I wrote another post about Japanese music I like, and most recently one about one of the newer bands I’ve found (and fell in love with) but I thought I’d make a post for beginners to Japanese. Besides the first one, I have embedded a video for each song so you can try it out.
I know when I was starting to learn Japanese, I was heartily disheartened when I listened to Japanese music. All I could catch was the random word here or there, and more often that random word was “watashi.” So over the years as I’ve listened to more and more Japanese music, I’ve found some that I wish I had known when I was a beginner. The time when I might understand more than one word in a verse in a song that wasn’t a kid’s nursery rhyme seemed as far away as Japan itself.
So while you may not be able to understand every phrase or every word, here are a few songs I believe you’ll be able to understand more of, and might be good springing boards into other J-Pop.
Boku ha kuma/僕は熊: Utada Hikaru
Unfortunately Utada’s songs and videos, especially this one, often get removed from Youtube, so you might have a hard time finding the original without buying. Still it’s a cute song that’s easy to understand, with simple jokes (ぼくはくま、車じゃないよ！) that will make you laugh not because you think they’re funny, but because you can understand the wordplay involved. When I was learning Japanese, I know when I finally began understanding jokes I felt so happy.
Kokoro kara/ココロカラ – 初音ミク
My favorite Miku song. It’s also very simple and short. It might be a little fast at first, but if you give it a few listens you’ll soon realize a majority of its lyrics are the first words and phrases you learn in Japanese. As a tiny Japanese lesson, the title is in katakana because it’s a pun that the video makes a little more clear. There’s the obvious meaning, 心から, which you probably know means from the heart. But it could also be kanji-ified (yes, that’s a word) to be 心空, an empty heart. Nifty.
Ashita no Tenki ni Naare/明日の天気になあれ: 雅ーMiyavi
If you know me at all, you knew a discussion of Japanese music would lead to at least one Miyavi song. For a long time Miyavi was the only singer I really listened to in Japanese. So it makes sense that this is one of the first songs I really began understanding, at least the chorus. And the chorus is so adorable. He says in the intro that it’s a wedding song. His ah-huh ah-huh does get on my nerves sometimes though, so you have to be in the right mood for it.
Teru no Uta/テルーの唄: 手嶌葵
This song is so, so beautiful. And it might be hard to understand, a lot of the vocabulary isn’t everyday. But she sings very slowly and very clearly, so I believe it’s a good song to practice listening to. It’s from the Ghibli movie ゲド戰記/Tales of Earthsea.
The next few are a little harder than the previous ones, but they provide more variety and there’s still parts of it I’m sure you’d understand after some practice listens. The main thing is, don’t shut yourself out. It’s very easy to switch off and be “oh this is Japanese, I don’t understand this.” But if you actively listen, I think you’ll surprise yourself.
Iin desu ka/いいんですか: Radwimps
As these guys talk really, really quickly during the verses, I don’t expect you to understand a lot of it (when I sang this in karaoke I made my boyfriend sing the faster parts and I’d just come in on the だってさ、だってだってだってさ, haha). But the chorus and bridge are so easy to understand, as long as you’ve learned the ~てもいいですか grammar pattern. As an aside, you might also try DADA by them. It’s by no means easy to understand, but like Aruku Around listed below, the video is pretty cool and will motivate you to study kanji more. Personally it makes me wish I had some giant kanji lying around.
This one was an ending theme for Bleach. I used to love listening to it. Partly because it’s so bouncy and fun, and partly because nearly every time I listened to it I understood a little more of the lyrics. First you might just understand the background voice of “本当ですか？” and “分からない,” but I promise you if you actively listen to this one, you’ll discover you know more than you give yourself credit for.
Aruku Around/アルクアラウンド: サカナクション/Sakanaction
Both musically and video-wise this is my favorite on this list, and I believe it also won best video for its year. The lyrics are really creatively displayed throughout the video, and while they’re not the simplest overall there are sure to be phrases you catch now and then, and seeing the lyrics will definitely help with that. Not to mention seeing them on screen like that, if you’re anything like me, will make you on fire for your next kanji practice session. It also means a lot to me personally.
Viva Rock/ビバロック: オレンジレンジ/Orange Range
WARNING: This will get stuck in your head and never, ever leave. There’s another version of this if you add “Japanese side” when you search, and the opening dialogue is in Japanese instead of English, along with some minor melody and order changes. Orange Range in general is pretty easy listening practice, though I wouldn’t expect to understand everything. Viva Rock isn’t my favorite Orange Range song (that honor goes to Asterisk) but it’s a catchy song that will become easier to understand the more you listen to it (and it will never escape your head, so you will have no choice).
I hope the beginners among you found some songs that will help you, and I hope any advanced learners found some new music to try out. Let me know if you like any of the songs or have any recommendations in the comments below!