So you’re well on your way to being fluent in Japanese?
To put it like The Beatles so aptly did, “It’s been a hard day’s night and you’ve been working like a dog.”
Then why is it you can’t seem to hold a conversation with your Japanese classmate or coworker that goes beyond the weather?
Maybe because they don’t share your all-consuming love of music!
In order to get your Japanese-speaking juices flowing, you’re going to need to engage in conversations about things you really care about, with people who care about them just as much.
And now that you have a good base of Japanese, you’re going to want to beef up your vocabulary with a few tasty music-specific words to spark these kinds of conversations.
So sling your guitar over your head, grab your drumsticks or bust out your sax and get ready to stuff a “whole lotta love” into that Japanese word bank!
So Why Learn This Music Stuff?
Meet Like-minded Japanese Speakers
To reiterate, if you’ve ever found yourself in a conversation that just does not progress, the issue might not be with your Japanese…it might be that you and the person you’re talking to have nothing in common!
If you’ve ever been on a date and striking up a conversation is like trying to move a futon up 10 flights of stairs, you get where I’m coming from.
It’s all about context! Say instead you walk into a bar sporting a Ramones tee. Chances are someone will perk up and exclaim おー！ラモーンズ！(おー！らもーんず！— Oh! Ramones!) and you can take it from there!
Deepen Your Japanese Conversations
We’re willing to bet that the most you’ve gotten from your textbook on music has been an innocuous little phrase like:
どんな音楽が好きですか？ (どんな おんがくが すきですか？)
What kind of music do you like?
And that’s all well and good to start the conversation, don’t get me wrong, but it reads more like a question out of an お見合い (おみあい — marriage meeting) or some kind of mind-numbing interview.
Try instead to start off the conversation with finding a common-interest band:
ザ・フーが好きですか？ (ざ・ふーが すきですか？)
Do you like The Who?
That way, you can go way beyond this question—delve into the ins-and-outs of the best songs on your favorite album, or how Janis Joplin’s career was tragically cut short when she died young at the demon age of 27!
Explore a Whole New Aspect of Japanese Culture
Below the ubiquitous black business suits of 9-5 サラリーマン (さらりーまん — salaryman) culture, in the corners of alleyways and built above subway stations is a whole other dimension of distorted guitar sounds, tattoos and stage-divers waiting to be stumbled into.
When they decide it’s what they want, the degree to which Japanese people commit themselves to their chosen musical lifestyle is inspiring. It’s enough to make you wonder why you can’t even commit to a given task for five minutes before your phone distracts you.
The fierce hierarchical relationships between local bands, the fabled “launch parties” after the shows and the sheer amount of specialized vocabulary in this world is enough to make your mouth water!
Understand Music from a Different Perspective
Ever wonder why J-pop sounds so vastly different from what Westerners call “pop”? While it might not be something you can outright ask someone about, it’s definitely something you can glean from being around music fans and musicians—when you hear the conversations and the aspects of the music they talk about you can tell what’s important to a lot of appreciators.
Great musicianship and flawless live performances are among the many admirable fundamentals of Japanese music…and they’re out there waiting for you to discover them.
Where to Use Your Newfound Musical Prowess
If you’re in Japan or headed there at any point in the future, here are some great places where you can exercise the new music vocabulary you’ll learn in this post.
- Music/Record Stores: Despite the virtual disappearance of music stores in North America, the once ubiquitous Tower Records stores are still found in most big cities in Japan. If records are more your thing, check out the more intimate record stores that pop up, manned by passionate lifetime devotees of rock and the like.
- Music MeetUps: While I’m sure you’ve heard of MeetUp, I’m also pretty sure you haven’t quite plucked up the courage to attend or start a meetup of your very own. This method is guaranteed to find you like-minded musicians and appreciators.
- Music Classes: If you’re picking up a ギター (guitar) for the first time, why not check out classes at Yamaha music or similar music schools? Guaranteed to get you around the right people.
- Local Performances at Public Venues: These can be anything from local festival performances around any city, to organized shows at “live houses.” There’s always something going on…just listen for 太鼓 (たいこ) drums. Check out bulletin boards in your area or, if you’re not in Japan, you can always seek out Japanese performances in your city.
