With the use of shamisen, this song is upbeat and has an Okinawan, beach-esque feel to it. Both of these songs have a steady pace that’s easy to listen to.

9. ナイトメア (ないとめあ) / Nightmare

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Genre: J-rock / J-metal

Level: Intermediate and up

If you love rock and metal, then you could say this post saved the best for last. Nightmare is a unique J-metal band most well-known for their contribution to the anime “Death Note,” with songs like:

  • “The WORLD” (ざ わーるど), was the opening for the first season of “Death Note” and describes exchanged promises, evil and destruction. Definitely one for your playlist if you like exciting songs.
  • “Alumina” (あるみな) is another fantastic song from the anime, arguably more emotional than “the WORLD.”
  • “Quints” (くいんとす) (Japanese with the chorus in English) also has some great guitar riffs that you should check out if you love rock. Not to mention the catchy-as-heck chorus and lyrics, which talk about the curse of fame.

Japan continues to produce A-class pop and rock artists.

Why not spice up your Japanese study with some music?

Choose your favorite genre and have a listen!

You might just find your next favorite artist.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.

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