Japanese rock

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Japanese rock (Japanese: 日本のロック, Hepburn: Nihon no Rokku), sometimes abbreviated to J-rock (ジェイ・ロック, Jei Rokku), is rock music from Japan. Influenced by American and British rock of the 1960s, the first rock bands in Japan performed what is called Group Sounds, with lyrics almost exclusively in English. Folk rock band Happy End in the early 1970s are credited as the first to sing rock music in the Japanese language. Punk rock bands Boøwy, The Blue Hearts and hard rock-heavy metal groups B'z, X Japan, led Japanese rock bands in the late 1980s and early 1990s by achieving major mainstream success.[1] Japanese rock music has become a cult worldwide, being widely known in Asia and has survived through decades competing with its contemporary derivative local style J-pop.


1960s: Western music adaptation[edit]

In the 1960s, many Japanese rock bands were influenced by Western rock musicians such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones,[2] along with other Appalachian folk music, psychedelic rock, mod and similar genres: a phenomenon that was called Group Sounds (G.S.). John Lennon of the Beatles later became one of the most popular Western musicians in Japan.[3] Group Sounds is a style of Japanese rock music that was popular in the mid to late 1960s.[citation needed] After the boom of Group Sounds, there were several influential singer-songwriters. Nobuyasu Okabayashi was the first who became widely recognized.[citation needed] Wataru Takada, inspired by Woody Guthrie, also became popular.[citation needed]. They both were influenced by American folk music but wrote Japanese lyrics. Takada used modern Japanese poetry as lyrics, while Kazuki Tomokawa made an album using Chuya Nakahara's poems. Tomobe Masato, inspired by Bob Dylan, wrote critically acclaimed lyrics.[citation needed] The Tigers were the most popular Group Sounds band in the era. Later, some of the members of the Tigers, the Tempters, and the Spiders formed the first Japanese supergroup, Pyg.

After seeing a show by then-upcoming artist Jimi Hendrix during a visit to Europe, Yuya Uchida returned home and formed Yuya Uchida & the Flowers in November 1967 in order to introduce a similar sound to Japan.[4] They released the album Challenge! in July 1969, featuring covers of American and British psychedelic rock acts such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Cream.

1970s to 1980s: Diversification[edit]

Hard rock and heavy metal[edit]

Loudness performing in Hamburg, 2010.

Uchida replaced every member of The Flowers except its drummer and renamed them the Flower Travellin' Band for October 1970's Anywhere, which includes covers of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and progressive rock act King Crimson.[5] They moved to Canada and published their first album of original material,[6] Satori which was released in April 1971 and is now considered a progenitor of heavy metal music and,[7] together with Kirikyogen, doom metal.[8] Japanese heavy metal bands started emerging in the late 1970s, pioneered by Bow Wow (1975), 44 Magnum (1977) and Earthshaker (1978). In 1977, Bow Wow supported Aerosmith and Kiss on their Japanese tours.[9] They performed at both the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Reading Festival in England in 1982. After some member changes resulted in a more commercial sound, they changed their name to Vow Wow and relocated to England.[9] Their 1989 album Helter Skelter reached number 75 on the UK Albums Chart.[10]

In the 1980s, a plethora of Japanese heavy metal bands formed. Loudness was formed in 1981 by former Lazy members Akira Takasaki and Munetaka Higuchi. In 1983, they toured the United States and Europe and soon started focusing more on an international career. In a 1985 deal with Atco Records, Loudness became the first Japanese metal act signed to a major label in the United States.[11] Their albums Thunder in the East (1985), Lightning Strikes (1986) and Hurricane Eyes (1987) reached numbers 74, 64 and 190 on the Billboard chart.[12][13] Loudness replaced singer Minoru Niihara with American vocalist Michael Vescera in 1988,[14] in an unsuccessful attempt to further their international popularity. Till the end of the eighties only two other bands, Ezo and Dead End, got their albums released in the United States. In the eighties few bands had a female members, like all-female band Show-Ya fronted by Keiko Terada, and Terra Rosa with Kazue Akao on vocals. In September 1989, Show-Ya's album Outerlimits was released, it reached number 3 in the Oricon album chart.[15]


Homegrown Japanese folk rock had developed by the late 1960s.[citation needed] Happy End are credited as the first rock band to sing in the Japanese language.[16] Their self-titled debut album was released in August 1970 on the experimental record label URC (Underground Record Club).[17] This album marked an important turning point in Japanese music history, as it sparked what would be known as the "Japanese-language Rock Controversy" (ja:日本語ロック論争, Nihongo Rokku Ronsō). There were highly publicized debates held between prominent figures in the rock industry, most notably the members of Happy End and Yuya Uchida, regarding whether Japanese rock music sung entirely in Japanese was sustainable. The success of Happy End's debut album and their second, Kazemachi Roman released in November 1971, proved the sustainability of Japanese-language rock music in Japan.[18]

