When you’re taking Japanese lessons, it’s also fun to learn a little bit about Japan’s culture and history. Music is a big part of that, and listening to Japanese songs is also a great way to expand your Japanese vocabulary.
Japan’s culture blends past and present into a fusion of traditional and modern. This is evident in the music scene, which includes a vast array of artists who perform genres ranging from J-Pop (Japanese pop) to J-Punk. Many Japanese artists also continue to embrace traditional and folk-style songs.
If you’re into music and are looking for ways to learn how to speak Japanese, take the time to listen to some famous Japanese songs. Here’s a short playlist to get you started.
1. “Tegami (Haikei Jūgo no Kimi e)“
“Letter: Greetings to a 15 Year Old” was written and performed by Angela Aki. The lyrics are instructions to the 15 year old on how to appreciate the moment and make the most of life.
The song urges the teenager to believe in herself during hard times. It tells her that, since there’s no running from sorrow, she should smile and live in the present.
Its final lyric, Shiawase na koto wo negaimasu, means “I wish you happiness.”
2. “Yuki no Hana“
“Snow Flower” by Mika Nakashima is often covered by karaoke artists in Japan, and has been remade by many artists around the globe.
The lyrics are quite sentimental and describe how one might feel as they watch the first snowfall with a loved one.
3. “Minna Yume no Naka“
The lyrics in Kyoko Takada’s calming ballad are about being gracious over a lost love. The title translates to “It’s All Dream,” and reflects the Japanese aesthetic of yugen, which expreses that life is boring when everything is known.
Loosely translated as “mysterious,” it implies that some things should be held back.
4. “Ringo Oiwake“
This famous enka song (Japanese folk song) has been performed by many artists, with Hibari Misora’s version being the most famous.
The song tells the tale of a girl from Tsugaru who experiences a sad farewell on an evening when apple blossoms fell. It’s later revealed that the goodbye was with her mother, and this is the reason for the girl’s melancholy every year when the blossoms drop.
Many famous Japanese songs reflect shibui (subtleness), and this is a great example.
5. “Nanatsu no Ko“
The lyrics to this popular kindergarten song were written by Ujō Noguchi, one of Japan’s preeminent nursery rhyme authors. The melody was composed by Nagayo Motoori. Its simple lyrics are:
Mother crow, why do you cry so?
“Because I have seven cute children
high on the mountain.”
“Kawai kawai” this mother crow cries.
“Kawai kawai” cries the mother crow.
You should behold the old nest
on the mountain. And there you’ll see such
round-eyed, good children.
The Japanese word for music, ongaku, is a combination of the words for “sound” and “enjoyment.” Listening to these famous Japanese songs is a great way to learn about Japanese music and culture.
Add these songs to your playlist to broaden your musical horizons. You may even learn some new Japanese vocabulary words. Ask your Japanese teacher to go over any words or phrases you don’t understand.
Which one of these songs is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo by Dennis Amith