Choice & Words by Toyokazu Mori

30
Shugo Tokumaru <BR>“Exit” <BR>(2007)

Shugo Tokumaru
“Exit”
(2007)

Around the age of eighteen, Shugo Tokumaru was studying in the US where he discovered artists like John Fahey, Tortoise, Jim O’rourke, The Sea and Cake, as well as jazz. Initially, he tried to copy them, but eventually found his own sound based on the discovery that you can combine ordinary melody with strange arrangements.

In 2004, groups like nhhmbase, OORUTAICHI, mothercoat, OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, group_inou showed up – as did Shugo Tokumaru. Together, they started a new era of Japanese indie scene. Representing a whole variety of styles we could collectively call alternative pop, they have had an immense impact on later generations of independent musicians.

Shugo Tokumaru could have been the most influential among them. He’s been inspiration for artists like Ohshu (王舟), oono yuuki, Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra, Mori wa Ikiteiru and many more. Apart from own project, Shugo joins gellers and YankaNoi as a guitar player. Japanese invasion is going on by music and not by weapon.

♪♫ Listen: “Parachute

29
Perfume <BR>“Game” <BR>(2008)

Perfume
“Game”
(2008)

Among the main influences of Yasutaka Nakata were two legends of the Japanese scene: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Tetsuya Komuro, as well as projects like the duo Pizzicato Five. Inspired by them, he started his own project called Capsule.

In 2008, when the Vocaloid voice synthesizer was still a new thing, Yasutaka produced Perfume’s first full-length album “GAME”. While Vocaloid is nearly human voice, Perfume are nearly android voice. Two similar aesthetics crossed that year and spread all over Japan.

Later on, Yasutaka produced music for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ), who soon became a symbol of Japanese Kawaii movement. This model of singer-producer partnership has been popular in the history of Japanese music. Let us just mention Momoe Yamaguchi and Ryudo Uzaki, Seiko Mastuda and Haruomi Hosono, Morning Musume and Tsunku.

Recently, a producer called Tofubeats started to bring out new charms of Chisato Moritaka among other talented young singers.

♪♫ Listen: “Polyrhythm” + live

28
Hijōkaidan <BR>“Zoroku no Kibyo” <BR>(1982)

Hijōkaidan
“Zoroku no Kibyo”
(1982)

Japanese noise legend Merzbow has influenced more artists we could mention here, but let’s just name Jim O’Rourke. Thurston Moore respects Keiji Haino of Fushitusha (不失者).

Another legend of the Japanese noise and improvisation scene is Hijōkaidan (非常階段), who have become famous for performing in an unexpected way. Formed in 1979, they were among the very first noise bands in the world.

What is fascinating about Hijōkaidan is that they are still active, and they have even collaborated with the idol group BiS under the name BiS-Kaidan. Together, they have covered Togawa Jun’s famous number “Suki Suki Daisuki”.

“Zoroku no Kibyo” (蔵六の奇病), or “The Rare Disease of Zoroku”, was their first album. It combined live recordings from various places, and the cover art was created by a horror cartoon author Hideshi Hino. It sounds very frantic.

But the singer-songwriter Akiko Hotaka once said, Hijōkaidan’s leader JOJO Hiroshige might be fierce with his guitar, but he sings tender songs.

♪♫ Listen: Live at Freedommune 0

27
Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble <BR>“Dreams” (2002)

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble
“Dreams” (2002)

Jim O’Rourke is avant-garde and universal at the same time. Yoshihide Otomo has done the same feat, changing popular Japanese songs into improvisations.

On his collaboration album with singer Yuki Saga, “See You In A Dream” he reworked compositions by Hachidai Nakamura, including the hit that Western audiences know as “Sukiyaki”. And on “DREAMS”, which featured PHEW and Jun Togawa, he covered Jim O’Rourke’s “Eureka”.

An accomplished musician influenced by free jazz, Yoshihide experimented with various genres, playing guitar and turntable. In 2000s, he became one of Japan’s cult musicians. And after 2011 earthquake, he participated in “Project FUKUSHIMA!”, a music event that aimed to change the negative image of Fukushima.

In 2013, he produced soundtrack for TV drama “Amachan”. His orchestra also performed at Kohaku Uta Gassen, the most popular music program in TV held at the end of year. This was the first moment when avant-garde music conquered Japanese media industry.

