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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Japanese Songs Changing With the Times

[From January Issue 2013]

201301-3

Japanese songs come in many different genres. One type is a genre deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life; simple lyrical songs such as “Sakura Sakura” (Cherry Blossom) or “Koujou no Tsuki” (Moon Over a Ruined Castle), and regional folk songs. For these songs traditional Japanese musical instruments such as the koto (Japanese harp), shamisen (a string instrument similar to the guitar) and shakuhachi (flute) are often used. Another genre is enka, a unique kind of Japanese music, which uses “kobushi” (an accentuated or fluctuating note) to emphasize parts of the song.

Many enka songs take the theme of thwarted love. The late MISORA Hibari was one of the most notable enka singers, who, since she was a little girl, reigned as one of the genre’s most popular singers. The late KOGA Masao was a famous enka song writer who created hit after hit with his melancholy melodies. The 50s and 60s were a golden era for enka, but, with the rapidly growing economy, new genres, such as “mood” romantic ballads appeared on the scene.

In addition “group sounds” bands like the Tigers and Tempters appeared and became popular. At the start of the 70s, new folk singers and groups such as YOSHIDA Takuro, INOUE Yousui and ARAI Yumi (present-day MATSUTOYA Yumi) appeared one after another. Songs in which singers expressed their feelings directly were called “new music.”

In the 80s, charismatic singer OZAKI Yutaka’s cries from the heart resonated with young people and drew a lot of attention. After that many different kinds of artists appeared and the term “J-Pop” began to be used. In 1991, SMAP, a band from Johnny’s talent agency – an agency that has created many handsome idol groups – debuted and became popular instantly.

In November 2012, the JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) announced the top 100 songs from the past 30 years, based on royalties generated from karaoke and other means of distribution. At number one was SMAP’s “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” (The One and Only Flower in the World). The reason it was so successful was that the song’s message – that you don’t have to become number one and that each of us is the one and only flower of its kind in the world – struck a chord with many people.

Other Music Scenes

AKB48 is trending right now. Many female idol groups have been manufactured in the past. In the 70s Pink Lady was hugely popular, in the 80s it was Onyanko Club and Morning Musume, who debuted in 1998, is also well-known.

There is a TV program that many people watch on New Year’s Eve, namely NHK’s Kouhaku Utagassen (Annual Singing Contest), which has been going since 1953. Male and female singers, or group singers, divided into red and white teams of 25 compete. Teams are selected according to a variety of surveys. Japan’s top singers, from idol group AKB48 to enka king KITAJIMA Saburo – 2012 marked his 49th appearance on the show – perform on the night.

Of course, many foreign songs come to Japan. What’s called “yougaku” (western music) has also been popular since the era of Elvis PRESLEY and the Beatles. Recently, in addition to western singers, Korean singers are also becoming popular. 


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