The Okinawan band Champloose, along with Carol (led by Eikichi Yazawa), RC Succession and Shinji Harada were especially famous and helped define the genre's sound. Sometimes also beginning in the late sixties, but mostly active in the seventies, are musicians mixing rock music with American-style folk and pop elements, usually labelled "folk" by the Japanese because of their regular use of the acoustic guitar. This includes bands like Off Course, Tulip, Alice (led by Shinji Tanimura), Kaguyahime, Banban, Garo and Gedō. Solo artists of the same movement include Yosui Inoue, Yuming, and Iruka. Later groups, like Kai Band (led by Yoshihiro Kai) and early Southern All Stars, are often attached to the same movement.

Experimental and electronic[edit]

Several Japanese musicians began experimenting with electronic rock in the early 1970s. The most notable was the internationally renowned Isao Tomita, whose 1972 album Electric Samurai: Switched on Rock featured electronic synthesizer renditions of contemporary rock and pop songs.[19] Other early examples of electronic rock records include Inoue Yousui's folk rock and pop rock album Ice World (1973) and Osamu Kitajima's progressive psychedelic rock album Benzaiten (1974), both of which involved contributions from Haruomi Hosono,[20][21] who later started the electronic music group "Yellow Magic Band" (later known as Yellow Magic Orchestra) in 1977.[22] Most influentially, the 1970s spawned the electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra, led by Haruomi Hosono.

1980s to 1990s[edit]

Punk, original band boom[edit]

Boøwy performing in 1984.

Early examples of Japanese punk rock include SS, the Star Club, the Stalin, Inu, Gaseneta, Bomb Factory, Lizard (who were produced by the Stranglers) and Friction (whose guitarist Reck had previously played with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks before returning to Tokyo) and the Blue Hearts. The early punk scene was immortalized on film by Sogo Ishii, who directed the 1982 film Burst City featuring a cast of punk bands/musicians and also filmed videos for The Stalin. In the 1980s, Japanese hardcore bands such as GISM, Gauze, Confuse, Lip Cream and Systematic Death began appearing, some incorporating crossover elements.[citation needed] The independent scene also included a diverse number of alternative/post-punk/new wave artists such as Aburadako, P-Model, Uchoten, Auto-Mod, Buck-Tick, Guernica and Yapoos (both of which featured Jun Togawa), G-Schmitt, Totsuzen Danball, and Jagatara, along with noise/industrial bands such as Hijokaidan and Hanatarashi.

In the 1980s, acts such as Boøwy inspired what is called the "Band Boom" (バンドブーム, Bando Būmu), popularizing the formation of rock groups.[23] In 1980, Huruoma and Ry Cooder, an American musician, collaborated on a rock album with Shoukichi Kina, driving force behind the aforementioned Okinawan band Champloose. They were followed by Sandii & the Sunsetz, who further mixed Japanese and Okinawan influences. Alternative rock bands like Shonen Knife, Boredoms and The Pillows formed.

Visual kei[edit]

Also during the 1980s, Japanese metal and rock bands gave birth to the movement known as visual kei. Taking visual influence from Western glam rock and glam metal, it was pioneered by bands like X Japan, Dead End, Buck-Tick, D'erlanger, and Color. Although starting in the early 1980s, it was not until the tail-end of the decade that visual kei acts saw major success. Buck-Tick's 1988 album Seventh Heaven reached number 3 on the Oricon chart, and its follow-ups Taboo (1989) and Aku no Hana (1990) both topped it.[24]

In April 1989, X Japan's second album Blue Blood reached number 6 and has sold 712,000 copies.[25] Their third and best-selling album Jealousy was released in July 1991, topped the charts and sold over 1 million copies.[25] They released two more number one studio albums, Art of Life (1993) and Dahlia (1996), before disbanding in 1997. X Japan actually signed an American record deal with Atlantic Records in 1992, but an international release never happened.[26] In the 1990s, Luna Sea and Glay sold millions of records, while Malice Mizer, La'cryma Christi, and Siam Shade also found success.