By the way, the eponymous founder of Yoshida Yohei Group said that he started playing sax influenced by Yoshihide. That’s why he plays it with a sense of guitar player.

♪♫ Listen: “Good Morning” + album stream

26
Boredoms <BR>“Super Are” <BR>(1998)

Boredoms
“Super Are”
(1998)

“If I were to be another person, I wanna be Mark David Chapman. Because I have no Beatles records and just like Chapman, I would like to kill Yoko Ono,” Eye Yamatsuka once said in a “Fools Mate” interview. This comment explains his early music. What he intended to say was that Yoko Ono is far more important than John Lennon.

Around the time Kansai No Wave (関西NOWAVE) scene was born, Eye started a hard-core punk / noise group Hanatarashi (ハナタラシ) in Osaka in 1983. But it was his next band that would become the most influential Japanese avant-grade unit.

Boredoms’ musicality was rooted in tribal beats and heliolithic trance. It’s worth mentioning that one of group’s members, Yoshimi, also formed OOIOO. And another ex-member Seiichi Yamamoto is also a guitarist of legendary group ROVO.

And among Boredoms’ many children you could also mention an influential music movement called “Kansai Zero Generation” (関西ゼロ世代) with artists like Afrirampo, OORUTAICHI, Oshiripenpenz, neco nemuru, Illreme, Limited Express (Has Gone?), DODDODO and more.

♪♫ Listen: Live 2015 + album stream

25
Number Girl <BR>“School Girl Distortional Addict” <BR>(1999)

Number Girl
“School Girl Distortional Addict”
(1999)

The year of 1998 was a prologue of a Japanese alternative rock movement that came after Shibuya-kei (渋谷系). Bands like Quruli, SUPERCAR, WINO, Kazuyoshi Nakamura and Tabito Nanao appeared in the J-rock scene. Each of those artists presented a different musicianship, but they embodied world standards music in a natural way.

Number Girl was one of the most influential rock outfits of that tie. Starting their proper career in 1998, they were influenced by the US punk/alternative scene, from Iggy Pop to the Pixies. And their second album, “Sappukei”, produced by Dave Fridman, had a very no-wave sound.

After Number Girl broke up in 2002, the group’s frontman Shutoku Mukai formed a new project called Zazen Boys, which was a bit like Led Zeppelin playing hip hop tunes.

Number Girl often collaborated with their friends such as Eastern Youth, Bloodthirsty Butchers or Panic Smile. And among their children you could mention Art-School, Lostage, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Base Ball Bear, 9mm Parabellum Bullet, OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, Cinema Staff, Tricot and many more talented acts in the Japanese indie scene.

♪♫ Listen: “Tomei Syojyo” + album stream

24
SPITZ <BR>“Sora no Tobikata” <BR>(1994)

SPITZ
“Sora no Tobikata”
(1994)

In 1994, Mr.Children got out from the Shibuya-kei scene to national stardom with their million-selling hit-single “Innocent World” everyone in Japan knows almost perfectly and could sing.

On the other hand, SPITZ’s beautiful song “Sora mo Toberuhazu” didn’t get even a fraction of attention Mr.Children received at that time. But when they finally got their own hit singles next year, this song had a second chance to be heard.

SPITZ started their career as a punk band a bit like The Blue Hearts (No. 12 on our list). But the band’s singer, Masamune Kusano, realised that his voice is not suitable for punk, but rather for more lyrical music. So they changed style, drawing inspirations from new wave and shoegaze.

“Sora mo Toberuhazu” means that we could fly to the sky. And “Sora no Tobikata” (空の飛び方), which was the title of their 1994 album, means “How to Fly to the Sky”. Since they started their flight then, their invisible impact has been spreading all around the Japanese music scene.

I think that Grapevine, Remioromen (レミオロメン), Art-School, Unison Square Garden, Indigo La End, Mitsume, Homecomings and many other guitar rock bands may be influenced by the innocent world of SPITZ.

♪♫ Listen: “Sora mo Toberuhazu“ 

23
Yasuyuki Okamura <BR>“Katei Kyoshi” <BR>(1990)

Yasuyuki Okamura
“Katei Kyoshi”
(1990)

One of the most popular singers in Japan, Mr. Children’s Kazutoshi Sakurai initially started to sing under the influence of Kai Band (甲斐バンド), and wanted to learn Yasuyuki Okamura’s sensual way of singing.

