The J-Pop Industry

Article  by  Stéphane CHAPUY  •  Published 28.10.2010  •  Updated 29.10.2010
Focus on Japanese popular music - a complex and unique industrial system in which television, advertising, technology and Internet are combined to create globalised products.



J-POP is a term that was invented in 1988 by the presenters of one of the rare FM radio stations in Japan, J-wave. It was coined to describe a new wave of music that was produced locally and sung in Japanese, but influenced by the big Western trends such as rock, disco, dance and, more recently, hip hop and R&B. This new music replaced that of kayokyoku, judged obsolete by the new generation of listeners. Besides its artistic concepts, Japanese producers used the term to describe music that was openly commercial and aimed at the masses. J-POP thereafter became a part of the industrial system ruled by precise marketing rules and conditioned by different medias: television, advertising, karaoke and, more recently, mobile phone downloads. This is the well-oiled machine that represents the commodification of culture and results in millions of records being sold despite the industry being caught up in a recession. More unexpectedly, this musical style has broken through the shadows set by established Japanese pop culture and its spearheads: manga, Japanimation and video games.
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The evolution of the Japanese musical landscape, from "enka" to "kayokyoku"

The mainstream music trends in Japan are largely determined by historic, technological and economic factors. The first form of popular music appeared during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Street singers started to appear and perform in public places, and their music became known as the enka-shi (literally translated as street singers), which developed into the enka genre that is still going today. Accompanied by traditional and popular instruments, artists chanted political and critical texts alternating between singing and vibrato (kobushi). The melodies were based on the pentatonic scale, i.e. the five notes particular to Japanese music.

In 1925, when the State radio station NHK was created in the model of the BBC, the station naturally used the enka catalogue of music to provide music to its audience. This was the beginning of the Showa era (1926-1989). The Empire was starting to become militarised and to develop a concept of national identity with the view of enlarging its influence over the Asian continent. On the new airwaves, enka military music and patriotic songs were alternated, setting the tone for this period that would end with the Second World War. However, the Japanese remained open to new sounds coming from the West, and the program planners broadcast many classical European works. Original foreign music was progressively offered to the public, as well as versions of it that had been adapted by local artists. This latter genre was christened kayokyoku, meaning “popular music sung in the style of our time”. This term differentiated between music that had been adapted into the Japanese language from the original versions sung in English, French or German. Kayokyoku mixed certain aspects of enka with occidental jazz and blues arrangements accompanied by new instruments like the piano, guitar, drums, violin and brass instruments. Masao Koga became the major artist who symbolised this modulation from enka towards kayokyoku. A composer and virtuoso guitarist, he created the first modern arrangements for numerous enka artists, notably Hibari Misora, the diva who sold 68 million albums during her career.

The day after the Japanese surrendered, the American occupation asked Japanese authorities to tone down the abundance of nostalgic cultural spearheads. Many kabuki plays, films and literary works were therefore forbidden during Mac Arthur’s administration term. The radio did not escape these restrictions. The military music disappeared along with enka, leaving a large gap for kayokyoku, deemed to be more politically correct. At the same time, lots of G.I.s serving in Japan were opening the young island-dwelling musicians’ eyes to the world of music trends from the other side of the Pacific and they formed boogie-woogie, mambo, blues and country mixed orchestras. With this influence, kayokyoku started to move away from its enka roots, instead favouring modern orchestrations and Western-style melodies instead. However, the new local stars still preferred using Japanese lyrics to stay on the same wavelength as their public. The star of the moment was called Ueki Hitoshi, lead singer of the group Crazy Cats. His song “I’m an irresponsible man”, became a hit that was hummed along to by generations to come. It was a humorous song about the lives of Japanese “salarymen”[+] NoteSomeone in a non-management role or a general employee of a Japanese company: equivalent of the term “white collars” in the Occident. The salarymen symbolised post-War Japan and the men who entirely devoted themselves to their company in return for the assurance of a life-long job. Uniform in their sober suits and ties and their impeccably shined shoes, they would swarm into the tube at rush hour and then spend their evenings with colleagues in late night bars and restaurants to try and escape the pressure of their daily grind. Well considered during the Japanese economic miracle period, their image was later tarnished during the crisis of the nineties, with lots of young workers rejecting this stereotypical status deemed rather archaic. Salaryman is a wasei-eïgo neologism (an English term invented by the Japanese), which evokes the notion of man as tied to their salary – individuals who only exist in relation to their remunerations. X [1] in between work and saké, in a jazz-comedy style that led to the singer becoming one of the most popular post-War artists.