1990s to 2000s: Peak and later decline[edit]

In the 1990s, Japanese rock musicians such as B'z, Mr. Children, Glay, Southern All Stars, L'Arc-en-Ciel, Tube, Spitz, Wands, T-Bolan, Judy and Mary, Asian Kung–Fu Generation, Field of View, Deen, Ulfuls, Lindberg, Sharam Q, the Yellow Monkey, the Brilliant Green and Dragon Ash achieved great commercial success.[citation needed] B'z is the #1 best selling act in Japanese music since Oricon started to count.[citation needed], followed by Mr. Children.[citation needed] In the 1990s, pop songs were often used in films, anime, television advertisement and dramatic programming, becoming some of the best-selling forms of music in Japan.[citation needed] The rise of disposable pop has been linked with the popularity of karaoke, leading to criticism that it is consumerist: Kazufumi Miyazawa of the Boom said "I hate that buy, listen, and throw away and sing at a karaoke bar mentality." Of the visual kei bands, Luna Sea, whose members toned down their on-stage attire with on-going success, was very successful, while Malice Mizer, La'cryma Christi, Shazna, Janne Da Arc, and Fanatic Crisis also achieved commercial success in the late 1990s.[citation needed] Ska-punk bands of the late nineties extending in the years 2000 include Shakalabbits and 175R (pronounced "inago rider").

Green Stage of the Fuji Rock Festival

The first Fuji Rock Festival opened in 1997. Rising Sun Rock Festival opened in 1999. Summer Sonic Festival and Rock in Japan Festival opened in 2000. Though the rock scene in the 2000s is not as strong, newer bands such as Bump of Chicken, Supercar,[27] ONE OK ROCK, Sambomaster, Flow, Orange Range, Remioromen, Uverworld, Radwimps, and Aqua Timez, which are considered rock bands, have achieved success. Orange Range also adopts[clarification needed] hip hop. Established bands as B'z, Mr. Children, Glay, and L'Arc-en-Ciel also continue to top charts, though B'z and Mr. Children are the only bands to maintain a high standards of their sales along the years.

Japanese rock has a vibrant underground rock scene,[citation needed] best known internationally for noise rock bands such as Boredoms and Melt Banana, as well as stoner rock bands such as Boris and alternative acts such as Shonen Knife (who were championed in the West by Kurt Cobain), Pizzicato Five, and the Pillows (who gained international attention in 1999 for the FLCL soundtrack). More conventional indie rock artists such as Eastern Youth, the Band Apart and Number Girl have found some success in Japan[citation needed], but little recognition outside of their home country. Other notable international touring indie rock acts are Mono and Nisennenmondai.

The 2010s[edit]

New band boom, further overseas recognition[edit]

L'Arc~en~Ciel performing at Madison Square Garden in 2012, the first Japanese act to headline the venue.[28]

During the late 2000s there was an increasing number of bands that had built up a strong fan base prior to their main break-through in the music industry. Indie band flumpool sold over one million copies of their first digital single 'Hana ni nare'. Sakanaction made their first live concert at Nippon Budokan while enjoying major success with their singles "Aruku Around" and "Rookie". Sakanaction was pinned as a different type of band since they experimented with electronic music and synthrock. Other bands that have gone mainstream included Gesu no Kiwami Otome, Sekai no Owari and Alexandros. Because of the sudden major increase on indie bands and rock bands in general that compete with contemporary J-Pop artists, the movement is been referred to as a band boom by the media and is been praised as a change to the Japanese music in general. Since these bands don't rely in a very heavy sound but take a softer, catchier approach, they have been proved to be more appealing to pop fans that are not familiar with rock.[29][30][31]

Veteran rock bands like L'Arc~en~Ciel and X Japan soldout concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2012 and 2014 respectively among other large arenas through the United States. One Ok Rock performed at the Taipei Arena being the first time a Japanese band did so and additionally sold out shows at the AsiaWorld-Arena and Mall of Asia Arena, these two being the largest overseas shows they had to date with an average attendance of 12,000 people at each concert.[32][33][34] Slap-guitarist Miyavi, who has his roots in visual kei, has toured worldwide extensively since 2008, when his This Iz The Japanese Kabuki Rock Tour 2008 tour covered a distance of approximately 48,385 miles, equivalent to almost two trips around the world, and the majority of the concerts were sold out and covered extensively by media organizations. It was the most successful international tour undertaken by a Japanese artist in history.[35] As of 2015, Miyavi has performed at 250 concerts in more than 30 countries around the world.[36]

Girls Metal Band Boom[edit]

The decade is seeing a "Girls Metal Band Boom" (ガールズ・メタル・バンド・ブーム), with a large number of all-female heavy metal bands forming and gaining mainstream attention. Although not the first to form, Aldious have been cited as the initiators of the movement when their debut album Deep Exceed (2010) topped the Oricon Indies Albums Chart and reached number 15 on the main chart.[37][38][39] Another notable girls metal band is Cyntia, who formed in 2011 and are believed to be the first of the movement to sign to a major record label when they joined Victor Entertainment in 2013. Band-Maid also earned international attention in 2016 after signing with Crown Stones in Japan and JPU Records in the UK.

