10 Famous Japanese Songs You Should Know

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Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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There are many ways to get to know Japan, from its colors to its attractions, but why not learn about Japan from a musical perspective? Japanese music offers a great opportunity to understand the culture and get a feel for what the country has to offer, as well as be able to share a bit of enjoyment with the locals! In this article, we will explore the Japanese music scene and present the top songs to help you experience the history, sensibility, and excitement of Japan.

1. Mayonaka no Door (Miki Matsubara)

In November 1979, just before my 20th birthday, there was a moment that caused a stir in the Japanese music scene. It was the moment when Miki Matsubara made her debut as a singer and released her first single, “Mayonaka no Door – stay with me”. This song was the starting point for her name in the history of music. With its sophisticated melody and passionate voice, this city pop song reached a high of #28 on the music charts at the time. Unfortunately, she passed away in her 40s, but more than 40 years later, Miki Matsubara’s music has been revived and reappraised both in Japan and abroad. Her charm has transcended time and continues to captivate a new generation of listeners.

2. Tokyo Drift (Teriyaki Boyz)

“Tokyo Drift” By Teriyaki Boyz is a Japanese rap song that many listeners find addictive once they hear it. The song has been highly acclaimed in the Japanese and international music scene for its unique sound and catchy melody. Originally released as the theme song for the movie “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, the song’s popularity exploded as people raved about the perfect connection between the movie and the music. The music video that accompanies the song is also not to be missed. Its fast tempo and car drifting scenes are in perfect harmony and visually captivating.

3. Fly-day Chinatown (Yasuha)

“Fly-day Chinatown” is one of the most impressive and famous songs, with its catchy melody and Yasuha’s clear, beautiful voice. It was composed by Yasuha herself and released as her debut song in 1981. This song marked the beginning of her musical career and brought new talent into the Japanese music scene. And recently, this song has received a great deal of attention, especially from young people in Los Angeles. Yasuha’s music has also attracted a great deal of attention in the local club scene, offering a new appeal to the younger generation.

4. 4:00AM (Taeko Onuki)

Taeko Onuki, a singer-songwriter from Tokyo remains active as one of Japan’s leading singers. One of her best-known songs, “4:00 am,” is a mature song with a city pop atmosphere that is extremely popular among her fans. This song is one of the best examples of the magic of her music. Her clear voice and unique musical worldview have moved many listeners, and her music has become a favorite from Japan to the rest of the world.

5. Ue wo muite arukou (Kyu Sakamoto)

“Ue wo muite arukou” sung by Kyu Sakamoto was released in the U.S. as “SUKIYAKI” and topped the singles category of Billboard magazine, an authoritative American hit chart, in 1963. The song brought excitement from Japan to the American music scene and was loved by many. Now, 60 years after its big hit in the US, this song is still loved by many people all over the world.

6. Gimme Chocolate (BABYMETAL)

Known for their many international fans, BABYMETAL is a unique group with their own concept of “fusion of idol and metal”. They have performed their music live all over the world and continue to attract international attention. Their signature song, “Gimme Chocolate,” is a wonderful blend of a fast tempo and metal intensity, to which they add Japanese idol elements.

7. Gurenge & Homura (LISA)

LISA is an artist who gained recognition for her music by providing the opening song “Gurenge” for the historical hit anime “Demon Slayer” and the theme song “Homura” for the movie version of the anime. Her songs are so well suited to the world of the anime that they have been widely sung at karaoke and other venues, and have been well received by many fans; LISA’s music resonates strongly with the story and emotions of the anime “Demon Slayer”. Her songs have been enthusiastically received by both anime fans and music lovers alike, and hold a special place in anime history.

8. Yoru ni kakeru(YOASOBI)

YOASOBI is currently in the limelight as a music unit that is rapidly gaining popularity in the Japanese music scene. Their pop sound and lyrics tailored to their unique worldview have resonated with many young people. In particular, “Yoru ni Kakeru” is a song with a catchy melody that has drawn many listeners in. The song’s popularity has skyrocketed, becoming the first song in Japan to surpass 1 billion streaming views.

9. Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun (Masato Shimon)

Released in 1975 by Masato Shimon, “Oyoge Taiyakikun” was originally created as an original song for a children’s television program. Once the song was released to the public, however, it became one of the biggest hits in Japanese music history, a record-breaking success that sold over 4.5 million CDs. This song is loved by men and women of all ages, regardless of generation, thanks to its familiar lyrics and easy-to-sing melody. And “Oyogete Taiyakikun” occupies a special place in Japanese music history, and its appeal remains as widely accepted today as ever.

10. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Ryuichi Sakamoto)

“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is a captivating piece crafted by the internationally celebrated composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. This song is best known as the theme song for the movie “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” released in 1983. This song features a fragile and delicate melody that blends perfectly with the atmosphere of the film and the music further deepens the emotional story of the film and has impressed many audiences.

And there you have it, some of the best, most iconic Japanese songs, do you know them all, or is it time to go and listen? Of course the world of Japanese songs is very deep. By listening to these songs, you will experience the passion and sensitivity of the Japanese people and help you better understand the beautiful landscapes and traditions of Japan. If you start to get interested in what Japanese songs are, try to take a look at Japanese song rankings offered by several music stream providers. You can see what kind of songs many Japanese like to listen to. So, let’s step into the fascinating world of Japanese music and embark on a wonderful musical journey!

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