J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-Songwriters

The talented Japanese pop singer-songwriters and performers featured on this page—Yui, Miwa, Tsuji Shion, Rika Shinohara, Aya Kamiki, Nana Kitade and Cocco—craft guitar-based songs ranging from gentle acoustic ballads to upbeat mid-tempo numbers to full-out rock songs. I hope you enjoy this selection of their music.

YUI

yui

Of all Japanese music artists, YUI is my favourite. I haven’t introduced her in this blog before because her record company (Sony) had a habit of deleting any video of her posted on the web. The good news is that she now has a Vevo channel, so it is easier to introduce her songs. The bad news is that she has recently announced that, after releasing five albums between 2005 and 2010, she is taking an indefinite hiatus from music (She is back now, with her new band Flower Flower). She talks about her career, her love of music and her desire for a break in this interview: MESSAGE from YUI.

While growing up, she was very introverted and started writing poetry (which she then started setting to music), to express her feelings. She soon devoted herself to music, dropping out of high school to join a music cram school and later started performing outside a railway station in her hometown of Fukuoka. The reason, I mention her early life is that it comes through in her heartfelt and often personal lyrics and in her intense performances that evoke a strong sense of sincerity.

Tokyo (short version) – From her first album (From Me to You)
This song is about her the start of professional career, moving from her hometown to Tokyo.


Here is the English translation of the first part of the lyrics (from kiwi-musume.com: now offline):

The day has come when I will leave the room I’m so used to living in
My new journey is still disorienting me

On the bus to the station
I emailed my friend

On the platform in the morning, I tried calling too
But it felt like something had changed

I’ve brought one old guitar with me
I’ve left all my photos behind

Letting something go and then gaining something new
Does the same cycle repeat itself?

When I pretend to be strong, it always leads to dreams
When I let myself be cowardly, they stop

Rolling Star (Short Version), a rock song from her second album Can’t Buy My Love

Coming full-circle with a 2012 reinterpretation of her first hit song—Feel My Soul.

Although YUI sings almost entirely in Japanese, she has a strong fan base around the world, with a lot of people uploading covers of her songs (you can find many of them listed on the YUI_lover fan site).

She has more recently returned to music recording and performing with her new band Flower Flower. Their sound is a lot more ‘indie’. It is interesting to see her development as a songwriter.

YUI-Lover Fan Site and Forum: www.yui-lover.com
YUI Official YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/YUIVEVO
YUI Official Website (Japanese): www.yui-net.com/

miwa

miwa is a young singer-songwriter with three albums under her belt: Guitarissamo (2011), Guitarium (2012) and Delight (2013). Her songs, especially when it comes to her singles, tend to have a bright and optimistic feel Her albums also feature soft ballads and rock numbers. Her most popular single so far has been Don’t Cry Anymore:

Here she is performing Faith live:


miwa Official Website in Japanese): www.miwa-web.com

Tsuji Shion (辻詩音)

Tsuji Shion is another young singer-songwriter who plays acoustic guitar. Like Miwa, her singles tend to have a cheerful feel. She hasn’t been very active recently, however, with her only album to date being released in 2010. She is best know for the song Sky Chord which was used as one of the ending themes in the Bleach Anime.

Candy Kicks

Sky Chord

Tsuji Shion Official Site (in Japanese): http://tsujishion.net/

Rika Shinohara

I don’t know much about this singer song-writer (and her English website hasn’t bee updated for years), but she specializes in beautiful acoustic ballads and covers of English songs in a similar vein.

Borderline

Song of My Days

Official Website (Japanese & English): www.rika-web.com


The next group of artists can play guitar and tend to compose using that instrument, but generally leave the guitar part in their studio recordings and concert performances to others.

Aya Kamiki (上木彩矢)

Aya, known for her powerful vocals, is a rocker who has released six albums since making her debut in 2006. Her sound ranges from a straight-forward and retro Seventies-sounding rock style to some of the electro-dance-rock hybrids on her most recent album.

Sunday Morning, a more laid back sound.

