The Japanese Popular Music (J-Pop): All You Need to Know

The Japanese Popular Music (J-Pop): All You Need to Know - EDOPEN Japan

Learning Japanese through listening to Japanese songs is considered one of the most effective ways to improve Japanese vocabulary and pronunciation. This method makes learning Japanese enjoyable and engaging, as every word sung by the artist leaves a lasting impression on the listener.

By following this approach, you can expand your Japanese vocabulary quickly and easily. Also, the moral messages conveyed in each song are positive, including motivation, friendship, and entertainment, rather than confusing love issues.

Can you share examples of J-pop songs you enjoy? In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about J-Pop, including its history, the origin of the term, and current popular J-pop artists who may be on your favorites list!

Additionally, if you are searching for alternative Japanese songs to aid in your Japanese language learning, as well as other sources to assist in your studies, please refer to our recommended reading list below.

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What is J-Pop?

What is J-Pop? - EDOPEN Japan

J-pop or Japanese pop (Japanese popular music), J Pop or ジェイポップス is a term used for popular Japanese music that entered the mainstream of Japanese music in the 90s. The term J-pop was first used by J-Wave, an FM radio in Tokyo. Before J-pop appeared, in the 80s this type of music was called city pop, this term refers to music with the theme of big cities in Japan such as Tokyo.

Because the term city pop was not very popular at that time, people were more familiar with it as New Music. The term J-pop was coined by the Japanese mass media to distinguish it from foreign music and now refers to almost all popular music in Japan.

A brief history of J-Pop

The term J-pop was coined by J-Wave Director Hideo Saito, the term J-pop was later raised by the mass media as a genre that has its own characteristics, different from glam rock, punk rock, grunge, alternative rock, or hip-hop.  Among the wider community in Japan, the term J-pop was only popular from around 1993 to 1996.

The existence of Japanese Pop was due to the desire of Japanese musicians to compete with western musicians. In fact, Japanese Pop had become the second-largest music industry in the world after American music. The history of Japanese music begins with the two pioneers Ichiro Fujiyama and Ryukoka who launched songs with tenor voices.

Then, Ryoichi Hattori followed with his jazz song entitled wakare no blues (farewell blues). The following is history from time to time, starting from the following year:


The introduction of CDs for digital recording media in 1982, along with the sales of its player equipment, caused the Japanese music industry to grow rapidly. In 1991, total record sales in Japan reached a record high. The digital recording technique caused a revolution in the recording industry. With digital techniques, costs, time, and labor can be drastically reduced, and records can be mass-produced.

Since around 1992, the Japanese record industry has experienced the million-seller phenomenon (sold more than 1 million copies). Recording artists can continuously score a million hits. The highest award for certification of record sales in Japan is not platinum discs, but million.


In the second half of the 2000s, singles that reached million-seller status dwindled. The changing consumer trend from buying physical records to buying music downloads led to a decline in physical record sales in the 2000s. this year sales of music downloads are expected to be even greater if it is not reduced by illegal uploads and file-sharing software.


Before entering the 2010s, basically, the progress of Japanese Pop was more striking in the 1980s, where Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto won a Grammy Award. Since then, Japanese Pop has become more global and many rock bands in Japan have sprung up. In the newer era, Japanese Pop shifted to female solo singers who had melodious voices.

For example, namely Utada Hikaru and Ayumi Hamasaki whose singing abilities have been recognized overseas. Now Japanese Pop is popular for filling the soundtrack of Japanese anime and dramas. However, there are also idol groups, singers, and bands from Japan who can survive in the music world, such as AKB48, One Ok Rock, SCANDAL, Baby Metal, Yui, and so on.

10 Most Popular J-Pop Artist

10 Most Popular J-Pop Artist  - EDOPEN Japan

Although Japanese Pop is better known in the Japanese domestic market itself, it does not mean that there are no Japanese Pop artists worldwide. There are many Japanese Pop Artists who are known throughout the country and even their works are still enjoyed today. The following are some of the legendary Japanese Pop artists who still exist today.

1. Arashi

This Japanese idol group is very popular not only in Japan but also overseas. The reason is, Arashi has debuted in 1999 and still exists today. At the beginning of its appearance, Arashi’s song was able to become the theme song for the 1999 Volleyball World Cup. The song, entitled Love So Sweet, was also able to occupy the best single in Japan throughout 2007.

