Not having spent much time in any of these countries, I'm not breaking any new ground here, especially as Japanese music is a lot better covered than Chinese, IMO. Still, it's well worth keeping up on it and other countries' scenes!

JAPANESE RECORD LABELS (It's worth noting that CDs are still widely bought in Japan, and Tower Records still exists there.)

Pony Canyon Toy's Factory Vanguard

KOREAN RECORD STORES

Purple Music

ARTICLES ABOUT MUSIC IN JAPAN, KOREA, MONGOLIA, OR SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

ENTERTAINMENT WEBSITES FOR JAPAN, KOREA, MONGOLIA, OR SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

FAVORITE JAPANESE SONGS BEFORE GOING TO HOKKAIDO, SUMMER 2017 (Fair warning: fans of pure rock & roll will not be pleased by most of these entries. I hope my bro Nathan will contribute his lists of favorite rock songs and bands to satisfy that audience. I'm posting links to Youtube and Niconico, which will require registration, not because I support streaming but because it's convenient to be able to listen to what 's being described at the same time. I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore beyond these single tracks, and especially to purchase CDs and MP3s if you want to support these artists. Buying Japanese music remains a lot easier than buying Chinese music, so take full advantage!)

10. Great Chicken Powers - "Mix Juice": Pictured here , I've always called GCP ambiguously gay because the song is downright manic, making video of dancing twin anime characters a rare case of taming the source material to make it digestible for mainstream consumption. Maybe? If this isn't your cup of tea, I understand and ask you not to be deterred from the rest of the list. This is the only cartoonish J-pop song on here. For me it will forever exemplify both the infantilization of the culture and the over-the-top anime soundtracks which have proliferated throughout the world. Novelty is not a crime!

9. 54-71 - "illmatic vigor": Special instructions for this track are to listen to it before reading any further (spoilers ahead!). It's as minimalist and repetitive as any other on this list is maximalist and unpredictable, but how about that vocal delivery, huh?! I haven't liked the vocalist's change to straight-up yelling on a later release. There's more variety to fit the more samey backing tracks on this album, but the big shocker for me after hearing it all the way through a couple times was that the lyrics are in English. Taking my mother tongue and turning it into something unrecognizable is no small feat! If you don't have the physical copy of the lyrics sheet from the CD (which, let's be honest, is a pretty safe bet), I don't know if I'd trust the internet to reproduce them, either in terms of obscurity or accuracy. So you're just plain outta luck!

8. Ginuw Tools - "優しさは暖かな支配者": The guitarist for this critically respected band can't help but flaunting his chops at every opportunity, which makes for some pretty challenging, disjointed songs that really have little use for the VERSE-CHORUS-VERSE structure we all know so well. I need to get their full discography before drawing conclusions about their position on my top band list, and I'm lucky that this, my favorite song on the only album I have so far, has a video to go with it. Don't let the winged head steal your acoustic guitar unless it creates a diversion from the attack cats, everyone!

7. Demi Semi Quaver - "Boy Mona Lisa" (apparently too obscure for Youtube and the internet as a whole for videos--my own radio show and website come up on Google's second page--so you'll just have to stream it some other way or find another track to substitute): I've struggled in vain for years to find a perfect track to ease listeners into the utterly apoplectic world of DSQ. There's just no streamlining their sound to be mainstream-accessible, and while that's a commercial loss for them (I consider it a pair of small miracles that they have put out multiple albums and that I actually own four of them.) If you're ever in need of an aural palette cleansing that straddles the line not between music and noise (which so many bands do so well) but between music and total chaos, this is the band to reach for. And it will be a reach too far for most people. I'm unapologetically enamored of this track in particular (not least because it is tied together by a chorus which is built to and repeated often enough to be recognizable and musical), but in DSQ's case I really have no standard to compare one song to another in terms of what I'd expect others to like. Obviously they're a top10 band too.

