group of young girls singing karaoke

Learn Japanese with Songs: 11 Karaoke Classics, Essential Tips and More

Learning karaoke classics will let you belt them out with confidence at the karaoke bars in Tokyo.

Being well-versed in pop culture in songs will keep you in the loop with celebrity gossip and understand trend references in Japanese media.

And studying the lyrics of songs will increase your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation.

In this post, you’ll learn five steps to successfully learn Japanese with songs and 11 karaoke classics to get you started.


Helpful Techniques for Listening to Japanese

  • Get out those headphones! When listening to music, using headphones is a good way to make sure that you hear every word clearly with no distractions. Noise-canceling headphones are a great option, especially when you’re listening to music in public.
  • Don’t fret if you can’t understand every word. Focus on grasping the overall meaning of the song—you can also go back and re-listen or even print out lyrics to listen along with which will boost your understanding. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and immersing yourself in Japanese music will pay off over time.
  • Listen to your favorite songs in the background. You learned to speak your first language by hearing it around you every day. So you need to hear a language more than a few times a week to become fluent. The more frequently you listen to Japanese music, the quicker things will just click, and you’ll find yourself understanding Japanese words without even consciously trying.
  • Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. I recommend printing out the song lyrics for this step. A physical piece of paper gives you something tangible to work with. Reading the lyrics while listening will help you make connections with how each word sounds when spoken (or sung), thus improving your listening comprehension.
  • Do listening drills with songs. Here’s my all-time favorite listening comprehension drill. First, choose a song that’s relative to your current level—don’t choose a rap song if you’re a beginner or a slow-tempo jazz song if you’re advanced. Next, listen to the song (without lyrics) and write down on a piece of paper what you hear. After working your way through the first verse and the chorus, check the actual lyrics and mark what you heard wrong. Listen with the correct lyrics, and repeat for the rest of the song.
  • Turn songs into Japanese lessons. I’ve already mentioned you can study with lyrics. Take advantage of these not just to learn new vocabulary, but also for grammar structures and culture lessons. An immersion program like FluentU makes this easy. FluentU lets you watch authentic Japanese videos with interactive subtitles, which means you can hover over words and structures while watching music videos to instantly get their meaning, pronunciations, example sentences and add them to flashcard decks.

How to Learn Japanese Songs: A 5-Step Recipe for Success

1. Listen without the lyrics.

This will help you get a feel for the intonation and the sounds you hear. Listen for words and phrases you know. Try to figure out what the song means overall and, as best you can, the meaning of the individual lines. You should repeat this step at least a couple times.

2. Listen with the lyrics.

Do this to confirm or clarify what you heard the first time. As you listen, read along. You may want to “mouth” or shadow sections that are hard for you to pronounce.

There are a couple of ways to find lyrics: You can find subtitled videos on YouTube for thousands of popular Japanese songs. Most of them have Japanese subtitles, but for those still learning katakana and hiragana, you can find some videos with romaji subtitles, too.

You can also get lyrics from sites like, which have huge libraries of Japanese song lyrics. I recommend printing the lyrics out; you can write romaji or furigana over any unfamiliar kanji or vocabulary, and you can take your printout to the カラオケボックス with you in case you need a cheat sheet!

3. Look up unfamiliar words in a good dictionary or app.

Those that give example sentences are the best because you can see how the word is used in context and what particles typically go with it. Doing this also helps you better understand the meaning of the song.

The greatest benefit of doing this is that it’s an easy way to add to your active vocabulary. Because you listen to and repeat the word several times when learning the song, you internalize it quickly. Before you know it, you’re using it in sentences!

4. Shadow the whole song.

Follow the lyrics and sing along, being careful to match your pronunciation and intonation. For an additional challenge, try folding your lyric sheet in half, or take it away completely!

5. Sing out loud to yourself.

To see how you sound, record yourself with your computer, handheld recorder or app. Play it back. Nobody likes the sound of their own voice, but this step comes strongly recommended as part of the learning process.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

Karaoke (vocal-less) CD’s or YouTube videos are also available to practice with. After you’ve mastered your song of choice solo, all that’s left is your big karaoke debut!

11 Great Songs to Learn Japanese with Music

1. “AIUEO Song”

Good for: Beginner learners

Mastering Japanese starts with the basics: hiragana and katakana.

Just like the English ABC song, “あいうえおの歌” takes you through each syllable as colorful hiragana flashes across the screen. Set to a catchy drumbeat, you might find yourself dancing as you learn hiragana.

There’s also a katakana version available and a combo version, which combines both hiragana and katakana.

This song offers an entertaining and memorable way for beginners to master Japanese fundamentals.