The Light, from her most recent album, with a more electronic-influenced arrangement. I’m not sure if this is the direction she is moving in as the album is released by AVEX, a label known more for it’s dance-oriented artists and a label which she has since left.

Nana Kitade (北出菜奈)

It is interesting to see Nana here on 2005 playing the Full Metal Alchemist Theme Kesenai Tsumi 消せない罪. This is at the beginning of her career when she was being presented as a teen rocker (her first album 18: Eighteen, released the same year, refers to her age at the time). Shortly after this performance, while still performing rock songs, she started focusing more on her style and became a figurehead and style icon of the Gothic Lolita sub-culture. She has released three solo albums, has fronted the band Loveless (2009-2012) and is now the vocalist for new band The Teenage Kissers.

Kesenai Tsumi

Hold Heart—Also from the 18: Eighteen album. The arrangement reminds me of Roxanne by the Police.

Her last album, Bondage, featured a range of different styles, rock, anime ballads like Marie Antoinette, punk numbers (Punk & Babys) and experimental songs. Here is, Lamia, one of the tracks off that album:

The 18: Eighteen album is one of the records that first got me interested in Japanese pop. I had assumed J-pop was all about sparkly boy bands and girl groups until I was introduced to rock (Nana Kitade), indie pop (Kojima Mayumi), and alternative rock (The Tokyo Incidents) albums. I can’t find any good up-to-date sites for Nana. Please leave a comment and let me know if you can find a good link to add.

Cocco

Cocco started her career earlier than the other artists on this page, releasing her first album in 1997. Her style blends folk and rock with some influences from the folk music of her native Okinawa. She is known for her intense performance style.

The Hill of Dugongs (「ジュゴンの見える丘」). This is an environmental ballad inspired by the appearance of rare dugongs in Ohura Bay, Okinawa. The music starts at around 5:50.

This next song combines rock with an Okinawa-influenced vocal style.


One worrying trend I see is that most of the artists on this page have been relatively inactive during the past couple of years, YUI is on hiatus, a couple of others have left their record labels and a couple have seen pretty terrifying drops in album sales. Perhaps the K-Pop craze of the last couple of years is making it very challenging to carve out a career as a guitar-based J-rock performer.

Who have I left out? Is there anyone you would like to add to this list? Please leave a comment below.


Articles on Japanese Pop Music

J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing

J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands

Here are five interesting J-Rock bands. The first three are related, with Nothing’s Carved in Stone and the HIATUS being created by former members of the punk outfit Ellegarden. The electronic rock band Boom Boom Satellites and pop-punkers fly sleep fly are also featured.

The fierce and melodic alternative rock of ELLEGARDEN, the HIATUS and Nothing’s Carved in Stone

ELLEGARDEN (photo from fairvue.org/)

ELLEGARDEN is pop-punk-rock band consisting of Takeshi Hosomi (vocals, guitar), Shinichi Ubukata (guitar), Yuichi Takada (bass) and Hirotaka Takahashi (drums). They play a North-American style of rock reminiscent of Green Day, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Blink 182 (listen to SuperNova, for example, to hear the strong influences). Their songs are predominantly in English (accurate English sung with an American accent). They formed in 1998 and released their first mini-album three years laters. Early on, the band’s sound was a little rough around the edges, but as they developed, their sound became cleaner and at times a little more experimental. After releasing five studio albums, the band announced in 2008 that they were taking an indefinite hiatus. Since then, all the band members have stayed active working on new projects. My favourite songs from ELLEGARDEN are Fire Cracker, Space Sonic and Salamander.