The arrival of television in the fifties, with colour monitors coming ten years later, incited a demand for a new kind of entertainment and artists were suddenly given a face. Kaokyoku expanded towards new genres, increasingly inspired by the music trends that America and Europe were dancing to. Influenced by Elvis, Kosaka Kazuya and the Wagon Masters launched a new style called rokabiri (rockabilly). Later, there were groups such as The Tigers, The Spiders and The Mop, who were basically local clones of the Beatles, popularising the eleki movement – groups using electric guitars. Music was still strongly under the Anglo-Saxon influence at this point, but the lyrics continue to be translated into Japanese.
This period marks the appearance of the first ever artistic agencies specialising in searching out new talent, moulding them and handling the commercialisation of their music. Seeing the decline in the ersatz of Western groups that linked themselves to the American way of life or the British pop attitude, these agencies began work on one of the key concepts for the future of J-POP: the idol. Finished were clones of the King or John Lennon, and along came artists who represented the image of the average Japanese person instead. The first notable agency was Johnny & Associates[+] NoteSee Chris Campion, "J-Pop's dream factory", The Guardian, 21 August 2005. X [2], founded in 1964, which specialised in the creation of male idols. They auditioned children, sometimes as young as 8 years old, and those chosen were then rigorously trained in singing, dancing and acting. Once they had a well-defined style, the agency would sign a deal with a recording company in their name. From this system came the first boy bands such as Four Leaves or Go Hiromi, who were the forerunners of J-POP. For girls, companies such as Watanabé and Horipro used a different process. The search for future talent was done using talent quest radio shows in partnership with certain TV channels. The objective was to pick out young girls “whose charm outstripped their artistic talent”. They were chosen by a system of voting done by a jury of professionals and the public. Once chosen, the successful candidates were then taken under the wing of the agency, who would take charge of their entire career. 

This is how, in the seventies, the first idols who took over from rokabiri and the eleki were born. It was a radical change. Lyrics and music were left to professional composers and songwriters, already known and loved by the public and whose involvement with a project was testimony to its quality. Whilst musical arrangements continued to follow Western trends, lyrics were still written in Japanese. Themes would concentrate on evoking everyday life with a touch of popular poetry as well. A well-known example for the French is an adaptation of Micheal Fugain’s “C’est un beau roman”, translated under the title “Mr Summertime”, of which there are now numerous Japanese versions. The idols became the ideal representatives, painting a picture of a pacifistic and hard-working Japan in the process of economic and social development, within which a job for life became the symbol for durability. This wave of idols lasted many generations and favoured female stars such as Koyanagi Rumiko, Minami Saori, and Amachi Mari. Their public appearances caused excitement amongst the public, and their doings fed the gossip columns of every paper. The mass public only had eyes and ears for these model young women, and the media fought over them. On the TV channel TBS, the variety show “The Best Ten” became the barometer of their popularity. For almost ten years, this program led the ratings by miles, and its demise in 1989 marked the end of the first generation of the idols’ reign.
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The emergence of J-POP and new sales strategies

The nineties marked an important turning point for contemporary Japan – first and foremost, on a symbolic note, as the country entered into the Heisei (achieving peace) era, with the arrival of Emperor Akihito to the throne in 1989. Secondly, industry was reaching its peak: Japan became the second worldwide economic power, and the middle classes began to benefit from this growth. It was a time of general euphoria that did not foresee the brutal onset of recession that came in 1993. It was a true bursting of the speculative bubble, a financial and subsequently economic crisis that stopped the newly successful Japan Inc in its tracks. The following period, known as “the lost decade” (1993-2002), placed many market models under scrutiny. It was the end of opulence where an uncountable number of projects and investments had been launched only to cause huge losses. The Japanese discovered professional insecurity, hardship and pessimism and the angelic messages of the idols from the seventies became seriously outdated.

