The Really Good Japanese Pop Music Guide

J-Pop singers are a dime a dozen these days, and it can be hard to find a good one amongst all the dozens of cookie-cutter kiddos that pop up every year. But Salyu really sets herself apart with some really good production and one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. She has a huge vocal range and really uses it well in her songs. Her music sounds really fresh and clean compared to the typical trappings of most modern J-Pop and it fits her really well. Her side projects are also fantastic, and if you don’t mind something a little less poppy and a little more experimental, you should definitely check out her collaboration with Cornelius in s(o)un(d)beams which is one of my favorite albums ever.

Buy Salyu CDs: iTunes | cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark

Perfume is a super cutesy electro-technopop trio. Perfume is spearheaded by famed producer Nakata Yasutaka whose other claims to fame include electro group CAPSULE and sugary-sweet pop-fashion idol きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ. Nakata’s tunes, which range anywhere from bubblegum pop to dancefloor hits, really work well with the three-girl vocals. The fun part about Perfume is that their music is always just brushing up against what the mainstream can handle instead of rehashing the same formulas again and again. And besides all that, their songs are catchy as hell.

Buy Perfume CDs: iTunes | cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark

88253059椎名林檎 (Shiina Ringo)
椎名林檎 is the maker of some of the craziest, experimental-heavy pop music anywhere. If you like pushing pop music to its absolute limits as much as I do, you’ll love her. Describing her music is a pretty difficult task because it ranges from silly pop songs to loud, abrasive rock hits, all with a full backup band and occasionally a full section of strings, a saxaphone and a jazz vibe or an electro beat. She’s definitely one of the most innovative artists and everything she puts out always manages to be unique. One of the most unique aspects about her is her high, screechy voice which is very different from the typical J-pop singer. Give her a shot.

Buy 椎名林檎 CDs: iTunes cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark

soutasei 相対性理論 (Soutaisei Riron)
相対性理論 is the best indie-pop-rock-whatever band ever. It’s a sort of mish-mash between some great pop songwriting and catchy sing-a-long choruses and some fine guitar playing. The whole band is a winner but what really makes it for me is the やくしまるえつこ and her vocals. I have a soft spot in my heart for cutesy, breathy vocals. The music is upbeat and energetic but still manages to sound reserved, too. It’s good.

Buy 相対性理論 CDs: iTunes | cdjapan
Listen Online:

clammbon+2010クラムボン (Clammbon)
I’ll be honest. I love クラムボン. These guys are crazy. One minute they’ll be playing a sweeping, piano-driven epic, the next a crazy pop anthem, and then they’ll stick in a slow, acoustic ballad or a beautiful, ambient soundscape or a thirteen-minute song just for the heck of it. They’re not afraid to try anything. I’ve heard them described as a pop-jam-art-rock band, and that’s probably the best description for them. I think they have just enough of the pop sound and enough experimentation to be able to appeal to anyone.

Buy クラムボン CDs: iTunes | cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark


Shugo Tokumaru
Shugo Tokumaru is so much fun. It’s hard to describe his music but it’s something along the lines of indie-folk-experimental-pop. But that’s not a very good description. His music is probably best described by emotion because his music is some of happiest I’ve ever heard. I think it’s absolutely impossible for him to make anything short of delightful and triumphant. One thing that makes him really unique is the variety of sounds he uses. His albums are built out of jangly acoustic guitars, glockenspiels, bells and bongos, plunky pianos, a rubber duck thrown in here and there and just about anything else you can imagine. It sounds pretty crazy but he manages to bring it together and create something beautiful.

Buy Shugo Tokumaru CDs: iTunes | Amazon | cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark | Spotify

Supercell is probably the closest sound to mainstream pop America and Japan I’ll get on this list. The “band” is actually made up of one guy, Ryo, who does all of the composition, production and lyric-writing and ten other members who do the illustrations and design. Yup. Don’t worry, because Ryo isn’t just a songwriter, he’s a really good songwriter. The instrumentation is made up of your standard rock setup and a few other strings and synths here and there. Ryo got famous for using everyone’s favorite vocaloid 初音ミク as vocalist for his debut album but swapped her out for やなぎなぎ for his second album.