ELLEGARDEN: Space Sonic

I didn’t know about ELLEGARDEN when they were still actively recording. When I went to Tokyo a year or two ago, I bought a few albums after sampling them at record store listening booths: one album—Trash We’d Love—was by Takeshi Hosomi’s new band the HIATUS and another was Parallel Lives by Shinichi Ubukata’s new band Nothing’s Carved in Stone. As the albums  came out around the same time, fans of ELLEGARDEN debated which one was best. However, I find both albums very different from one another and difficult to compare.

the HIATUS (photo downloadeded from juicemusic)

the HIATUS released their first album Trash We’d Love in 2009. The band—featuring Takeshi Hosomi and bandmates Masasucks (guitar), Koji Ueno (bass), Takashi Kashikura (Drums) and Hirohisa Horie (keyboard and production)—went for a cleaner, tighter, poppier, more melodic rock sound.

the HIATUS: Ghost in the Rain

The album is great. Though there is no one track that stands out, the songwriting, production and musicianship is very strong throughout the whole album. However, one song—The Flare—is different from others on the album; it’s  slower, grungier, with heavier guitars, a more complex arrangement and a different vocal style (with a Muse-like melody in the chorus).

the HIATUS: The Flare

Their second album— Anomaly (2010)— is much more varied, with sonic influences of grunge, pop rock, post rock, electronica, punk and art rock. To appreciate it, I need to drop whatever else I’m doing and just listen to it. I’m not sure if this album is the sound of a band searching for a new sound or simply basking in the freedom to do whatever they want.

the HIATUS: Walking Like a Man

Nothing’s Carved in Stone (aka NCIS) has also released two albums but I only have the first one—Parallel Lives (2009). In this new band, guitarist Shinichi Ubukata also handles backing vocals and is joined by Taku Muramatsu (vocals guitar), Takanori Ohkita (drums), Hidekazu Hinanta (bass).Parallel Lives occupies and interesting, but largely uninhabited border zone between the pop-punk of ELLEGARDEN, Tragically-Hip-style alternative rock, progressive rock and . . . um . . . jazz-rock. The create an audio landscape of angular guitar riffs, complex but tight arrangements, shifting time signatures, amazingly creative bass lines and drums being used as much for texture as for rhythm

Nothing’s Carved in Stone (photo downloaded from tokyohive)

The opening track— Isolation— is the strongest track on the album and shows what the band is capable of.

Nothing’s Carved in Stone: Isolation
Nothing’s Carved in Stone: Mirror Ocean

the HIATUS & Nothing’s Carved in Stone Online

The rock-electronica riffs of Boom Boom Satellites

Boom Boom Satellites
Boom Boom Satellites

Boom Boom Satellites—Michiyuki Kawashima (guitars and vocals) and Masayuki  Nakano (bass and programming)—are an electronic rock duo. The songs are in English and their style is somewhat similar to the Prodigy (i.e., Big Beat), but with heavier guitar, jazz-influenced drumming and dreamier vocals. (Edit: Sadly,  Masayuki Nakano passed away in 2017 from brain cancer).

They are usually accompanied by a regular live drummer (Yoko Fukuda is the current drummer).

Their latest album—To the Loveless—is full of strong tracks, moving effortlessly from the driving electronica of Back on My Feet and the ten-minute climax of the album—Caught in the Sun—to the harder rock of Lock Me Out and the flowing, slow-building post-rock of Stay.

The drummer plays an interesting role on this album. With the rhythm often being provided by drum and synthesizer loops, the drummer can focus more on creating textures rather than rhythms. As you can see in in the following video for Back on Me Feet, Yoko Fukuda alternates between waiting patiently and whacking seven shades of hell out of her drum kit. The studio version is offline. Here is a live version:

Boom Boom Satellites: Back on my Feet

More recently the provided the opening song, Shut Up and Explode for the anime Xam’d: Lost Memories> Is there a more exciting way to open an anime!

Boom Boom Satellites: Shut Up and Explode

Boom Boom Satellites Online
Official Website: www.bbs-net.com

The Avril-style pop-punk of fly sleep fly

Fly Sleep Fly is a five-piece rock band—vocals (NuTz), guitars (yUsUke & BACHI BLUE), bass (kaz) and drums (ShoW). Their sound? Kind of like Paramore, but more upbeat and with a touch of complicated-era Avril. They haven’t yet released a full album, but I have their third mini-album—Fly the Flag. The six tracks are all solid, but the first two—PAINter and Shine Out—stand out.  The lyrics of all six songs are in English and are all positive and inspirational (though they are often difficult to make out). If you’re feeling down and need a jump start, why not try Fly Sleep Fly?

fly sleep fly: Shine Out

Lyrics (according to the lyics booklet in the CD)

The moon from my bed
It shines on me tonight without much sympathy
The lights of the truth
They make my shade loom up into my mind.