Although music producers managed to survive this period quite nicely thanks to the appearance of the CD format that rejuvenated music sales, the industry as a whole started to question itself and its manner of promoting artists. A new label distinguished itself very quickly during this period overshadowed by doubt. Its name: BEING. In less than a year, numerous groups, such as Wands, B'z, ZARD and Maki Ohguro, signed up with this record company and their songs were suddenly everywhere: in cartoons, film credits and adverts. They were no longer idols but instead groups of fashionable young people who had trendier albums to offer in a style that was not at all far from the French variety Top 50 period, or the British Now 51 (etc.) series.

In order to gain media exposure like nothing ever seen before, BEING did away with an old-fashioned habit of the music industry and began to offer its songs to TV channels, studios and advertising agencies for free. Whilst, up until then, musical works had been sold to television for millions of yen, as was done the world over, Daiko Nagato, the director of the recording company, gave music away for free in exchange for the guarantee of a huge audience for his artists. In order to avoid any conflicts with the JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers), he imposed a radical rule on his writers: any chosen track would not be trademarked for a period of three months in order to leave it unconstrained by these laws. The only constraint imposed upon the user was that they had to credit the performer at the bottom of the advert or at the end of the TV show. At a time when large companies were trying to economise, this free-of-charge policy was a godsend. This was a new way of offering music that made it impossible to turn down, and therefore gave the public the chance to discover multiple new artists through the television and advertising. The producers of the long standing animated series “Chibimaruko Chan” asked the group B.B. Queens to sing the theme tune of one of its most popular programs. The result of all this is easily seen from the fact that, in 1993, the artists from BEING were all in the top ten of Oricon (the official music sales chart in Japan) for 27 weeks, breaking the supreme rule of other local major record companies.
This process, named the Daiko System after its inventor, paved the way for the music that became known as J-POP, with Kayokyoku being relegated to the nostalgia pile. Whilst the major record companies were busy grumbling about the idea of giving music away for free, many independent labels stepped into the breach. It became a requirement, one that Mr Sakamoto, the president of Sony Music at the time, commented on, saying that “this phenomenon represents a turning point for the Japanese music industry, to which all industry figures must learn to adapt”[+] NoteHiroshi Kayou, What is J-Pop music industry ? (Jポップとは何か), Iwanamishoten, Tokyo, 2005, p.60. X [3]. Now, in order to survive, mass music production had to bend to the will of advertisers and TV producers in exchange for visibility. Another side effect of this was that music cycles suddenly started to adapt to the rhythm of TV series or advertising campaigns. While it only took a few weeks to promote a new group and push their sales into the millions, it also only took mere months for these ephemeral stars to be forgotten. All the more so as the media became more and more demanding and competition between artists intensified.

In the midst of all this change, it was one small and – and, until then, unknown – record company that decided to change the rules of the game: Avex Entertainment. Its creator Max Matsuura, manager of a shop specialising in importing Eurodance, very quickly learnt how to manipulate the system in order to push his new local signings into the limelight. The label had already begun to anticipate a major change in demand, which had begun during the economic crisis: urban music such as dance, hip hop and R&B and its new style of production had arrived on the scene. This intuition was proved correct by the immediate success of “Ez do dance” by the group trf, which became the first Japanese club hit and Avex’s first success.
This break away from traditional music tastes also represented a change of generation. The fans of BEING, the dankai junior (born between 74 and 77) were starting to get older and move on from their roles in the cultural world. After having marked the transition from Kayokyoku to J-POP, they passed the torch onto the Post Dankai Junior. This new generation was symbolised by Jyoshi Kousei, meaning “schoolgirls”. These were the young who had been born into the recession, surrounded by an uncertain future and without the illusion of an unchanging Japan. They were characterised by an extravagant appearance, a consumerist, superficial and hedonistic philosophy, and a lack of concern for the future – a far cry from the sensible idols of the seventies with their pleated skirts and neatly arranged hair. It was also the start of fashion trends that came in quick succession with the somewhat eccentric shopping district of Shibuya becoming a hub of crazy fashion almost overnight.
The undeniable symbol of this period was the singer Namie Amuro who represented a new wave of idols. Barely eighteen years old, she incarnated this radical change and represented a new, more fast-paced music industry. After spending a short amount of time with a large record label, she signed with Avex who made the most of her image as a young, trendy woman. In 1995, her first single, “Body Feels Exit”, was used for an advertising campaign for Taito, the largest karaoké box chain in the country. The next one, “Chase the Chance”, became the theme tune for the TV series “The Chef” on Nippon TV. With both singles, she sold over a million copies.

