Knowing where to start with Japanese music can be a bit of a minefield. On top of that, finding songs you can study Japanese with is even harder. Or perhaps you often go to karaoke, but never know what songs to sing? Look no further – here is a list of 15 easy Japanese songs to get you started!
The songs on this list have been chosen because they are popular songs which also have simple Japanese lyrics. Similarly, I’ve tried to include a mix of older and newer songs.
I wanted to write this post to show the wide range of Japanese music. Sometimes I worry that it can be hard to see past the idol music sometimes! I hope that this list will be a helpful starting point for discovering all sorts of Japanese music.
1. 上を向いて歩こう by 坂本九 // Ue wo Muite Arukou by Kyu Sakamoto
This is the oldest song on the list but a definite classic. Known as “Sukiyaki” in English, this is one of the best selling singles of all time. I’m not sure why this is because it has no connection to the lyrics!
It is also one of the few foreign language songs to reach the top of the US Billboard Top 100 chart.
The upbeat sound of the song contrasts with the sadness of the lyrics. The song tells the story of a man who looks up and whistles to stop tears from falling. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, which makes it a great Japanese song to study with!
2. 世界に一つだけの花 by SMAP // Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana by SMAP
The recently disbanded boy band SMAP were very much a national institution, having a career spanning almost three decades. Besides music, the band’s members expanded into acting and hosted one of the most popular variety shows of all time, SMAPxSMAP.
Their biggest song (The One and Only Flower in the World) was released in 2003. It was an instant hit, selling over a million copies. The song’s simple lyrics and pacing make it a karaoke favourite even today.
3.手紙〜拝啓十五の君へ by アンジェラ・アキ // Tegami ~ Haikei juugo no kimi e by Angela Aki
This single by singer-songwriter Angela Aki was released in 2008. Originally featured in a NHK documentary, it became popular again after the March 11 tsunami disaster and is still heard at graduation time today.
I think it perfectly encapsulates what a lot of us would write a letter to our younger selves. It’s a song with a great message and certainly one to listen to when you’re feeling a bit down.
By the way, 拝啓 (はいけい/ haikei) is how you traditionally start off a letter in Japanese.
4. First Love by 宇多田ヒカル // Utada Hikaru – First Love
Utada Hikaru is one is Japan’s most famous contemporary artists – it was tricky to pick a song from her many albums.
First Love was Utada’s third single, taken from the album of the same name which went on to over seven million copies in Japan. That’s not bad considering she was just 16 years old at the time! This easy Japanese ballad has a mix of Japanese and English, and is likely to be a karaoke favourite.
5. PONPONPON by きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ // PONPONPON by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the stage name of Kiriko Takemura. Takemura started as a blogger and model before entering the music industry. Her 2011 single PONPONPON was the first of her singles to become a viral hit.
The catchy beat is the invention of famed producer Yasutaka Nakata, who is also the creative force behind pop trio Perfume. The song and music video are the epitome of cute. Together with the simple lyrics, this is a very easy song to get stuck in your head (you have been warned!).
6. ありがとう by いきものがかり // Arigatou by Ikimonogakari
Ikimonogakari are a pop-rock band that have been around since 1999, although they are currently on hiatus. The band’s name refers to the group of children assigned the task of looking after plants and animals in Japanese primary schools.
Arigatou is a song they released in 2010 and is about treasuring a loved one. The lyrics are very sweet, and the tempo of the song makes it a good choice for singing at karaoke!
7. ORION by 中島美嘉 // Orion by Mika Nakashima
Mika Nakashima is a singer and actress from Kagoshima prefecture who debuted in 2001. As an actress, she is probably most famous for her role in the live-action adaptation of the shojo manga Nana.
Her single Orion was released in 2008 and is one of her many popular singles. In this song, Mika sings wistfully about a past love. The lyrics here are slow and not too difficult which makes it a nice song for Japanese learners.
