cherry blossoms with words “bands from Nihon (japan)” next to red circle like Japanese flag next to mt. fuji

Music from Japan

By Diamond Marie Pedroza
Music Journalist

Below I have highlighted some of my favorite musicians from Japan and divided them based on my most listened to genres. English words are used by some of the bands because they prefer to sing in English, want to cater to western culture, or are inspired by western culture.

collage of otemoyen records, damaged goods records, the let's go’s, the blue hearts, kikagaku Moyo, and flippers guitar album covers
Japanese rock and punk bands. Image by Diamond Marie Pedroza via otemoyen records, damaged goods records, the let’s go’s, the blue hearts, kikagaku Moyo, and flippers guitars.

ROCK/PUNK

CHAI is an all-girl rock band including twins, Mana and Kana, who lead the vocals and play guitar. Yuna, who plays the drums, and Yuku, who plays the bass guitar, writes the lyrics and creates art for the band. They often perform with coordinated dance sequences and outfits.

I witnessed an energetic and similarly coordinated performance at Container Bar at SXSW in 2019. CHAI said in a YouTube video that, “everyone is born with their own uniqueness,” which is the band’s main message regarding their song lyrics and performance style.

I recommend their songs, “CHOOSE GO!” and “N.E.O.,” along with their cover of “Plastic Love,” originally sung by Mariya Takeuchi.

Mikabombs was an all-girl punk band formed in London by lead singer, Mika Hanada. She recruited three other girls and lived out her dream to become a punk rocker. They released two albums from 1998 until they split up in 2006.

I recommend their 2001 album, The Fake Fake Sound Of Mikabomb.

THE LET’S GO’s is a band that formed in 2006. Coco has been the band’s lead since then, but the other members of the band have changed over time. A few years ago, Sakura and Mariko Mariko joined Coco, who had played with men prior. The Let’s Go’s 2019 album, Heibon Cherry, was Sakura and Mariko Mariko’s first album with Coco.

I recommend their latest album, Heibon Cherry.

The Blue Hearts operated from 1985 to 1995 as one of the most popular punk bands in Japan. Though they had the same reckless energy and upbeat sound as other bands like The Sex Pistols, The Blue Hearts lyrics are what makes them special.

Inspired by the band’s song, “Linda Linda,” the 2005 movie, “Linda Linda Linda,” was made as an ode to The Blue Hearts. The film follows an all-girl band that has to learn some songs by The Blue Hearts for their talent show.

I recommend their songs, “Linda Linda” and “Boku no Migite.”

Kikagaku Moyo is one of the leading bands in Japan’s psych-rock scene. They have also garnered a reasonable amount of fame outside of Japan. Since 2012, the band has released four albums.

I recommend their latest album, Masana Temples.

Flipper’s Guitar was a short-lived rock duo that produced three albums from 1987 to 1991. Their sound was influenced by Japan’s city pop scene, jazz, and a few other genres. Upon their split in 1991, lead singer, Keigo Oyamada, formed Cornelius.

Oyamada plays around with multiple genres of music through Cornelius. Often, people compare Oyamada to Brian Wilson or Beck.

I recommend their songs, “Camera Full of Kisses” and “Love And Dream Are Back,” along with Cornelius’s 1997 album, Fantasma.

collage of rina sawayama, brother sun sister moon, ecd, and rip slyme album covers
Japanese pop, rap, and hip-hop bands. Photo by Diamond Marie Pedroza via rina sawayama, brother sun sister moon, ecd, and rip slyme.

POP

Rina Sawayama is one of the best pop artists to date in my opinion. Constantly working to reconfigure what we think of pop, Sawayama has shown she can creatively include her Japanese roots with a more western stylistic part pop, part electronic 2000’s sound. Though she has only released one album, she is off to a good start.

I recommend her 2020 album, Sawayama.

BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON has been playing together as a self-defined indie-pop trio since 2017. The band can be compared to the pop band, Cigarettes After Sex, because BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON commonly uses similar dream-like sounds in their songs. They have not released a full-length album yet, but their singles are a promising indication of a great album to come.

I recommend their songs, “Birthday” and “Try.”

HIP-HOP/RAP

ECD, or Ishida Yoshinori, was a rapper that was an innovative force in promoting a more modernized version of hip-hop in Japan. He started rapping in the 1980s and became popular in the 1990s for including his groove in his music.

I recommend his 1992 self-titled album, ECD.

RIP SLYME was a hip-hop group that released over 10 albums from 1994 to 2018. The group had a heavily influenced western sound and included English words in their songs.

 I recommend their 2002 album, Tokyo Classic.

collage of maki Asakawa, ego-wrappin’, Daisuke Tanabe, and uyama Hiroto album covers
Japanese jazz, blues, experimental, and ambient bands. Photo by Diamond Marie Pedroza via Maki Asakawa, ego-wrappin’, dai.

JAZZ/BLUES

Maki Asakawa was a jazz and blues singer, and an elegant performer. I first discovered Asakawa after getting lost in her song, “Konna Fu Ni Sugite Iku No Nara.”

I recommend her albums, My Man and Rear Window.

EGO-WRAPPIN’ is a jazz duo made up of Yoshie Nakano and Masaki Mori. The duo has released 9 albums since 1996. They often infuse jazz with rock.

I recommend their songs, “Night Food” and “Midnight Déjà vu.”

AMBIENT/EXPERIMENTAL

Daisuke Tanabe is a music producer focusing on experimental sound work. He recently produced music for an animated video for Virgil Abloh’s fashion brand, Off-White.

I recommend his song, “Nil,” and latest album, ten.

Uyama Hiroto is a music producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist, who infuses ambient music with jazz and hip-hop. He layers his songs with what seems like an endless assortment of instruments to form something beautiful.

I recommend his 2016 album, Freeform Jazz.

Here is my playlist where you can hear some of the bands mentioned and more:

Featured image by Diamond Marie Pedroza.

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