Namie Amuro sings her hit "Body Feels Exit" in a Taito commercial

Encouraged by this unbelievable success, Avex tested the formula by launching several more artists in the same style. One of these was Ayumi Hamasaki, whose songs featured on many TV shows, adverts and even video games such as the famous Final Fantasy X-2, and who ended up signing an exclusive contract with Panasonic. As a direct result of all this hype surrounding her, her first album sold more than a million and a half copies in 1999. This was the same year that Avex became a publicly traded company.

Ayumi Hamasaki in a Panasonic commercial

To adapt to these new trends, the big music stores created sections dedicated to J-POP, which represents 80% of the market today[+] NoteSource: RIAJ (Recording Industry Association of Japan).X [4]. The past decade has witnessed a succession of success stories such as Mr.Children, Southern All Stars, Dreams Come True or more recently, the boy bands SMAP, EXILE and ARASHI, or the girl bands Morning Musume and AKB48* whose sales easily exceeded a million copies, and whose numerous concerts were always sold out.

*AKB 48: The idol factory
Daily concerts in the Otaku district of Akihabara, posters plastered onto the escalator steps of every big shop in town, fleeting café appearances, systemised invitations to popular TV shows, sexy calendars, partnerships with a chain of mini-markets – in the spring of 2010, it was impossible to escape the omnipresence of the AKB48s. They were the leading figures of a new wave of J-POP girl bands coming from the land of the rising sun. They were made up of 48 young idols who represented a synthesis of the schoolgirl and trendy young woman figures that caught the attention of many young Japanese people. Their music comprised of songs sang in unison that were a mix of all the different current trends: acid pop, techno beats and R&B with light-hearted lyrics. At the helm of this cleverly orchestrated advertising campaign was the agency SDN48, a veritable female idol factory, directed by one Mr Manitou Akimoto Yasushi. Lyricist, composer, scriptwriter and author, Mr Yasushi was a dapper, multi-talented fifty-something who knew show business inside out and was well placed to fully promote his protégés. In the eighties, he tested this system of interchangeable girl groups with the Onyanko Club (the Kitten Club), which had a succession of over fifty different singers in its time. Thirty years later, he revised the formula. The result was extraordinary with the AKB48s who, after a mere few months and two singles, took their lion’s share of record sales with over a million and a half of their CDs sold.
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When the market and technology began controlling the music

All of these changes in the way pop music was marketed completely inversed the process of musical creation. In order to reach the widest audiences possible, artists and producers had to bend to the will of the media. Developing a single, for example, now entailed acquiescing to the criteria set out by whichever brand would be promoting the image of the group. Composers and lyricists had to start producing 15 to 30 seconds worth of catchy music directly to the advertisers. Once this was approved, the whole song would then be created and would become the title song of a new album. As with the artist’s image, the song would always be systematically moulded to best represent partner brands (female singers for cosmetics, male singers for alcoholic drinks, for example).

Another media, even more influential and typically Japanese, strengthened this formatting process: karaoké. In Japan, it is an industry in itself, coming third in sales figures in the leisure industry. Big chain companies possess hundreds of karaoké boxes[+] NotePlaces entirely devoted to the hiring of soundproof rooms that are kitted out for singing karaoké. There are individual boxes as well as rooms for groups of up to 10 or even 20 people. They are relaxed places of entertainment where clients can get light food and drinks, but they also make serious money, generating around 400 billion yen (2 billion pounds) each year.X [5] all over the country. These establishments are entirely devoted to singing karaoke, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. To be featured in this wide-reaching network is therefore vital for record companies. J-POP producers therefore started to offload even stricter criteria onto songwriters: the main songs must have simple melodies and lyrics that are easy to sing. Music now needed to be ready to use for the traditional media and ready to sing for the karaoke goers.