Yasuyuki Okamura (岡村靖幸), on the other hand, was inspired by Prince and other great black musicians from America. He still remains an active Japanese pop singer, like Tatsuro Yamashita or Seiko Matsuda.

On his best albums, especially on “Katei Kyoshi” (家庭教師) released in 1990, he managed to convey the atmosphere of growing up in the age of the bubble economy.

Apart from singing by himself, he’s also collaborated with Yutaka Ozaki, Denki Groove (電気グルーヴ), Base Ball Bear and served as a producer for female singer-songwriter Makoto Kawamoto. Still young in his heart, he never deceives audience and remains an amazing artist and entertainer.

♪♫ Listen: “Ano Ko Bokuga Long Shoot Kimetara Donna Kao Surudarou” + album stream

22
Jagatara <BR>“We Could Dance with You…” <BR>(1985)

Jagatara
“We Could Dance with You…”
(1985)

In 1982, a hardcore punk legend The Stalin dropped an LP called “STOP JAP”. And a post-punk protagonist Jagatara released “Nanban Torai”, an album mixing punk, reggae, funk, jazz, folk, and even hard rock.

This live album, who full title goes “We could dance with you all night ‘til the dawn breaks through” (君と踊りあかそう日の出を見るまで), was recorded over 1983-1984 and included free improvisation of their well known number “Tango”.

The soul style of the band’s singer Akemi Edo was clearly rooted in the African ground, with the afro-beat revolutionary Fela Kuti among his major inspirations – and he certainly felt lost in the uneasy life of Tokyo metropolis.

Later, Akemi’s soul attitude would influence a range of artists including Fishmans, Yura Yura Teikoku or OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, who are currently an example for the upcoming generation of Japanese musicians.

♪♫ Listen: “Tango

21
X Japan <BR>“Blue Blood” <BR>(1989)

X Japan
“Blue Blood”
(1989)

“Psychedelic Violence, Crime of Visual Shock” is a catchphrase of this famous group from Chiba. They play hard rock, but with their great melodies they sing like in popular Japanese kayokyoku.

X Japan are one of the most important representatives of Visual-kei (ビジュアル系). Together with BUCK-TICK and Kinniku shojyotai (筋肉少女帯), they are considered originators of this Japanese movement that has mixed glam rock with post-punk.

Drummer and leader of the group, Yoshiki, also released Luna Sea and Glay’s first indie albums on his own label Extasy Records, as well as produced the major debut singles of Glay and Dir En Grey. In the late 90’s, even more eccentric bands like L’arc en ciel, The Yellow Monkey or Kuroyume (黒夢) paved their way to fame, also influenced by 80’s new wave and hard rock.

In 2015, Luna Sea held a rock festival, where many Visual-kei bands and their children came together. There you could clearly hear X Japan’s strong influence on bands like Ling Tosite Sigure (凛として時雨) and 9mm Parabellum Bullet.

♪♫ Listen: “Endless Rain” + album stream

20
Southern All Stars <BR>“Umi no Yeah!!” <BR>(1998)

Southern All Stars
“Umi no Yeah!!”
(1998)

Influenced by classic bands like The Beatles and Little Feat, this group are our national punk icon. Southern All Stars are indeed superstars everyone in Japan knows, just like for example Eikichi Yazawa from Carol, Mr. Children or B’z.

After his resurrection from esophageal cancer, the band’s frontman Keisuke Kuwata restarted the group as well. At the 2014/2015 live countdown, he seemed to be making fun of the prime minister during his performance. It reminded us he has been singing about peace and anti-war protest songs throughout his brilliant career.

“Umi no Yeah!!” (海のYEAH!!) is the compilation of Southern All Stars greatest hits. Like The Beatles, they would often release albums without hit singles.

Therefore this record might be the most suitable for the first encounter with the group. But if you like it, please try Southern All Stars’ new record “Budo” (葡萄), released in 2015.

♪♫ Listen: “Taiyou Ha Tsumi Na Yatsu

19
Sadistic Mika Band  <BR>“Kurofune” <BR>(1974)

Sadistic Mika Band
“Kurofune”
(1974)

Formed in 1972, Sadistic Mika Band was active only for three years (not mentioning multiple reunions under different names). But their 1974 album “Kurofune” (黒船) is considered one of the most influential albums in the history of Japanese rock.