Buy Supercell CDs: iTunes | Amazon | cdjapan
Listen Online: Grooveshark

PizzicatoFivePizzicato Five
Pizzicato Five are the pioneers of the shibuya-kei movement. For the unsavvy, shibuya-kei is basically what you get when you stick some pop music from the 60’s, a blend of jazz and bossa nova and some good old Japanese style in a blender. It’s pretty stylish. A lot of their music is best categorized as lounge music, which, incidentally, is best enjoyed while lounging around, but they have a lot of classy, swinging J-Pop hits as well. If you’re looking for the epitome of slick, cool Japanese music these guys are it.


Listen Online: Grooveshark

Written by: Eric

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


The Really Good Japanese Pop Music Guide — 32 Comments

  1. I find it hard to get excited about jpop and this lose is super handy. Agree, Perfume IS catchy as hell. I usually can’t stand the cutest high voices that seem to plague jpop but their voices mesh well with the well crafted pop tunes.

    Pizzicato Five are always awesome, and it’s nice to see them mentioned. I’ve also always loved Chara, who does a lot of offbeat stuff with great albums but I haven’t heard much from her lately. Great voice, evocative lyrics, and my idol in the 90s ^^

    • Glad to hear it! :) I agree, most J-Pop is pretty boring. I used to be one of those music-elitist guys (all pop music is bad!) because I had been exposed to one too many bad J-Pop song but there are some people who actually do make good pop music. :)

      Ooh, I’ve always liked Chara, too. I’ve listened to a lot of YUKI, who is another singer who is similar. I always hold a lot more respect for pop singer-songwriters.

  2. Thanks for the list! I’ve been scourging around for new J-Pop and I was pleasantly surprised by Perfume and now I’m spending all my time (;D) listening to their albums. Given that Perfume’s on this list, I’ll be sure to check all the others out! :3

    • Yeah, Perfume is pretty great. :) Perfume was actually the first J-music I ever heard, so they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. If you like Perfume, you should take a look at some of きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ’s music too. She’s produced by the same guy who makes Perfume’s music (中田ヤスタカ), so ya know it’s good.

  3. チョコレートディスコ by Perfume was by far one of the catchiest Japanese tunes I’ve ever heard. Even to this day, I can’t get it out of my head.

    • Yeah, Perfume has a talent for getting music stuck in your head! :) Dream Fighter is probably my favorite earworm.

    • Grooveshark is great. Japanese music streaming is still stuck in the dark ages for the most part so there’s very little on Spotify and the like, but Grooveshark lets anybody upload music so there is a lot more variety. As a result it’s usually very disorganized but it’s tolerable. :) Glad you liked the post!

  4. My first exposure to Perfume was actually an episode of “American Dad”. They played モノクロームエフェクト and it was awesome. To this day, that’s still one of my “happy songs”. There’s something about it that just cheers me up.

    …which makes me kind of dread the day I reach fluency and am able to understand what it’s actually about…

    I can’t wait for the J-Rock version of this post…because I have OPINIONS.

    • Ha, I had a similar discovery. My first Perfume song was “ポリリズム” played in the background of a scene in “Cars 2”. :) Gotta love that Japanese funk from the future! ;)

      I know what you mean. :) Pop music isn’t exactly known for its deep lyrics. :) I’m one of those guys who doesn’t really pay much attention to lyrics, anyway, though, even in English songs.

      The rock post is on its way! :) Hopefully I won’t make too many enemies by leaving out everyone’s favorite band :)

    • Compared to stuff that is downright silly like *48 songs the Perfume ones are more poetic. Probably the “worst” of the batch are the CM songs and the ドラえもん songs. Also their earlier stuff, before 中田ヤスタカ, is pretty much AKB48 level.

      In any case the best time to start fluency is now!