On top of all this, presenting yet more opportunity for mass buying, the arrival of the mobile telephone (keitai) on the scene created yet another new media that kick-started a “consumer-ready” era. In the middle of the nineties, well before the time of Smartphones in the West, nine out of ten Japanese had mobile phones that were connected to the Internet. Providing both oral communication and constant access to emails, they had already been combining a multitude of services for a long time, especially relating to the availability of cultural goods (games, mangas, digital books, e-tickets, blogs, etc.). Music quickly followed suit, and the Japanese have been downloading MP3 files directly onto their mobiles since 1995. With the slow download times still putting off consumers, due to connection costs, operators and producers were joining forces in order to offer smaller song extracts, of between 15 and 30 seconds, that could easily be downloaded whilst waiting for the single to become available in shops. The results were electrifying, and the artists who agreed to sell their songs in part like this saw their condensed songs sell over a million copies in less than a week, at times. This system was an incredibly effective tool, not only letting them gauge the market before the official release of a single, but also identifying their target audiences. Even here, technology is dictating the law by which music must be created: formatting the music in short, catchy sequences has become a must. And with the continual development of what we call the keitai culture today, SMS language is in the process of becoming the official new way of writing for the J-POP generations. The Japanese versions of LOL, How RU, and CU Later dominate the text messages of the new generation.

Laid bare, the J-POP trend is above all an economic system that relies on the power of the Media and technological progress. Creativity and chance have little place in this schema. A recent development may well leave even less place for human factors: the creation of virtual singers like the little Miku Hatsune.
Video from (English subtitling)

This animated character, who looks like something that stepped straight out of the pages of a manga, was originally created by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media as a vocaloid, a computer program designed to perfectly reproduce the human voice. A latex Miku doll was given away free with every software purchase. The instructions state that the doll is free from rights, encouraging clients to use it in clips that they could create themselves and put online. The success was instantaneous and, within months, Miku became the star of the social networks of manga and animation enthusiasts. Taking the idea even further, her creators decided to give her a human form through the use of a 3D hologram. She was then able to make her first public appearance during Animelo Summer Live in 2009. And so the first ever avastar was born. Whilst Miku might not sell as many albums as her human colleagues (her fanbase being essentially made up of otakus, geeks, mangaphiles and Japanim enthusiasts), she still symbolises yet another new evolution in the industry: one of a truly global J-POP star. As, thanks to the web, her image is diffused simultaneously all across the globe, uniting a number of foreign fans who have adopted her as their shared idol.
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J-POP out to take over the world?

Today, thanks to the increasingly widespread diffusion of its pop culture throughout the world, specifically through manga, Japanim and video games, music coming from Japan, and J-POP in particular, is continuously gaining more and more interest from international youth. Due to geographic and cultural proximity, it is most evident in other Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and, more recently, China, who have fallen for these singing sirens from Japan. This was also made easier as Tokyo had long since been considered the trend-setting city for young Asian populations. Not very long ago, this wave also hit Europe and the States. The young French population, who are the second biggest consumers of manga in the world, couldn’t resist the J-POP sirens either. France is even considered to be one of the Western countries with the most potential for development of Japanese pop culture. The evidence of this growing trend can clearly be seen from the immense fair put on for fans of Japanese pop culture, the Japan Expo, which takes place every year in the Parisian region and attracts over 150 000 visitors. This makes it the largest fair of its kind for 15 to 25 year olds in France. Three days of manga, cartoons, cosplay (costume play) and Mishima karaoké as well as, for the first time in Europe, numerous concerts given by Japanese stars. Julien Norbert, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Planet Japon (Planet Japan) as well as DJ and pioneer of J-POP in Paris, is well aware of this interest amongst young French people: “Most of them discover Japan through manga and Japanimation, phenomena that have rapidly spread over the recent years due to the Internet. Little by little, some of these become bored and move onto other interests whilst others, become more and more intrigued, expanding their areas of interest, learning about the traditional Japanese culture, maybe learning the language and evidently listening to the music. J-POP obviously benefits from this opening”[+]. NoteFrom an interview with the author.X [6].