What is more, this hard-rock glam band’s drummer Yukihiro Takahashi would later become the percussionist and lead singer of YMO’s. And the group’s key person Kazuhiko Kato earlier co-founded The Folk Crusaders, the very first underground band to gain mainstream recognition.

He and his fellow The Folk Crusaders member Osamu Kitayama are composer of “Ano Subarasii Ai wo MouIchido”. You’ll hear this song everywhere in Japan, from elementary school to mental hospital. And actually, Osamu is famous psychiatrist, mental doctor.

Beside Sadistic Mika Band’s world tours and great albums, Kazuhiko Kato has also recorded other sophisticated albums and strongly influenced 90’s Shibuya-kei movement.

♪♫ Listen: “Timemachine ni Onegai” + album stream

18
Sugar Babe <BR>“SONGS” <BR>(1975)

Sugar Babe
“SONGS”
(1975)

After the legendary Japanese rock group Happy End broke up, the singer and composer Eiichi Otaki founded his own label called Niagara. He also produced mellow songs in the urban style called “City Pop”.

He also worked with originators of Shibuya-kei movement, Sugar Babe, which included Tatsuro Ymashita, Taeko Onuki, Kunio Muramatsu, Ginji Ito, and Jiro Terao, as well as the father of modern songwriting Saho Terao.

Their 1975 album, simply titled “Songs”, has had an influence on generations of Japanese musicians and remains influential today.

Sugar Babe’s famous work “Downtown” has been also covered by female singer EPO, whose version was used as the theme song of “Oretachi Hyoukinzoku”, Takeshi Kitano’s long-running comedy show.

It made this song a symbol of the Japanese 80’s city life.

♪♫ Listen: “Downtown” (live)

17
INU <BR>“Meshi Kuuna!” <BR>(1981)

INU
“Meshi Kuuna!”
(1981)

In the 1980s, Tokyo rockers like Friction and Lizard followed post-punk scenes in London and New York. Both of those bands keep going on, the former one with a new drummer Tatsuya Nakamura, who also played with Benzy in Blankey Jet City.

Simultaneously, Kansai No Wave (関西NO WAVE) was born around the Kansai region of Japan. Fascinating new groups were sparking up like Aunt Sally in Kobe, Ultra Bide and SS in Kyoto, and INU in Osaka.

Soon after their first album came out, INU broke up. But INU’s music and their punk attitude – as demonstrated on “Meshi Kuuna!” (メシ喰うな!) – later influenced Rockin’on-kei artists like Mo’some Tonebender, Elefant-kashimahi, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and more.

INU’s singer, Ko Machida, is also a novelist and an actor, and he still plays at rock festivals. These Kansai No Wave band’s members continue to have an important role in the underground music scene.

♪♫ Listen: “TuruTuru no Tubo” + full album

16
Sheena Ringo <Br>“Shoso Strip” <BR>(2000)

Sheena Ringo
“Shoso Strip”
(2000)

Like the legendary female singer Jun Togawa, Sheena Ringo (椎名林檎) was influenced by a full spectrum of music styles from classical to jazz to soul to rock. She also loves popular Japanese songs called Kayokyoku (歌謡曲), thus she thinks that melody and harmony are somehow more important than particular sounds and arrangements.

At the turn of the century, she made the breakthrough video “Honnou”, wearing a nurse uniform. It’s become natural for her to play surprising, or even shocking roles – she is Japanese equivalent for Lady Gaga or David Bowie.

Sheena’s unique music style has been also shaped by hakata (博多) mentai-rock bands, Number Girl and mosome’tonebender, At the same time, she clearly appreciates Marvin Gaye and even called a series of her live recordings “seiteki healing”, which means “sexual healing”.

In 2003, a few years after she started career, Sheena formed a soon-to-be-famous group Tokyo Jihen (東京事変), which followed the concept of Nile Rodgers’s Chic. Her self-produced style, on the other hand, was continued by artists like Tricot and Oomori Seiko. But she herself keeps making brilliant songs.

Of Sheena’s three great solo albums released at the turn of the century, “Shoso Strip” (勝訴ストリップ) was the most successful one and is a great introduction to her impressive catalogue.

♪♫ Listen: “Honnou

15
Utada Hikaru <BR>“Deep River” <BR>(2002)

Utada Hikaru
“Deep River”
(2002)

“Solitude. I feel it in her music,” Youichiro Yamasaki, the editor-in-chief of “Rockin’on”, told us about Utada Hikaru’s acclaimed third album “Deep River”.