6. Yuka Honda - "The Last One to Fall Asleep With" (sound quality almost kills it on this video unfortunately so just buy her album!): This one has actually brought me to tears on more than one occasion, which probably isn't easy for an instrumental track built on synthesizers. Maybe I really am a robot. I try to limit my exposure to it lately to preserve the emotional impact. Definitely works as a pre-sleep dream stimulator for poignant images.

5. Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa - "Tall Call Cold Sun": A perfect, epically joyous closer to an excellent, newish album, this one's probably best appreciated after listening to the whole abum for context of all that's come before. In fact, I'd say this argues among the best of any for the continuation of the album or LP as the best medium for musical consumption (i.e. rather than a single track), but the song is so nice I've gotta include it here. While I enjoy most songs on it a lot, knowing that the whole thing builds to this song makes everything just that much sweeter. Very happy to see they're still collaborating and even touring, so I don't regret not going to see them in Los Angeles because my friend didn't like their shorter works available on Youtube music videos. Definitely regret it, but there's still hope to see them live. Before hearing 2013's collaborative "Mediation of Ecstatic Energy" I might've said that "Plash" was TM's best work, but my bias towards depth over pop (even innovative pop) is pretty evident in this pick--check out her solo stuff anyway if you prefer the poppier end of the experimental spectrum.

4. Buffalo Daughter - "Socks, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" not a huge fan of the video (quite unofficial and graphic with the JFK assassination). Despite its age, this catchy, cool, and clever tune was a regular feature on my KUCI radio show in grad school, The Diaoyu-Senkaku Alternative. The sheer diversity of BD's experimental output can be appreciated more in their recent output, but something innovators would do well to keep in mind would be to follow BD's practice of always including something that's just downright groovy. It's these kinds of songs that get casual listeners' attention and the gumption to explore stuff that's farther out there. And yes, BD is definintely one of my favorite Japanese bands because they go very very far out.

3. Urichipangoon - I don't even know for sure what the title of this song is (It's called "ゼノン" on their ジャイアント・クラブ album, if that helps), but I love the video and the extended version of the song is truly epic. Pure creativity, whimsy, and euphoria are on full display here. I'm curious whether the lyrics are actual Japanese words or just rhythm. I can guarantee you've never heard anything like it. I can just see my technical/classically-trained friends rolling their eyes at not getting it, and that's an extra bonus. Never would've found/heard this, like many others on this list and in my collection without bro Nathan's introduction, so thanks!

2. Little Tempo & 藤田陽子 (Yoko Fujita) - Theme from "The Taste of Tea 茶の味" (if the Youtube music video link doesn't work, try this one for the song at least). A big part of why the film is one of my all time favorites from Japan and perhaps all foreign films is the soundtrack from Little Tempo, whose prolific steel-drummed discography I'm slowly trying to assemble. The music video has the same effect on me as Prince's "Paisley Park": taking me back to an idyllic childhood--if not the womb itself--where everything was safe and wholesome. I sometimes use it and the dub-extended version as a lullaby before bed to still the mind and ensure sweet dreams, though goosebumps are an equally likely outcome.

1. Electronico - "Bubbles": Thankfully the album title "Lounge at the Chimney Pavilion" rescues the band from being un-Googleable, and this track from the 2001 release which I stumbled upon at Oberlin was probably played more than any other track over the course of DJ Poseur's checkered radio career. And for good reason, methinks! Catchy but endlessly replayable for being entirely in Japanese, with unpredictable turns and falsetto harmonies, this is a happy song that lifts my spirits and shows that pop music needn't be stupid. I really hope they have other albums, and I will seek them out!

HONORABLE MENTION & CONTENDERS FOR REVISION: Cibo Matto "Clouds", Cornelius "Drop", 4 Bonjour's Parties "Your Chill Long Hands" (not the single that is on Youtube...If I can find a video this will definitely be on the list), Hitomi "Gamble" (from the album “Thermo Plastic" and as close to J-pop as anything on here), Haruomi Hosono "Navigations" , Miso Soup "Dear Son Cho" (instrumental),

FAVORITE JAPANESE BANDS/ARTISTS/ALBUMS (Drawn and ranked from the longer list on my Favorite Music page. Bands mentioned on the list above are categorically excluded, as most would probably crowd out the list. These either have too deep and delightful a catalog to single out just one song or have an album or more that is just the berries from start to finish.)

