I experienced these benefits even more with Japanese when I was living in Kyoto. Because of the different writing system, it may take some time for you to be able to read at a good speed. I have good news here, as there is a fun and a very effective way to improve fast: karaoke! Singing along to a song you already know while following the lyrics in hiragana and kanji is great exercise. You will notice how your reading speed improves. Of course, you don’t need to be in Japan, you can find videos on Youtube and start practising.
Below are some songs with hiragana/kanji lyrics to start exploring Japanese music. I picked different genres to give you a taste of the varied music scene of Japan. Then go check a full Japanese playlist on YouTube.
To find songs with lyrics in Japanese go on YouTube and type 歌詞付き kashitsuki after the name of the song or band, and have fun!
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リンだリンだ – The Blue Hearts
The Blue Hearts have been one of the most important punk bands of Japan. Active between 1985-1995, they are considered one of the top 100 Japanese pop acts.
小さな恋の歌 – Mongol800
Chiisana koi no uta (Little love song)
Mongol800 are a punk band from Okinawa. This is one of their most famous songs: a love declaration with a nice rock vibe.
PONPONPON – きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ
Kyari Pamyu Pamyu is the quirky princess of J-Pop. Her on-stage character is the sometimes bewildering display of Harajuku kawaii culture. PonPonPon was her first hit in Japan.
地獄先生 – 相対性理論
Jigoku sensei (Hell Teacher) – Sōtaisei Riron
Sōtaisei Riron (meaning Theory of Relativity) is a J-rock band mixing Japanese pop, post-rock and pop culture references in their song titles and lyrics. I discovered them in a small independent clothing shop in Kyoto and have been enjoying their distinctive sound since.
上を向いて歩こう – 坂本九
Ue o muite arukō (I look up as I walk) – Kyu Sakamoto
Ue o muite arukō became a big success worldwide with the international title “Sukiyaki”. The melancholic lyrics remind of a song about unrequited love, but the origin of this hit is actually different. The author Rokusuke Ei wrote it coming home from a demonstration against continued US Army presence, frustrated by the failure of the protests.
涙そうそう – 夏川りみ
Nada sōsō – Rimi Natsukawa
This song was originally written by Okinawan band Begin, but achieved popularity in 2001 through the cover by Rimi Natsukawa. The title means “large tears are falling” in Okinawan. In Japanese, it would be 涙ポロポロ namida poroporo.
川の流れのように – 美空ひばり
Kawa no nagare no yō ni (Like the flow of the river) – Hibari Misora
Hibari Misora was the queen of Japanese enka music. She is a cultural icon and the first woman to receive the Medal of Honour from Japan. Kawa no nagare no yō ni is the last single she released before her death in 1989 and one of the most famous songs in Japan.
修羅の花 – 梶芽衣子
Shura no hana (Flower of carnage) – Meiko Kaji
Meiko Kaji is an icon of Pinky violence movies, a genre often portraying women seeking revenge. She is known in the West through her performance in Lady Snowblood, one of the main sources of inspiration for Kill Bill. This song also appears in the soundtrack of Tarantino’s movie.
Unfortunately, the version with lyrics in hiragana and kanji is not available anymore. Below you can find the lyrics in romaji.
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What are your favourite Japanese songs? Leave a comment and let me know!