In 1998, artists like Ayumi Hamazaki, MISIA, aiko, Sheena Ringo and Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル) appeared on the J-Pop scene. Fantastic female singers bloomed.

Above all, the sales of Utada’s first album reached 10 mln copies worldwide. She was just 16 years old when she recorded it. But she seemed to have already gone through many things in life. She seemed to have a peculiar destiny. She grew up in New York, but got the sense of Shibuya-kei naturally, and collaborated with famous hip-hop trio Schadaraparr.

Her mother, Keiko Fuji, was a popular Enka singer. Hikaru inherited her talent and some of her interests. She liked Momoe Yamaguchi, Yutaka Ozaki, TM network, The Backhorn… Therefore, her eclectic talent was rooted both in American R&B and J-POP.

One by one, Hikaru was making million-selling monster albums. But gradually, she seemed to feel lonely, out of society and natural human company. In 2010, she finally decided to temporarily stop singing and go back to ordinary activities. She got married and moved to London in 2014, but her story seemed to restart in 2015.

When new security bills were passed in Japan, she declared that she already began working on new material and will return to Japan to vote in the next summer’s elections for our future.

♪♫ Listen: “Traveling

14
Plastics <BR>“Welcome Plastics” <BR>(1980)

Plastics
“Welcome Plastics”
(1980)

This Tokyo-based group included an illustrator, a fashion stylist, a graphic designer, and at first they played punk rock. But some time later, they were joined by Masahide Sakuma from progressive rock band Yonin-Bayashi (四人囃子).

Coming aboard Plastics, Masahide brought along a drum machine as if it was another new member of the band. Although he was initially inspired by Yoshio Hayakawa’s Jacks and Kenji Endo (遠藤賢司), Masahide has gradually become more and more interested in new wave and techno-pop.

Together with him, Plastics played alongside B-52’s, Talking Heads, The Rammons. In1979, they released their first 7-inch record called ”Copy” on Rough Trade.

Today, Plastics, P-MODEL (produced by Sakuma) and “Japanese Kraftwerk” Hikashu are considered three legends of Japanese techno-pop.

♪♫ Listen: “Copy

13
Quruli <BR>“Zukan”<BR>(2000)

Quruli
“Zukan”
(2000)

Sometimes Quruli (くるり) are called “Japanese Radiohead”. The reason for that is they have changed their music style every time they released a new album.

But what differs them from Radiohead is they have always been open for collaborations. Their debut record was produced by Masahide Sakuma (see the note on the LEFT/RIGHT). And the next album was partly produced by Jim O’Rouke. On “Bara no Hana”, a very beautiful and simple ballad from their third album “Team Rock”, Miki Furukawa from Supercar was singing in the chorus.

They have also worked with Tamio Okuda from Unicorn, Akiko Yano and Haruomi Hosono of Yellow Magic Orchestra. And they’ve been also supporting young Japanese musicians and foreign artist, holding events like the music festival named Kyoto Onpaku (京都音博).

“Zukan” (図鑑) is their memorable second album released in 2000. On this record, they decided to become a 90’s group combining alternative music, grunge and post-rock of that era. And they succeeded.

♪♫ Listen: “Aoi Sora

12
The Blue Hearts <BR>“The Blue Hearts” <BR>(1987)

The Blue Hearts
“The Blue Hearts”
(1987)

Punk rock band influenced by the solitude spirit of blues, The Blue Hearts are among the most popular Japanese representatives of the post-punk / new-wave era are along with UNICORN or BOØWY.

Listeners remember them not only for their music. During The Blue Hearts’ first gig in Budokan, a famous venue in Tokyo, they spoke about dangers of nuclear power plants, and played a song named “Chernobyl”.

After the band broke up, singer Hiroto Komoto and guitarist Masatoshi Mashima teamed up for a project called The High-Lows in 1995, and The Cro-Magnons in 2006. Their songs have gradually become simpler, and the straightforwardness of their messages has been lost. But the significance of their music keeps growing.

The singer of mothercoat, Giga Dylan, once wrote in his diary:

“I used to ride on bicycle while listening to The High-Lows. / High school was a live venue for me in those days. / I often went to Karaoke to sing. / After I started the band mothercoat, I didn’t. / When I feel my voice weak, I really like to sing The Blue Hearts.”