The FNAC (a French chain of megastores) on the Champs-Élysées made history in 2008. It was the first FNAC in France to create a section dedicated to J-Music, thanks to the initiative of one of its female employees, Aurélie Roulier: "I began stocking a few J-POP artists back in 2005 and they used to get squeezed in between the pop and metal sections. The idea of creating a specific section came in response to a growing consumer demand. We now stock almost 250 different titles"[+] NoteFrom an interview with the author.X . NoteEntretien avec l'auteur.[7]

Larger Western record companies were still hesitating to invest in reaction to this new consumer demand, considering J-POP to be a niche market that was still too risky, especially considering that negotiating rights with Japanese artists is no easy task. This has left the way wide open for independent record companies in France over the last few years, companies such as J-Music distribution (who have in fact since disappeared), and more recently Wasabi records. Others specialised in organising concerts and managed to fill venues such as the Olympia or even the Zenith when the group Arc en Ciel played there in 2008.

This sudden craze left the Japanese industry perplexed. “Those who work in the world of J-Music never made any serious efforts to take J-POP abroad as they generally considered that this type of music could only work within Japan, mainly due to language barriers. The market within their own country was also highly successful, and so they had no real need to move into the foreign market”[+] NoteFrom an interview with the writer. X [8] explains Mamoru Igarashi. Having made this observation, the entrepreneur founded the company Cool Japan. The company aimed to promote Japanese pop culture in general, and J-POP in particular. With this aim in mind, he created a web portal entirely dedicated to the genre called Music Japan +. It’s a veritable encyclopedia that is available in 16 languages, bringing together fans from all over the world. Apart from aiming to increase the number of foreign hits his site gets, Mr Igarashi also has another objective: “It’s also about showing those people who work in the J-POP industry that there is a real, tangible craze for it on an international scale and to therefore encourage them to alter their mentality and start developing internationally”[+] NoteFrom an interview with the writer.X [9]. The site is financially supported by the METI, (the Ministry of Economy, Foreign Exchange and Industry), as recent Japanese governments have begun to think of J-POP, manga, video games and Japanimation as the future spearheads of Japanese exporting.
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Annex: musical styles for all tastes