2. “Learn Japanese Vocabulary with Songs!” by Wordpie

Good for: Beginner learners

Wordpie is a language learning tool designed specifically to help you pick up new vocabulary by associating words with pictures and music. Vocabulary words are sung to a catchy tune as pictures of objects and written words are shown on screen.

“Learn Japanese Vocabulary with Songs!” contains 100 useful words in various categories such as weather and furniture, as well as words to describe things outside, such as “grass,” “river” and “sun.” Unlike, say, a huge stack of flashcards, this is a great tool for learning a ton of new Japanese words without getting overwhelmed or bored.

3. “Song for Learning Japanese” by Mihara Keigo

Good for: Beginner learners

With enthusiasm at its finest, learn useful phrases in Japanese as Mihara Keigo dances around, motivating you like a pep squad leader.

Learn expressions for when you’re angry or sad, how to address yourself and much more with hiragana syllables weaved in between.

You might even get up and dance to this one as well!

4. “My First and Last Love” by Akiko Kobayashi

Good for: Upper beginner to intermediate learners

If you have to profess your undying love to someone, this song may help you. Learn terms of endearment set to the backdrop of the Chinese television drama “My Sunshine.”

With lyrics written in kanji, romaji and English, this is a great song that helps you understand the subtleties of the Japanese language. Often with songs, you can’t translate lyrics word for word—so as you read the lyrics to this song you’ll learn how to form more abstract concepts in Japanese.

A bonus is that there are some English lyrics mixed in, which makes this song relatively easy, even for beginners.

5. “Handyman” by Perfume

Good for: Upper beginner to intermediate learners

The pop band Perfume sings of romantic uncertainty and insecurity in the catchy tune “Handyman.”

In a sense, this song discusses looking for a “handyman” to help fix the problems of the relationship. Sing along to lyrics written in romaji with the English translation below.

6. “The Day They Became Gems” by Bump of Chicken

Good for: Intermediate learners

If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, sing along as the popular Japanese band Bump of Chicken uses plenty of compound verbs and lightning-related vocab. The lyrics to this song rush by quickly, but the pronunciation is clear and easy to follow.

7. “Like the Flow of the River” by Hibari Misora

Good for: Intermediate learners

This was the last single Misora, a lengendary enka singer, released before her death.

It has come to symbolize not only her life, but the ever-changing nature of things: the only thing that is permanent is the fact that nothing is permanent at all.

Practically a national anthem in Japan, “Kawa no nagare no you ni” is still performed frequently on TV by acts paying tribute to Misora.

8. “The Only Flower in the World” by SMAP

Good for: Upper beginner to intermediate learners

Boy band SMAP are hardly boys anymore—all of its members are pushing 40—but they remain hugely popular in Japan.

This 2004 smash is one of their most beloved songs, and has become something of a Japanese standard.

Even kindergarteners learn it in school! SMAP are not known for their vocal talents, so “Seka ni hitotsu dake no hana” like most of their songs, is a mid-tempo, mid-range number that’s not too difficult to sing.

9. “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” by AKB48

Good for: Upper beginner to intermediate learners

Ubiquitous aidoru (idol) group AKB48 have had one hit after another since they broke out in 2008, but this 2013 single is arguably their most popular.

Its upbeat, sing-song melody is easy to follow and the lyrics are fairly basic, which has helped the song cross generations: kids and seniors alike love it!

10. “Makenaide” by ZARD

Good for: Intermediate learners

Makenaide literally means “don’t lose,” or “don’t give up.” So it’s no wonder that it has become a sports anthem, often played during events, pre-game shows, highlight reels and the like.

This inspirational number is basically the Japanese equivalent of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Everyone gets on their feet and belts out the words to its catchy chorus. This is a number that’s guaranteed to get everyone singing along with you at karaoke.

11. “Linda Linda” by The Blue Hearts

Good for: Intermediate learners

“Linda Linda” is a stone-cold karaoke classic. Go to karaoke with a group of Japanese friends, and there’s about a 70% chance somebody will sing it—unless you sing it first!

It’s a pretty fast-paced rock song, so it’s not that easy to follow—but it’s great fun to belt out at the top of your register. Try this one when you want to get everyone jumping and fist-pumping!


Outside of music videos, you may want to acquire some Japanese music of your own. In recent years, J-rock and J-pop have become more and more popular in the Western world and now there are many albums available for download on iTunes.

Remember that language learning takes time, so use music, relax and make it fun. Soon, you’ll be singing like a pro in no time and then you’ll be ready for karaoke where you can sing the lyrics all on your own.

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