- Practice Studios: If you’re looking around for a place to rock out without waking the neighbors (an absolute certainty if you’ve experienced the thinness of your apartment walls…), try wandering around a local practice studio. Talk to the owner, ask about prices, make a reservation…dive right in.
Break into the Scene with These 90+ Japanese Music Words
One good thing about music vocabulary in Japanese is that a lot of it is derived from English—so as long as you’ve got hiragana and katakana under your belt, you’re off to the races!
Bonus: You can check out these words and more in natural situations with FluentU!
Genres You’ll Want to Talk About
オルタナティヴ (おるたなてぃゔ) — alternative
ガレージ･ロック (がれーじ・ろっく) — garage rock
グラム・ロック (ぐらむ・ろっく) — glam rock
グランジ (ぐらんじ) — grunge
パンク・ロック (ぱんく・ろっく) — punk rock
サイケデリック (さいけでりっく) — psychedelic
デス・メタル (です・めたる) — death metal
ニューウェーブ (にゅーうぇーぶ) — new wave
ハード・ロック (はーど・ろっく) — hard rock
ブリティッシュ・ロック (ぶりてぃっしゅ・ろっく) — British rock
プログレッシヴ・ロック (ぷろぐれっしゔ・ろっく) — progressive rock
ヘヴィ・メタル (へゔぃ・めたる) — heavy metal
ロックン・ロール (ろっくん・ろーる) — rock ‘n roll
ハウス (はうす) — house
ドラムン・ベース (どらむん・べーす) — drum ‘n’ bass
ヒップホップ (ひっぷほっぷ) — hip-hop
ファンク (ふぁんく) — funk
ダブ (だぶ) — dubstep
テクノ (てくの) — techno
ブリット・ポップ (ぶりっと・ぽっぷ) — Brit pop
ポップ (ぽっぷ) — pop
ラップ (らっぷ) — rap
レゲエ (れげえ) — reggae
アール アンド ビー (あーる あんど びー) — R&B
カントリー (かんとりー) — country
ブルース (ぶるーす) — blues
フォーク・ロック (ふぉーく・ろっく) — folk rock
クラシック (くらしっく) — classical
ジャズ (じゃず) — jazz
スカ (すか) — ska
ソウル (そうる) — soul
Distinctly Japanese Genres
民謡 (みんよう) — Japanese folk music/rural music
Hajime Chitose sings an interesting example of Japanese island folk music accompanied only by a shamisen and a male second vocalist.
流行歌 (りゅうこうか) — “popular” music from the 1920s-1960s
There isn’t really a good example of this because it literally means “popular music” and that can span any number of generations, but basically this style in the early 1900s set the precedent for the next genre…
演歌 (えんか) — post-war sentimental ballad music
Here’s a 1960s song by Jun Mayuzumi called “Yuzuki” which is in the typical style, displaying flourishing, emotional vocals to reflect the pain of the post-war years.
ジェイポップ (じぇいぽっぷ) — J-pop
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one before—and it’s hard to pin down, but here’s a recent chart-topper as an example. Just keep in mind…Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is intentionally as bizarre as possible.
ジェイ・ロック (じぇい・ろっく) — J-rock
This too spans a lot of styles, from X Japan to Asian Kung Fu Generation, but One Ok Rock seems to be popular for the moment. Essentially, it’s anything less pop and more rock from Japan!
ヴィジュアル系 (ゔぃじゅあるけい) — Visual Kei
This is actually not a genre per se, but a “movement” among musicians, according to Wikipedia (which will explain this in much more depth than I can!). What you need to know is that the focus is on performance (costumes, makeup and often androgyny), and you’ll hear a lot of glam-rock and metal influences in this kind of style. The Gazette are one of the most successful examples—go ahead and look ’em up!
大体ロックの方が好きだけど、たまにポップの曲を聴きます。 (だいたい ろっくのほうが すきだけど、たまに ぽっぷのきょくをききます。)
Basically I prefer rock but sometimes I listen to pop songs.
パンクが好きだったら、どんなバンドがお勧めですか？ (ぱんくがすきだったら、どんな ばんどが おすすめですか？)
If I like punk, what kind of band would you recommend?