      • Agreed, their lyrics are a lot better than some of the goofier pop groups. They still aren’t all that deep, though :) BTW, MOJIM is a great site. To be honest, I don’t study much to music, I usually just turn it on ’cause I like it, but I have memorized a few Perfume songs in the past. I sing them in the shower. Don’t tell anybody.

        • What the what? That is awesome. I’ve been wanting to fill the Lyrics field of my MP3s with lyrics…but in most cases I could only find the romaji to a few select songs. And romaji is icky and mostly useless.

          This is fantastic. Thank you!

          Also, Eric sings Perfume in the shower. Pass it on.

          • MOJIM doesn’t have it all, so when I want lyrics I usually just do a search on for songname + 歌詞. You can find just about everything. Some websites are crappy and don’t let you copy & paste lyrics, though, so watch out.

            On a related note, I play most of my music in foobar2000 and there’s an extension that automatically loads lyrics from various sources and plays it next to the song so you don’t have to do all the work yourself. I downloaded it recently, and it is nice. I won’t go into detail as to how to set it up because it’s a lot of work, but there are a lot of similar addons for media players that are probably less complicated. Sometimes it scrounges up romaji and sometimes it turns up nothing (obscure songs) but it’s very nice for the songs it does work with.

          • Great list! I’ve been a fan of 椎名林檎 and Perfume for a while, but I hadn’t heard of the others. I’ll enjoy giving them all a listen.

            If you are planning a part 2, could I suggest considering いきものがかり and Kalafina as two groups with really well written pop/rock songs?

            • Good to hear! :) I am planning on a part two, but the next post will be the rock guide. Unfortunately, I already grouped my favorite pop-rockers in the pop guide, so I won’t be including any more pop-rock. I will say that いきものがかり is a great band, though. :) NEWTRAL is my favorite from them.

  5. Great recommendations! Listening to TOWN AGE from 相対性理論 right now and loving it :)
    Planning to do a Part 2 of this Guide?

  6. Great list, Perfume is all I’ve been listening to lately and I’m still trying to find some similar artists to them. I’m already familiar with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu but still getting used to her vocals…

      • Perfume has always been the only idol group I can stand. I could never get into the big manufactured groups like the AKB gang and the big K-Pop superstars. Maybe I’ll give Juice Juice and C-ute a chance :)

    • Thanks! If you like Perfume, try (producer) 中田ヤスタカ’s other projects as well. You’ve already met きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ. Capsule, MEG, and Coltemonikha are all great.

      Besides that, unfortunately, there isn’t much to get excited about. Saori@destiny and Sawa make some pretty good electropop, though.

  7. I’ve been listening to Japanese music since forever and there are a lot of catchy things out there that you can only find in Japan if you’re willing to explore a bit outside of the mainstream groups.

    For example, there are some really talented doujin music groups (circles) at every Comiket. I prefer songs with a catchy melody so my recent favorites are:

    Twinkle Twinkle – Amateras Records

    Hide and seek × Spirit away – T.Piacere

    And Comiket isn’t limited to EDM, they also have jazz oriented songs such as:

    雨はりらりら – ShibayanRecords

    I also like covers (歌ってみた) of Vocaloid songs from ニコニコ動画. For example:

    6900000000 – covered by ヲタみん

    Finally, Adshap mentioned supercell, my favorite of his songs, but it’s probably lesser known (it was actually the ED for Cencoroll!), is the following :

    Love & Roll – supercell

  8. I like, Scandal a lot (A LOT), they’re so cool and fun; YUI of course – my first Jpop obsession; UVERworld are boss; Sekai no Owari are fun; School Food Punishment are… indescribably awesome… like… relaxing and yet really exciting and emotional and…; andymori are fun too; Kreva is nice laid-back rap; and you’ve gotta love Arashi (Supercell was also on my list).

    I think that generally the stuff I like is more jrock than jpop and you can see from how they’ve seeped into this list even though this article is about pop! Scandal are sort of hard to categorize as the started out rock, got progressively more poppy and then did a U-Turn (thank god).

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