All About Japan

Discover 5 Classic J-Pop Artists

| J-Pop , Music

Travel back in time to an era of exuberance and excess: 1980s Bubble Japan. Check out five singer-songwriters below who penned songs filled with optimism and exhilaration; a Japanese and western mix of pop, soul, funk, rock, and jazz that forms the backbone of the J-pop you know and love today!

Yamashita Tatsuro (山下達郎)

Yamashita Tatsuro is known as the "King of City Pop," bright and funky melodies representing the effervescence of the Bubble era. Emerging from Sugar Babe- a band formed of other soon to be famous musicians, such as Ohnuki Taeko in 1973—Yamashita’s solo career began in the United States, where he recorded his first albums, featuring the strong influences of the Beach Boys and soul music. But, it wasn’t until his 1980 hit “Ride on Time” was featured in a commercial that his popularity really took off. Yamashita’s artfully constructed music has stood the test of time, with his “Christmas Eve” song from 1983 now considered a standard here in Japan. Yamashita has many English-language songs as well that can transport you to his sparkling and soft world- check out 1984’s “Big Wave,” a mix of covers and originals all in English. Besides this, he is also a well-known songwriter for J-pop acts over the years, and producer of other great music, most notably of his wife Takeuchi Mariya who has achieved even more commercial success than he has.

Matsutoya Yumi (松任谷由実)

Matsutoya Yumi, who began her career under her maiden name Arai Yumi, is considered one of the most important figures in post-war J-pop history. A singer-songwriter known for her unique voice and lyrical songs, Yuming (as she is often called) has broken numerous records, such as having 21 albums top the Oricon charts, having a number one album every year for 18 consecutive years, and the first album to be certified “2x million” by the Recording Industry Association. Some of her songs have become especially popular due to their inclusion in Studio Ghibli films, such as “Rouge no Dengon” (ルージュの伝言) and “Yasashisa ni tsutsumaretanara” (優しさに包まれたなら) from Kiki’s Delivery Service or “Hikoukigumo” (ひこうき雲) from The Wind Rises. As a songwriter, she has also provided many other J-pop legends with number one hits, such as many of Matsuda Seiko’s solo songs in the 1980s (1982’s “Akai Sweet Pea” (赤いスイートピー) and others).

Ohtaki Eiichi (大瀧詠一)

Ohtaki Eiichi, an original member of the Happy End group that also included Yamashita Tatsuro, went on to produce solo work in the 70s and 80s to much critical acclaim. In particular his 1981 album, “A Long Vacation,” became a smash hit. It re-released for 20 and 30th anniversary editions, and regularly listed as one of the best Japanese rock albums of all time. Ohtaki was also an important producer of Japanese pop music and had his own record label, Niagara, which produced his own work as well as that of his friends. Although he had largely retreated from releasing songs himself by the 1990s, his 1997 “Shiawase na Ketsumatsu” (幸せな結末) for the drama “Love Generation,” which was his first single in 12 years, became his top hit on the Oricon chart, staying at #2 for two weeks straight, selling 970,000 copies.

Oda Kazumasa (小田和正)

Singer-songwriter Oda Kazumasa was the leader of the important folk-rock band Off Course from 1969 to 1989. Indeed, Oda is the song-writing voice behind some of their most famous songs, like “Sayonara” (さよなら) and “Yes-No” from the late 70s and early 80s. After Off Course, he has continued to produce solo work, some of which became extremely popular. His composition for the 1991 Fuji Television drama, “Tokyo Love Story,” “Love Story ga Totsuzen ni” (ラブストーリーが突然に) went on to become the ninth best-selling single in Japanese history. In the 21st century as well, his music touches many; in 2016, he became the oldest artist with an album to top the Oricon chart: “Ano Hi, Ano Toki” (あの日あの時), a best-of compilation.

Nakajima Miyuki (中島みゆき)

Nakajima Miyuki’s illustrious career, which began in 1975, has produced many songs for the J-pop canon. Whether penning and performing her own hits, like 1977’s “Wakareuta” (わかれうた) and 1981’s “Akujo”( 悪女),or writing songs for others, such as a series of Kudo Shizuka’s hits in the late 1980s and early 90s, such as “FU-JI-TSU” and “Watashi ni tsuite” (私について), Nakajima’s singles often reach the top 10, with many as chart toppers. Known as Matsutoya Yumi’s rival, Nakajima’s songs have been described as darker and moodier than Matsutoya’s, especially in the 1970s and 80s. A divergent example, however, is her love song “Ito” (糸), a karaoke favorite and the inspiration for a film of the same name to be released in 2020. In addition to her music, Nakajima was the host of one of Nippon Housou’s longest running radio shows, “All Night Nippon,” from 1979 to 1987.