演歌だったら、どの歌手が一番人気がありますか？ (えんかだったら、どのかしゅが いちばん にんきがありますか？)
In Enka, which singer is the most popular?
Describing Your Favorite Songs
Words for Talking About Songs
曲 (きょく) — song
歌詞 (かし) — lyrics
歌手 (かしゅ) — singer
声 (こえ) — voice
コーラス (こーらす) — chorus
バース (ばーす) — verse
メロディー (めろでぃー) — melody
Aメロ (えーめろ) — main melody
Bメロ (びーめろ) — secondary melody
ボーカル (ぼーかる) — vocals
リズム (りずむ) — rhythm
ベースライン (べーすらいん) — bassline
オクターブ (おくたーぶ) — octave
コード/和音 (こーど/わおん) — chord
縦ノリ (たてのり) — “jumping” songs (generally used to describe upbeat or aggressive songs you would “jump” to when dancing)
横ノリ (よこのり) — “swaying” songs (more melodic, relaxed songs you would “sway” to)
ジャカ ジャカ ジャン (じゃか じゃか じゃん) — sound of guitar
頭から (あたま から) — “from the top”
このコーラスはメロディーがいいね。 (このこーらすは めろでぃーが いいね。)
This chorus has a nice melody, doesn’t it?
This singer’s voice is both sad and very beautiful, isn’t it?
ベースラインはすごくかっこいいと思います。 (べーすらいんは すごくかっこいい とおもいます。)
This bassline is really cool, I think.
Knowing Your Instruments
Instruments (and Equipment!)
楽器 (がっき) — instrument
ギター (ぎたー) — guitar
弦 (げん) — strings
シールド (しーるど) — patchcord
ベース (べーす) — bass guitar
ドラム (どらむ) — drums
ピアノ/キーボード (ぴあの・きーぼーど) — piano/keyboard
マイク (まいく) — microphone
バイオリン (ばいおりん) — violin
チェロ (ちぇろ) — cello
オーボエ (おーぼえ) — oboe
トランペット (とらんぺっと) — trumpet
サックスフォン (さっくすふぉん) — saxophone
ウッドベース (うっどべーす) — double bass
ハープ (はーぷ) — harp
チューナー (ちゅーなー) — tuner
ハーモニカ (はーもにか) — harmonica
口笛 (くちぶえ) — whistle
タンバリン (たんばりん) — tambourine
アンプ (あんぷ) — amp
琵琶 (びわ) — biwa
三味線 (しゃみせん) — shamisen
琴 (こと) — koto
太鼓 (たいこ) — taiko drum
尺八 (しゃくはち) — shakuhachi flute
三線 (さんしん) — sanshin
I played drums when I was in high school.
Do you play an instrument?
The double-bass player is really good, isn’t she?
Getting Out to the Shows!
Words for Talking About Shows
ライブ (らいぶ) — live show/music performance
ライブハウス (らいぶ はうす) — venue/”live house”
日時 (にちじ) — date and time
出演時間 (しゅつえんじかん) — performance time
メンバー (めんばー) — members
観客 (かんきゃく) — audience
チケット (ちけっと) — ticket
サウンドチェック (さうんど ちぇっく) — soundcheck
チューニング (ちゅーにんぐ) — tuning
打ち上げ (うちあげ) — job-well-done party
出番 (でばん) — performance order
発売中 (はつばいちゅう) — being sold
前売り料金 (まえうり りょうきん) — advance ticket price
売り切れ (うりきれ) — sold out
盛り上がった (もりあがった) — energetic/lively
サマーソニックのチケットは、今発売中です！(さまーそにっくの ちけっとは、いま はつばいちゅうです！)
Tickets to Summer Sonic are on sale now!
今週の日曜日のライブを見に行きませんか？ (こんしゅうの にちようびの らいぶを みにいきませんか？)
Do you want to go see this Sunday’s show?
観客は盛り上がっているね．．．もうすぐ始まるみたい！(かんきゃくは もりあがっているね．．．もうすぐ はじまるみたい！)
The audience is really excited…it looks like it’ll start soon!
Now keep on rockin’ in the free world and get yourself to that venue!
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iOS and Android, and it's also available as a website that you can access on your computer or tablet.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.