♪♫ Listen: official trailer

11
BOØWY <BR>“Beat Emotion” <BR>(1986)

BOØWY
“Beat Emotion”
(1986)

Founded in 1981 and active throughout the decade, BOØWY have been one of the most popular rock band in the history of Japanese music equally appreciated for their studio albums and live recordings.

Released in 1986, “Beat Emotion” was their first No. 1 album on the national chart called Oricon – they had two more in just two years – and it was filled with high-speed pop numbers.

Two members of BOØWY’s were especially responsible for the band’s exceptional sound: the vocalist Kyosuke Himuro and guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei. The latter one had a chance to play with his heroes, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Their third album “Beat Emotion” was influenced by no wave movement and artists like Talking Heads, and produced by Masahide Sakuma. BOØWY’s 8-beat style was followed by GLAY, 9mm parabellum bullet and many other Japanese rock bands.

♪♫ Watch: official movie + album stream

10
Yura Yura Teikoku <BR>“Hollow Me” <Br>(2007)

Yura Yura Teikoku
“Hollow Me”
(2007)

Japanese trio Yura Yura Teikoku (ゆらゆら帝国) developed a very unique Japanese version psychedelic garage rock influenced by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, CAN, Captain Beefheart, Suicide T-REX, as well as Japanese acts including Jacks and Murahatibu (村八分).

On their 11th and last album “Hollow Me” (“Kudo desu”) released by DFA in the USA, their fierceness seemed to diminish. They approached minimal and repetitive krautrock style with elegant melodies, which demonstrated the musicality of the guitarist and singer Shintaro Sakamoto.

After the band broke up, Sakamoto released memorable two solo albums. And Chiyo Kamekawa has become the bass player of Fushitusha and Manners. In the meantime, Yura Yura Teikoku’s producer team Soichiro Nakamura and Yo Ishihara have worked with Ogre You Asshole.

♪♫ Listen: “Beautiful” + album stream

9
Rosa Luxemburg <BR>“Puri Puri” <BR>(1986)

Rosa Luxemburg
“Puri Puri”
(1986)

Not the political activist in Poland, but a legendary music group from Kyoto, Rosa Luxemburg were influenced by Japanese bands like Murahatibu (村八分) and RC succession.

Rosa Luxemburg played hybrid music. They blended folk, blues, glam rock, new wave, and even P-funk. They’ve been highly praised by other Japanese musicians, including Kaoru Sato from the Kyoto-based electric funk group EP-4.

I think they gave origin to the rockin’on-kei (ロッキング・オン系) musicians like X Japan, Yasuyuki Okamura, The Yellow Monkey and Fujifabric. Among artists who praised them are Tamio Okuda from Unicorn, Shigeru Kishida from Quruli, Ulfuls and Yuki (ex-Judy & Mary).

Rosa Luxemburg’s “Puri Puri” (ぷりぷり) included a homage song for Kenji Sawada – who is the lead vocalist of The Tigers, representative of Group Sounds (GS) from Kyoto – and crazy cover of Kyohei Tutsumi, one of the most famous Japanese composers.

After the band broke up, the singer Donto (どんと) founded a new band called Bo Gambos, which collaborated with none other than Bo Diddley.
 
♪♫ Listen: official trailer

8
Cornelius <BR>“Point” <BR>(2001)

Cornelius
“Point”
(2001)

One of Japan’s most internationally acclaimed electronic acts, Cornelius is an solo project of Keigo Oyamada (小山田圭吾).

Once he teamed up with Kenji Ozawa for the legendary band Flipper’s Guitar, which became a symbol of Shibuya-kei movement together with bands and artists like Pizzicato Five, Original Love, Hiroshi Takano, Schadaraparr, Kahimi Karie, Hideki Kaji, L⇔R, Takako Minekawa, Cymbals and more.

Cornalius has paid homage to many great artists around the globe by heavy use of sampling. Finally, he created “Fantasma”, one of the most acclaimed and most information-intensive Japanese pop albums. Four years later, he approached minimal electronica in one of the 21st century’s first masterpieces, “Point”.

♪♫ Listen: “Point Of View Point

7
Fishmans <BR>“Kuuchuu Camp” <BR>(1996)

Fishmans
“Kuuchuu Camp”
(1996)

“Kuuchuu Camp” (空中キャンプ), meaning “Air Camp”, seems like swaying in the air. Or maybe swimming – through the sea of reggae, dub, and dream pop. And through its atmosphere, it sets you in the mood necessary to accept difficulties of life.