 What is remarkable about the Japanese music industry is that numerous music styles coexist quite happily, often spanning generations as well. Whilst J-POP dominates the industry today, representing more than 80% of sales, there are also numerous other niche markets that offer an alternative.
Traditional music
When referring to traditional music, we are talking about music that comes from Japanese folklore. It is easy to make a distinction between the court music that was reserved for an elite (gagaku, shomyo, the repertoire) and popular music of the time that was used in performances, traditional celebrations and religious ceremonies. Their common ground came from a mutual use of typically Japanese instruments, such as the biwa (lute), the shamisen (mandolin), the shakuhachi (flute) and the taïkos (drums). Every region of Japan had its own individual music style. Yet that from Okinawa is the most widely recognised and is considered to represent the country’s soul. “The islands song” has stood the test of time, adapting to each new era and genre. It has inspired numerous artists ranging from Enka to J-POP groups like Orange Range, who are known for having composed one of the theme songs for Naruto, and also the electro duo Hifana, and even Ruychi Sakamoto in some of his compositions.
New Music
After 1968, student unrest reached even Japanese campuses and encouraged creative young people to move away from the consumer mentality imposed upon them by the older generation. Music did not escape this rebellion and a new generation of musicians started the “New Music” trend. Drawing inspiration from American folk music, and its icons such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, they began to write their own lyrics and music, refusing to appear on television and denouncing the kayokyoku system. The artists from this movement were Yoshida Takuro, Yosui Inoue, Kaguya Hime, Sada Masashi, Matsuyama Chiharu, and Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi. This trend had had some success in the seventies but quickly fell back into obscurity due to a lack of availability to a wider audience. In recent years, the genre has regained some interest, due to the fact that the baby-boomers are now reaching retirement age and are starting to reminisce about music from their youth.
A popular style of Japanese song that dates back to the Showa era. It is still listened to today by the older generation and also influences the world of animation. This style uses the pentatonic scale, meaning five notes instead of seven (C, D, E, F and G). It is accompanied by vocal vibrato sequences that are its trademark. Accompanied by traditional popular instruments and modern orchestras, the singers would dress in kimonos, making small and slow expressive movements with their free hand. Enka was recently brought back into fashion by the unlikely figure of talented African-American singer Jero, who has become quite the star in Japan.
Visual kei
Often confused with J-POP by the Western hemisphere, the Visual kei (visual style) is a music genre in which the extravagance of costumes and theatrical aspects are just as important as the music itself. Groups of this genre are represented by independent labels, rejecting the J-POP promotional circuits, preferring to spend their time on stage. Their music is a mix of different styles ranging from neo-rock to neo-punk and even neo-metal. X Japan is the best known precursor of this movement. It was their first slogan Psychedelic violence crime of visual shock that gave birth to the term Visual kei. It has proved to be the most exportable Japanese music trend. In France, visual artists such as Miyavi have already played sold out gigs at the Olympia.
A modern version of chip music (music comprised of short melodies derived from the limited capabilities of digital music during the days of the low memory of electronic chips in the seventies), this new trend uses minimalistic sounds produced by old video game consuls and rearranged according to modern tastes. The name 8bit comes from the storage capacity of the first ever computer chips, that barely registered one byte (comprised of 8 bits). Even if it doesn’t seem like a typically Japanese genre, the Japanese artists really excel in this kind of creativity, recycling old music and sounds to create some real musical gems such as a version of "Thriller" by Michael Jackson revised and re-arranged by
DJ Saitone. Another electronic pearl is the new Nintendo-style version of "Cette année là" by Claude François, done by the leading Japanese group of this style YMCK.
J-rap and J-R&B
The latest offshoot of J-POP, this style is inspired by well-known American rap and R&B groups and stars such as EMINEM, Beyoncé and The Black Eyed Peas. The main artists of this genre are Ketsumeishi, Funky Monkey Babys, and Misia.
The Korean version of J-POP, this music trend is directly based on the Japanese system (with the production of idols, exhaustive advertising, karaoke, etc.). The Korean artists have benefitted from the unexpected success in Japan of K-drama (Korean television series such as “Winter Sonata”, “Autumn in my Heart”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Full House”, “My name is Kim Sam Soon”, “My Girl”, “You’re Beautiful”, “IRIS”, etc.) to gain a gradually larger Japanese fan base. For example, Kara (photo), a group made up of 5 teenagers from Seoul are regularly featured on the Oricon records sales list, and their first “Best of…” album went straight to number one on downloads in October 2010. In their wake are 4Minute, Shojo Jidai, There are also several boy bands, such as Cho Shin Sei, BIG BANG and Zea, who have stolen the hearts of young Japanese teenagers all over the country. Some of the larger music shops have even introduced shelves dedicated to K-POP in reply to this demand.

With the help of Yoshimi Hishida

(Translated by Leah Williams)
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  • 1. Someone in a non-management role or a general employee of a Japanese company: equivalent of the term “white collars” in the Occident. The salarymen symbolised post-War Japan and the men who entirely devoted themselves to their company in return for the assurance of a life-long job. Uniform in their sober suits and ties and their impeccably shined shoes, they would swarm into the tube at rush hour and then spend their evenings with colleagues in late night bars and restaurants to try and escape the pressure of their daily grind. Well considered during the Japanese economic miracle period, their image was later tarnished during the crisis of the nineties, with lots of young workers rejecting this stereotypical status deemed rather archaic. Salaryman is a wasei-eïgo neologism (an English term invented by the Japanese), which evokes the notion of man as tied to their salary – individuals who only exist in relation to their remunerations.
  • 2. See Chris Campion, "J-Pop's dream factory", The Guardian, 21 August 2005.
  • 3. Hiroshi Kayou, What is J-Pop music industry ? (Jポップとは何か), Iwanamishoten, Tokyo, 2005, p.60.
  • 4. Source: RIAJ (Recording Industry Association of Japan).
  • 5. Places entirely devoted to the hiring of soundproof rooms that are kitted out for singing karaoké. There are individual boxes as well as rooms for groups of up to 10 or even 20 people. They are relaxed places of entertainment where clients can get light food and drinks, but they also make serious money, generating around 400 billion yen (2 billion pounds) each year.
  • 6. From an interview with the author.
  • 7. From an interview with the author.
  • 8. From an interview with the writer.
  • 9. From an interview with the writer.
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