10. Natural Calamity: Their album "Peach Head" fits the category of a really nice album that I'd be to hard-pressed to single out a partuclar track to highlight as an all-time favorite Japanese song. It flows well and has a generally laid-back feel without ever being boring. Here's hoping there's more to discover from them.

9. Eastern Youth: I don't like punk, and I especially don't like loud, hardcore punk, so it's a testament to these guys (who can't still be in their youth) that they are my preferred hardcore band in the entire pantheon. In the right mood, I'll listen to a whole album (however at woefully insufficient volume by most standards) and find or appreciate something new every time.

8. Plamo: Not unlike the resident of the pole position on this list, Plamo likes to work in fast, twinklingly upbeat melodies that often make for short songs. Dabbling more in 8-bit electronics than guitars, however, there's enough noise in the sadly little I've heard to scare some people away.

7. Tokyo Jihen: Translated either as Tokyo Story or Tokyo Incidents, their lead singer has an extremely powerful voice and successful solo career, but naturally I prefer it to be backed up by an equally capable band that likes to mix in many different styles, going from pop to rock to jazz around hairpin turns in each.

6. Milk Crown: They're probably my favorite Japanese band that could just be called a rock band (at least from what I've heard). They do less noodling than I think Nathan prefers, but I'd credit that to having more cohesive songs. Along with Eastern Youth, definitiely the hardest and loudest on this list.

5. Tatsuta/DJ Tatsuta: I've heard two albums full of very unpredictable, fast-paced hip-hop that can get dangerously close to pop music at times. While obviously not understanding a single word of the songs would normally be a severe handicap for rap music, I can indeed feel the flow.

4. Clingon: A rock band which makes heavy use of the piano, the albums I've heard of theirs are solid from start to finish, unpredictable and even daring without ever losing their tunefulness. In being so well-rounded, though, I couldn't name a single song with either Japanese or English titles.

3. Rip Slyme: Giving DaKAH a run for their money in the realm of orchestral hip-hop, I'm well willing to overlook a few nods to commercial pop to hear what kinds of sonic tapestries they'll weave next. Definitely need to round out their discography.

2. Pizzicato 5: Probably the safest consensus pick of the bunch and the introduction to contemporary Japanese pop for many discerning Western audiophiles, befitting their home on the paramount Matador label in the U.S. Enough is written about them on the internet that I needn't add anything myself except to acknowledge a personal/critical convergence.

1. Shugo Tokumaru: I'll concur with my bro Nathan on this. I'm tempted to explain our shared adoration of ST by saying that the sped-up melodies he concocts are an audio equivalent of a sugar high. Given that we've never done any harder drugs or smoked cigarettes and generally avoid alcohol (all for the best, assuredly), a sugar high might be one of life's great pleasures, at least until we succumb to type-2 diabetes. The favorite song list above could easily overflow with Shugo, so I'll just say that everything he's ever done is well worth one's time. Can we ever be happy enough?

HONORABLE MENTION & CONTENDERS FOR REVISION: Nobukazu Takemura, Gellers, RADWIMPS,Saigenji, Orange Range, Michio Kurihara, Carnation, El-Malo, ANATAKIKOU

 

As requested, bro Nathan has a list of mostly rock songs he likes, 10 to be listy below, and a playlist of 28 (as of press date) for those craving more of his taste.

N's TOP TEN

Video 1: Shiina Ringo-Funeral
Video 2: Shugo Tokumaru-Linne
Video 3: Salyu-Jibun Ga Inai
Video 4: Cornelius-Tone Twilight Zone
Video 5: Urichi Pangoon-Zenon
Video 6: De De Mouse-Rats Walks my forehead slowly 
Video 7: The Pillows-Happy Bivouac
Video 8: Tenniscoats-Baibaba Bimba
Video 9: Gellers-Guatemala
Video 10: Arurkara-癇癪玉のお宮ちゃん

 

 

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