After the vocalist Sato and violinist HONZI’s deaths, the remaining members started other projects: Yuzuru Kashiwabara performed as Polaris, and Kinnichi Motegi became a drummer of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

But Fishmans are still going on with supporting vocalists like example UA, Ikuko Harada from Clammbon or Takashi Nagadumi. And with help of ROVO’s violinist Yuji Katsui.

We can assume that among artists influenced by Fishmans were the great electro-folk rock band Sakanaction on the one hand, and on the other tigerMos and Remigai’s extraordinary composer Masahiro Araki. And Kim Wooyong, a singer-songwriter from Osaka, has covered “Night Cruising”, a famous song from this album.

Many Japanese musicians loved Fishmans and hopefully the future generations of artists will appreciate them as well.

♪♫ Listen: “Sunny Blue

6
globe <BR>“Relation” <BR>(1998)

globe
“Relation”
(1998)

Apart from Yellow Magic Orchestra and Plastics, the best-known electro rock group from Japan is TM Network.

Its supporting musicians have influenced Japanese scene also outside of TM Network. The guitarist Tak Matsumoto later formed B’z. And keyboard player Daisuke Asakura started a project called access, and produced TM Reviolution.

In 1990s TM Network’s leader Tetsuya Komuro achieved a great success as the producer of trf, Namie Amuro, Tomomi Kahara, and as the leader of globe. In one week of 1995, his works occupied all top five spots on national music chart.

Tetsuya Komuro and Takeshi Kobayashi (小林武史), who produced Mr.Children and My Little Lover, are called Double TK. And Masahide Sakuma from Plastics produced two super stars: Judy & Mary and Glay. These producers strongly contributed to making 90s a golden era of J-Pop.

“Relation” is the fourth album of globe. It’s a perfect form of electro progressive rock encompassing soul, AOR and hip hop. Komuro’s sound has influenced many musicians including KREVA, Yasutaka Nakata , Ling tosite sigure, group_inou and tofubeats.

♪♫ Listen: “Wanna Be a Dreammaker” + album stream

5
Yellow Magic Orchestra <BR>“Solid State Survivor”<BR>(1979)

Yellow Magic Orchestra
“Solid State Survivor”
(1979)

Influenced by all great 60s/70s musicians in the world, plus the Okinawa group Kina Shoukichi & Champloose, the songwriter and producer Haruomi Hosono has recorded three tropical LPs in the 70s.

Finally, he teamed up with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, and started Yellow Magic Orchestra, which combined their experiences with modern computer technology. Hosono’s first concept of YMO was to remodel Martin Denny in a Kraftwerk’s techno pop manner. And it succeeded. Soon, they toured the world accompanied by singer Akiko Yano.

YMO have inspired the entire Japanese scene, from idol singers to rock musicians. You’ll hear their influence on the records of Sheena & Rockets, TM network, Denki Groove, Ken Ishii, TOWA TEI – all of them are the YMO’s children.

The group is actually still alive with guitarists Hiroshi Takano, Wataru Takada’s son Ren Takada and Keigo Oyamada from Cornelius.

♪♫ Listen: “Tong Poo” + album stream

4
Yumi Arai <BR>“Misslim” <BR>(1974)

Yumi Arai
“Misslim”
(1974)

In Japan, there are three legendary female singer-songwriters: Mariya Takeuchi (竹内まりや), Miyuki Nakajima (中島みゆき) and Yumi Arai (荒井由実).

The latter one is best known from the memorable theme song of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, one of many beloved animated fantasy films directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. But it’s just one of the reasons why Yumi is the most famous singer-songwriter in Japan.

Her first three albums, “Hikōki-gumo”, “Misslim” and “Cobalt Hour”, have been recorded with Tin Pan Alley, Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki, Tatuo Hayasi and Masataka Matsutoya who later became her husband.

After she married, she changed the stage name to Yumi Matsutoya (松任谷由実) and released hit albums, one by one. Her hit song “Haruyo Koi”, or “Spring Will Come”, has been taught in schools.

In 2009, she collaborated with Quruli in the song “Shirt wo Araeba “(シャツを洗えば), meaning “When We Wash a Shirt”. These days, many young female singer-songwriter still declare love for Yumi. And so do we.