Arashi released their top hits compilation album in 2019 which became the best-selling album in the world at that time. They even beat Taylor Swift and K-Pop BTS! Even though they announced their retirement at the end of 2020, their fans will still be loyal to always listen to their music and look forward to releasing a new single or album from Arashi.

2. Ayumi Hamasaki

Ayumi Hamasaki was born in Fukuoka, Japan, on October 2, 1978, otherwise known as “Ayu” by her fans, is the most famous female singer in Japan. Ayu is dubbed the “queen of Japanese pop” because of her success. Known as the Madonna of Japan. With her limitless ability to compose lyrics based on her personal experience coupled with her constantly changing image.

it’s no surprise that this petite woman has reached the status she is today. Hamasaki has a reputation as the only female pop artist to have placed seven albums on the chart. In 2007, with his 41st single glitter / fated, Hamasaki made a new milestone by recording her single at No. 1 every year for the past nine years (1999-2007).

3. Hikaru Utada

Hikaru Utada quickly became one of the biggest names in J-Pop. Her music is inspired by Western pop and R&B, and she still holds the record for the highest-selling album in Japan for First Love.

Utada Hikaru is one of Japan’s biggest stars and has now sold over 40 million CDs. She is also known to the public as a musician who can speak two languages fluently because he grew up in two countries, Japan, and the United States. In just one month Utada released her album, First Love, which sold 9.86 million copies worldwide. Making it the highest-selling album in the history of music in Japan and until now it seems this record will not be broken.

4. Gackt

Kamui Gakuto, also known as Gackt, has been in the Japanese entertainment industry since 1994. Previously, Gackt was a member of the Visual Kei Band Malice Mizer. Until now, Gackt has released 8 albums and dozens of singles. Because of his success in the world of singing, Gackt is now spreading his wings to become an actor in Japan. His music has been used for dozens of TV shows, video games, and anime shows, and he’s been doing it since the early 1990s.

5. L’arc en Ciel

This Japanese rock band, founded in 1991, has a worldwide name. The reason is, L’arc en Ciel can produce songs that are in great demand by people and even total sales of more than 15 million copies. L’arc en Ciel, which consists of 4 members, became the first band from Japan to successfully perform at Madison Square Garden, New York.

6. Angela Aki

Angela Aki is a professional Japanese pop singer, songwriter, and pianist. She was born in the small town of Itano in Tokushima Prefecture. Her mother is of Italian and American descent, and her father is Japanese. Angela began her music career in America in 2001. She then worked on various music projects for Japanese companies before deciding to return to Japan.

In 2005, Angela released an independent mini album titled ‘One’ under Virgo Music. It became the best-selling indie album at that time. She went on to produce three successful albums and hold large concerts. However, in 2014, Angela announced that she would postpone her musical career to focus on a Broadway project undertaken by a friend, which she was directing.

In November 2023, Angela announced via her official social media platform that she will release a single titled ‘Here and There in This World’ in February 2024, continuing her activities in Japan.

7. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Takemura Kiriko (竹村桐子) is a popular model and singer who rose to fame after her single “PonPonPon” garnered much attention in 2011. Her subsequent singles, ‘Candy Candy’ and ‘Fashion Monster,’ were also successful.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, also known as the Harajuku Pop Princess, has received media attention not only in Japan but also in the West. Until 2013, Kyary signed a distribution agreement with Sire Records to release her music in the United States.

In 2014, she held a sold-out two-day concert at the Yokohama Arena, released two singles (Yume no Hajima-Ring Ring and Family Party), and began hosting a show on NHK World entitled ‘Moshi Moshi Nippon.’ After taking a hiatus, Kyary returned to release her first single in 2015, entitled ‘Mondai Girl,’ which was also a huge success and became the theme song for her first drama.

8. Mr. Children

Established in 1989, Mr. Children (ミスターチルドレン), also known as Misu-Chiru (ミスチル), is one of the most successful Japanese pop rock bands of the 1990s, having sold over 75 million records.

The band, comprised of Kazutoshi Sakurai, Kenichi Tahara, Keisuke Nakagawa, and Hideya Suzuki, held the record for highest first week single sales in Japan for 15 years with their 10th single, ‘Namonaki Uta’ (名もなき詩), selling 1.2 million copies.