8. リンダリンダ by ザ・ブルーハーツ // Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts
The Blue Hearts were a punk rock band popular in the 80s and 90s. Linda Linda is one of their most popular singles and remains a karaoke favourite.
Originally released in 1987, the song was a key part of the film Linda Linda Linda (2005), where 4 high school girls form a band which covered several songs by The Blue Hearts.
9. 恋に落ちたら by Crystal Kay // Koi ni Ochitara by Crystal Kay
Crystal Kay is a singer hailing from Yokohama, who released her debut single at just 13 years old. Koi ni Ochitara was her seventeenth single released in 2005 and was the theme song for a drama of the same name. This pop ballad is probably the least well known on the list, but it has simple but sweet lyrics perfect for karaoke!
10. 涙そうそう by 夏川りみ // Nada Sou Sou by Rimi Natsukawa
Nada Sou Sou is an Okinawan phrase which means “large tears are falling”. In standard Japanese this would be 涙がポロポロこぼれ落ちる/ namida ga poro poro kobore ochiru. The song tells the story of someone looking through a photo album of someone who has died.
The original song was performed by Ryoko Moriyama, but it is Rimi Natsukawa’s version released in 2001 that steadily became a hit. It was so popular that broadcaster TBS made two dramas and a film between 2005 and 2006. The song is sad but beautiful and certainly a Japanese song worth knowing about.
11. KARATE by BABYMETAL
Babymetal have a unique blend of metal and idol style music (now known as “kawaii metal”). Babymetal formed in 2010 and consists of three members: Suzuka and Moa. Since their formation, they have performed in many places around the world.
The group’s 2016 song Karate is from their second album Metal Resistance and is all about never giving up in difficult times. A lot of the main phrases are repeated and overall the lyrics are not too tricky. This is a definite crowd pleaser at karaoke!
12. Monster by 嵐// Monster by Arashi
I don’t think it is possible to escape Arashi, the five-piece boyband who have been together since 1999. Like SMAP, each member is involved in TV hosting and acting.
Released in 2010, Monster was the theme song for the drama adaptation of the manga Kaibutsu-kun which starred member Satoshi Ohno. The lyrics are straightforward – if you are in the mood for a Halloween pop song then this is for you.
13. Best Friend by Kiroro
Kiroro are a duo who released their first single in 1998. Both members Chiharu and Ayano are from Okinawa. However, the name of the band was actually inspired by words in the Ainu language after visiting Hokkaido.
The song Best Friend was released in 2001, and was the theme song for a drama called Churasan. It is a popular song to sing at graduations, as the song relate to appreciating close friends.
14. キセキ by Greeeen // Kiseki by Greeeen
Greeeen (the 4 e’s represent the four members of the group) are a pop-rock band originating from Fukushima prefecture. Kiseki was released in 2008 as the theme song for the baseball drama Rookies, and quickly became a bestseller.
The title kiseki has the dual meaning of 奇跡 (meaning “miracle”) and 軌跡 (meaning “path, track”), which is why it is written in katakana rather than kanji! The lyrics aren’t too difficult and emphasise how important it is to treasure each moment and to keep moving forward.
15. 恋するフォーチュンクッキー by AKB48 // Koi Suru Fortune Cookie by AKB48
[Note: there are options to have Japanese or English subtitles on the video!]
AKB48 are a massive girl group with several best-selling songs to their name. Named after the area in Tokyo where the group are based (Akihabara), the idol group is split into teams that hold performances there every day.
Released in 2013, the message of Koi Suru Fortune Cookie is to try positive about the future, because you never know what will happen tomorrow. I am not the biggest AKB48 fan but you cannot deny that this song is incredibly catchy, upbeat and has a fun dance to learn too!
So this turned out to be a very long post! It’s always good to have a shortlist of songs when going to karaoke. Hopefully this post has given you a few ideas (it was certainly fun writing this post). If in doubt, you can’t really go wrong with good old Disney songs in Japanese!
What is your favourite Japanese song? Let me know in the comments!