♪♫ Listen: “Yasashisa ni Tutumaretanara

3
Yosui Inoue <BR>“Kori no Sekai” <BR>(1973)

Yosui Inoue
“Kori no Sekai”
(1973)

This was the first million-selling album in Japan. An acid folk classic, “Kori no Sekai” (氷の世界) was clearly influenced by Bob Dylan.

Yosui Inoue (井上陽水) is one of the most influential Japanese singer-songwriters. who started For Life Records together with Takuro Yoshida, Hitoshi Komuro and Shigeru Izumiya. Founded in 1975, For Life was the first record company run by musician themselves.

In 1980s, Yosui wrote a hit song named “Kazari jyanainoyo Namida wa” for female singer Akina Nakamori. And his hit song “Yume no Naka e” was covered by female singer Yuki Saito.

In 1990s, he teamed up with beat rock legends UNICORN’s vocalist Tamio Okuda. They made two albums together, and produced Puffy’s debut single “Asia no Junsin”.

Yosui’s other hit song “Shonen Jidai” is taught and sung in school chorus classes. And the current Tokyo indie scene member Kenta Maeno covers his songs like “Kori no Sekai” or “Iceage” in an acoustic fashion. On the other hands, notable indie rock band Koochewsen covers “Yume no Naka e” with psychedelic explosion.

They are just some examples of many musicians Yosui has influenced over the last decades.

♪♫ Listen: “Kori no Sekai

2
RC Succession <BR>“Rhapsody”<BR>(1980)

RC Succession
“Rhapsody”
(1980)

Some people say that Carol and Mr. Children are “Japanese Beatles”. If so, I think Murahachibu and RC Succession are “Japanese Rolling Stones”.

“Rhapsody” is their famous live album including punk cover of Japan’s best known song ever, “Ue wo Muite Aruko” also known as ”Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto. This record was released at the peak of RC Succession’s career. As the first punk/new wave group in Japan, they played a model role of a band who are against the establishment.

RC Succession were firstly a folk rock group. After “Rhapsody”, they became electric rock band, and made a controversial album called “Covers” with support of Fujio Ymaguchi from Murahachibu. He first appeared as GS group member, and later for a whole joined Les Rallizes Dénudés. As solo guitarist, he supported BO GUMBOS and Sheena & Rockets.

However, RC Succession’s company cancelled the release of “Covers” because they included an anti-nuclear message in their songs. After all, this album was released by an indie label and, naturally, became No. 1 hit.

Their spirit inspired rock bands like The Blue Hearts, Hi-Standard, Brahman, Soul Flower Union, Kazuyoshi Saito, Ginnan Boyz (銀杏BOYZ).

And especially Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s vocalist Gotch seems to cultivate their legacy – not only musically. He runs a free newspaper called “The Future Times” covering various themes: from recycling issues to discussions on how to remember our folktales, ancient wisdoms, and follow a more comfortable way of life.

♪♫ Listen: “King of Live

1
Happy End <br>“Kazemachi Roman”<BR>(1971)

Happy End
“Kazemachi Roman”
(1971)

Do you know Sofia Coppola’s movie “Lost in Translation”? It featured one of Happy End’s songs, “Kaze wo Atsumete”. They are a symbol of Tokyo city’s original scene.

In contrast to psychedelia legend Flower Travellin’ Band who sang in English, Happy End is one of the earliest Japanese rock bands to sing in Japanese and with Japanese spirituality, although influenced by Buffalo Springfield.

Happy End (はっぴいえんど) consisted of a guitarist Shigeru Suzuki; drummer and a most famous lyrics writer Takashi Matsumoto; Haruomi Hosono, who is the founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra and has made anything from traditional folk to idol songs to ambient tracks; and singer Eiichi Ohtaki, one of the greatest J-Pop composers with his own label called Niagara.

Ohtaki has also discovered great talents like singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita from Sugar Babe, whom you will find at No. 18 in our list.

At first, Happy End played as a backing band for great folk singers like Nobuyasu Okabayashi, Kenji Endo or Wataru Takada. Nowadays, they were admired by crowd of followers including Sunny Day Service, KIRINJI (キリンジ), Quruli and Kicell (キセル).

Happy End maintains influence on young musicians like Cero or Siamesecats. And Crunch have covered songs from their legendary album “Kazemachi Roman” (風街ろまん). Happy End’s music is still alive.

♪♫ Listen: “Kaze wo Atsumete” + album stream