The year 2014 brought the international success of self-described "kawaii metal" idol act Babymetal, through the viral YouTube hit "Gimme Chocolate!!". They were the opening act to five of Lady Gaga's concerts on her ArtRave: The Artpop Ball 2014 tour.[40] In 2016, Babymetal began a world tour at London's Wembley Arena, becoming the first Japanese act to headline the venue, and their album Metal Resistance reached number 15 on the UK Albums Chart, marking the highest ever entry by a Japanese act.[41][42] They also made their US television debut by performing "Gimme Chocolate!!" on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.[43]

Japanese rock in the English language[edit]

During the late 2000s to the early 2010s there has been an increase in the number of Japanese rock bands that are fluent in English and perform in this language in its majority. Ellegarden was the first band to achieve mainstream success by singing only in English and is thought to be a turning point into the punk rock scene where other bands started adding more English lyrics to their songs.[44] SiM, Alexandros, Man with a Mission, Coldrain, Nothing's Carved in Stone and One Ok Rock are prominent bands known by their heavy use of English lyrics in their albums.[45][46] These bands are mainly influenced by western music and have a pretty simple concept which makes them more appealing to western audiences. ONE OK ROCK along with other bands have continuously toured the U.S and other English speaking countries.


Market value[edit]

Japanese rock duo B'z is currently the best selling artist in Japan with over 86 million confirmed records sold[47] and they are speculated to have sold 100 million worldwide.[48] The duo are also the first Asian band to be inducted in the Hollywood's RockWalk.[49]

The demand for rock in Japan is so huge that festivals mainly focused on rock like the Fuji Rock Festival have been introduced since the late 90s with attendances reaching a peak of 200,000 people per festival making it the largest outdoor music event in Japan.[50]


Japanese rock music is being embraced widely around Japan and has proven to be popular with both female and male audiences. There are several rock bands in Japan where all the members are female like Scandal, Silent Siren, Stereopony, Shonen Knife, Babymetal, Zone and Band-Maid. There are also mixed groups with female vocalists like The Brilliant Green and Tokyo Jihen. Visual Kei fashion is also adopted by the public and is believed to have influenced many Asian artists image. Widely known figures that portrayed Visual Kei fashion are Miyavi, Gackt and hide. The general opinion praises Japanese rock bands for their appearance of freedom and passion since almost every band start together as a group and later develop their music while testing themselves and improving their artistry.[51] This means the members are usually the ones behind the formation of a group and later are signed into a records label where they can promote and expand their target audience eventually.[52] FT Island's Hongki highlighted the fact that in South Korea they were treated as idols who can play instruments while in Japan they were seen as a full-fledged band.[53]

Global impact[edit]

Japanese rock has influenced some musical acts from outside Japan who have claimed to be fans of the music genre at some point during their musical careers. Additionally several J-Rock artists have been praised in the past by international media and musicians for their music quality and concept.

  • Nirvana's Kurt Cobain admitted to be a fan of Shonen Knife during the girls' tour in the LA in 1991. Cobain later asked the band to join them in a tour in the U.S. to which Shonen Knife accepted.[54][55]
  • German rock bands Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre, confirmed to have been influenced by Japanese rock and Visual Kei fashion in their very beginnings with the latter band members even adopting Japanese stage names.[56]
  • Indonesian band J-Rocks openly expressed that they were adopting the Japanese rock music concept into their music and were also influenced by Japanese rock bands.
  • Korean pop artist Kim Jae-joong's first studio album WWW was influenced by goth and Visual Kei rock styles from Japan, with the singer himself admitting to be a fan of Japanese rock bands such as L'Arc-en-Ciel and X Japan.[57][58]
  • American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz also stated admiration towards Shiina Ringo and her music videos and concept.[59] Ringo also was mentioned as one of Mika's favorite Japanese singers.[55] Ringo was picked up by The Guardian as an artist who deserved more attention in the west along with singer Tomoko Kawase who with her band the brilliant green were featured in Time as one of the top ten contemporary acts outside the U.S. in 2001.[60][61]
  • David Bowie praised Supercar in a 2004 interview, saying they were one of the groups he was listening to at the time.[62]
  • UK's best-selling music magazine Kerrang! named Babymetal as one of the artists shaping the future of rock,[63] awarding the band with a 'Spirit of Independence Award' in 2015.[64]
  • South Korean bands CNBLUE and F.T. Island considered to be the most prominent bands in their country, stated to have a stronger rock sound in their Japanese discography due to their freedom to expose a more intense sound to the Japanese audience. CNBLUE also started their career in the Japanese market in Japan before debuting in their native country.[65][66]


See also[edit]


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