A few months ago I wrote an article titled J-Pop vs K-Pop.
In hindsight, I should have realised it would have been… controversial, shall we say.
After receiving some cough*interesting*cough comments stating I was too hard on J-Pop, I thought it best to do an entire post dedicated to my favourite Japanese music artists.
Because I don’t hate Japanese music, on the contrary, I love it!
Who is the most popular music artist in Japan?
Trying to figure out Japan’s biggest pop start is a little difficult, but I’ll do my best!
According to the Oricon Charts (Top music charts in Japan), B’z are the biggest band in Japan by number of albums sold at 46.5Million.
However, AKB48, a band you’re likely more familiar with, are the best-selling artists by number of singles sold at 50.8Million.
Totalling both numbers of albums and singles together, B’z are technically the most popular and biggest pop-star in Japan right now.
So here is a list of Japanese music artists you should add to your playlist!
Nicknamed the ‘King of Shibuya’, it’s not hard to see why Yuuri is an outstanding singer and incredibly popular Japanese music artist.
I dare you to listen to the video above and say his voice is bad, even if you don’t like the style.
I only found Yuuri a few weeks ago, but I’ve had him on repeat practically 24/7 since.
He used to be a member of ‘The Bugzy’, but ultimately went his own way when they split up in 2019.
Since then he has been creating his own music in classic singer-songwriter style.
Like a Japanese version of Ed Sheeran, …only better. (IN MY OPINION!) Be kind…
If you’re a fan of the song above, I urge you to check out the song Dried Flower. It’s a pretty emotional song, and I can’t even understand half of it!
2. ONE OK ROCK
One Ok Rock (Which I’ve only just found out is pronounced ‘One O’Clock’) were my first Japanese music artist (well, band I suppose) love.
As you can imagine from their name, the vast majority of their songs are rock based. It’s a nice throw back to when rock was far more popular than it is now, so it’s nice to see this kind of music still doing so well.
With an absolutely huge following, it’s no surprise that the group have collaborated with many other famous artists including: Avril Lavigne, Ed Sheehan, and Simple Plan, to name only a few.
In fact, Ed Sheeran even wrote their song ‘Renegades‘, and with over 11 million views, it’s clearly a fan favourite.
AND it featured as the official theme song for the upcoming Japanese film ‘Rurouni Kenshin’. If you like sword fights, you’ll likely love it!
3. King Gnu
King Gnu is a Japanese alternative rock band/J-Pop band formed in 2013.
They produce highly stylised videos (like this one, it’s my fave!), and have an extremely loyal fan base.
Is King Gnu popular in Japan?
2020 was the year the band scored their first number one with the song ‘Ceremony’.
As you can see, the popularity spiked in 2020 with the number one hit and then tailed off. Around mid 2021 until the present day has seen a steady increase in their popularity, at least from inside Japan.
4. Yoshida Brothers
If you haven’t heard of the Yoshida Brothers, do you even like Japan?!
With 8 internationally selling albums, you can start to understand just how popular this duo is. And from the last article I wrote about J-Pop vs K-Pop, we already know how hard it is for Japanese artists to break the international market.
Since 1989 they’ve played and perfected the Tsugaru-jamisen style of the shamisen, a sound that to this day they’re famous for.
You’ll notice, whilst listening to the song above, that it sounds far more westernised than a lot of ‘traditional’ Japanese music. That blend of east and west, modern and traditional, is what sets them apart from anyone else in the Shamisen scene.
How old are the Yoshida brothers?
As of 2022, Ryōichiro Yoshida is 44 years old, and his brother Kenichi Yoshida is 42.
Interesting facts about the Yoshida brothers
They allowed Norm Nakamura, a western YouTube I’ve talked about here, to study under them and learn from them. This led to Norm becoming probably the most famous non Japanese shamisen player in the world.
Radwimps are the extremely talented Japanese musicians that did the music to Your Name./Kimi no Na wa, the popular anime film.
If you haven’t seen it yet, and you’ve enjoyed any of the studio Ghibli films, then put it on your priority list because it’s well worth the watch!
According to an interview done on the Forbes website, the name radwimps was chosen because ‘Rad’ means cool, and Wimp is like ‘Coward’. So the decision was made to put these two polar opposite words together.
Is RADWIMPS popular in Japan?
Even before scoring the music to ‘Kimi no Na wa’ RADWIMPS was a very popular Japanese band, but after the movie aired, their popularity increased exponentially.
The entire process took over a year and a half to create the entire soundtrack, but in the end both the anime and the music clearly compliment one another very well.
6. Mrs. Green Apple
Mrs. Green Apple debut in 2015 with EMI Records, and are perhaps most well known for their ending theme to Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V.
That, and their incredibly catchy J-Pop, alternative rock style.
The Oricon Singles chat, Japan’s music popularity chart ranked Mrs Green Apple 10th for the album ‘Twelve’. So although perhaps not as well known as some artists on this list, they’re still extremely popular.
After a few members left the band, it was announced that Motoki, the bands lead singer, would go on to pursue a solo career.
It’s always sad when a band you love splits up, but Motoki has already released his first single on YouTube, and it’s a banger!!
Phase two, as it’s been called, will commence in the spring of 2022 with different members but hopefully the same styling and incredible song creation we’ve come to love over the last few years.
At only 26 years old, Takaya Kawasaki has already achieved far more than most.
The most well known of all his songs would be ‘Magic Rug’. It has well over 300 million views and has been used in tens of thousands of other videos. On YouTube it has been played millions of times and won first place on Spotify’s ‘Viral Top 50’ for 14 weeks.
His musical vibes are similar to that of Yuuri, which means heartfelt and well written songs, often on acoustic guitar, and always well filmed.
If you’re looking to go down an emotional Japanese music rabbit hole on YouTube, then Takaya is a fantastic place to start.
8. Hatsune Miku
Right, I’m not saying I actually enjoy Hatsune Miku, but I could hardly make a list of the best Japanese music artists to listen to without including this worldwide phenomenon.
So apparently, the concept behind Hatsune Miku was an ‘Android diva in a future world where all songs are lost’.
So what is Hatsune Miku?
Originally voiced by Saki Fujita (A famous Japanese voice actor), Hatsune Miku is a piece of Vocaloid software created by Crypton Future Media.
Vocaloids are a synthesiser type product that allows users to type in lyrics, add a melody and theoretically create their own piece of music.
As such, there aren’t any official songs. What there is, is over 170,000 community made songs.
It’s these songs that get played on the official YouTube channel and even at concerts.
What I don’t know is if I like the songs created by Miku, it certainly would be my regular listening anyway.
What I do know his the the people at Crypton Future Media are extremely intelligent for marketing a piece of musical software in the way they did.
That alone is enough of a reason for her to be on the list!
9. Namewee (Bonus)
He’s not Japanese but I couldn’t create this list without including the ‘Tokyo Bon’ song.
I’ll let it do the talking for me, Enjoy!