In 2012, Mr.Children successfully published fifteen original studio albums and 34 physical singles, along with five compilations, one live album, and fifteen home video releases. They were also recorded as the artist with the 4th highest total income in Japan, earning ¥9,947 billion (approximately $84 million).


SMAP is a boy band that was formed in 1988 by music producer Johnny Kitagawa, the founder of Johnny & Associates. The band originally had six members: Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Shingo Katori, and Katsuyuki Mori. However, Katsuyuki Mori left the group in 1996.

SMAP stands for ‘Sports Music Assemble People’. SMAP is a boy band that has taken the Japanese entertainment industry by storm and is considered the most successful in Asia. In fact, they have been referred to as a ‘national treasure’ and ‘the fortune and property of the country’ in Japan due to their incredible work and the emotional impact it has on their fans.

SMAP is known for its works and contributions in the music and entertainment industry, as well as its various social activities. In 2011, after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, SMAP purchased a 30-second television advertising block during their weekly program to broadcast information about the Japanese Red Cross Society. The band members also provided messages of encouragement to the victims of natural disasters.

As members of a charity organization founded by their agency, Johnny & Associates, they actively work and donate the proceeds from sales of their singles to humanity. Although SMAP was disbanded in 2016, their works remain eternal in the hearts of many people in Japan and throughout the world.

10. AKB48

Who does not know AKB48? Which is an idol group from Japan whose members are all women. AKB48 was created by Yasushi Akimoto in 2005. The number of members is up to hundreds of people.

The songs tell the story of a teenager’s life in a colorful and colorful way. Wota or AKB48 fans can come to the theater and watch their idol in action live. AKB48 released their debut single in February 2006 with “Sakura no Hanabiratachi”. The song successfully penetrated TOP 10 of the Oricon Weekly charts.

With a unique concept, AKB48’s popularity skyrockets every year and makes it the biggest idol group in Japan. Even the Guinness World Record was awarded as the record for the world’s largest pop group.

Looking for More Information about J-Pop?

Looking for More Information about J-Pop? - EDOPEN Japan

  1. Is J-pop more popular than K-pop?
    J-Pop is considered less popular than K-Pop due to differences in music style, talent preparation, and marketing strategy. These differences affect the age of the fans and the target markets. K-Pop specifically targets the Asian and Western markets, while J-Pop has a smaller niche.
  2. Why is J-pop so jazzy?
    J-Pop is influenced by Western genres like jazz and blues. It combines Western instruments such as the violin, harmonica, and guitar with melodies written in the traditional Japanese pentatonic scale.
  3. What came first J-pop or K-pop?
    K-Pop became popular after the 20th century, while J-Pop boomed in the 90s. K-Pop and J-Pop have different histories. J-Pop is considered the blueprint for K-Pop, and K-Pop’s roots are heavily influenced by J-Pop music.
  4. Who is the godfather of J-pop?
    Johnny Kitagawa is known as the godfather of Japanese pop culture. He founded Johnny & Associates, a large entertainment agency that produced several legendary J-pop boy bands. These bands, including SMAP, KinKi Kids, NEWS, KAT-TUN, Arashi, and Kis-My-Ft2, continue to have a significant influence on Japanese pop music.
  5. Why is J-pop less popular than K-pop?
    Accessibility and sales methods greatly affect the popularity of J-Pop and K-Pop. J-Pop has a large market in Japan, while K-Pop promotes its works through various media platforms to the Western countries and throughout the world.


Finally, let’s conclude this article with the following points:

  • J-pop or Japanese pop (Japanese pop music) is a term used for popular Japanese music that entered the mainstream of Japanese music in the 90s.
  • Among the wider community in Japan, the term J-pop was only popular from around 1993 to 1996.
  • There are many Japanese Pop artists who are known throughout the country and even their works are still enjoyed today.

Please leave your comments below. We look forward to receiving your feedback. Thank you for reading and I look forward to seeing you in the next article!


Representative Director of Reboot Japan Co., Ltd., which operates EDOPEN JAPAN. Founded the company in 2018, which provides Japanese language education and assistance for studying in Japan. Started the company after living with international students at a Japanese language school. He enjoys learning about new people and cultures and has lived in Australia and Malaysia. Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Sophia University.