I know it's part of myself
and never tear away
But I don't think I wanna take it all away.

(Chorus)
We were born to the light
and if we got the darkness from our birth to here
Shine out! Shine out!.
Don't be afraid of anything
We were born to be the light
Even if we drop out as you blow out the lamp
Shine out! Shine out!
I'll never easily run out of my life

Your eyes like the sun
You always shine on me
I'm just like a crying moon
I always count on you,
and never try to burn out on my own

I know you're part of myself
and never tear away
so, I wish I could shine my beam of light on you

(chorus)

I'Il never be used to the darkness all the way
but I have one thing that, I'm sure of
when there's not the light, there's not the shade all of the time.

I know it's part of myself
and never tear away
But I don't think I wanna take it all away.

I'Il never be used to the darkness all the way
but I have one thing that, I'm sure of
when there's not the light, there's not the shade all of the time

(Chorus)
fly sleep fly: set me free

More Articles on Japanese Music

J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing

All-girl Rock Bands from Japan

In an article on the film The Runaways, Breeanna Hare of CNN asks, “Where are the modern-day Runaways?” Japan is a good place to start. Here are a few of the all-female rock bands from Japan. If you like the artists on this page, you should also check out my introduction to female J-Pop singer-songwriters like Yui, Miwa and Tsuji Shion: J-Pop Girls and Guitars. (Note: I use the term all-girl band as it is term most people would use when searching on the net; I prefer the term ‘all-female band’).

Recently, I have been updating this article and adding more bands. To keep the length under control, I’ve added five new pages. This page introduces one band from each genre and if you are interested in finding out about similar all-girl bands in that genre, you can click on the appropriate link.

1. Hard Rock Bands

BAND-MAID: Secret My Lips

BAND-MAID is one of the most popular of Japan’s all-female bands. It is a five-piece rock band consisting of Miku Kobato (vocals & guitars), Saiki Atsumi (lead vocals), Kanami Tōno (lead guitar), Akane Hirose (drums) and MISA (bass). One thing I love about this band is the inventiveness of their arrangements. For example, in the featured song on this page
Secret My Lips—the intro, verse, chorus, two-part bridge and outro explore a wide range of different styles and textures but together form a strong, unified whole. The arrangements of repeated sections vary slightly and within in each section there are a lot of interesting little instrumental flourishes. To get an an idea of the skills of the band members, you can watch the video for the song Play (www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeiIju_t1D8). That song was originally written as an instrumental, and the live recording showcases the individual band members’ talents.
(official website: bandmaid.tokyo)

To find out more about BAND-MAID and other hard rock bands, go to: longzijun.wordpress.com/words/japanese-all-female-rock-bands.

The following bands are featured on this page: BAND-MAID; BRATS; Drop’s; Elfin Planet;  Fern Planet; LAZYgunsBRISKY; Mutant Monster; ЯeaL; Rick Rack; SEKIRARA

2. Indie Bands

Lucie, Too: オレンジ (Orange) Live

Lucie, Too is an energetic (this featured song is kind of mellow for them) and upbeat three piece-band featuring Chisato Kokubo (vocals, guitar, main songwriter), Kanako Sekizawa (bass, vocals), Naho Shibahara (drums, vocals). Lucie, Too’s songs are in the vein of Twee Rock. They are a relatively new band, having just released their first album
Lucky—in 2018. (official website: lucietoojp.tumblr.com)

To find out more about this band as well as other indie-pop, indie-rock, emo and alternative rock all-girl groups, go to: longzijun.wordpress.com/words/japanese-all-female-indie-rock-bands.

The bands featured on this page are: Chatmonchy; Dialuck, Hump Back; Lucie, Too; Mass of the Fermenting Dregs; the peggies; Regal Lily; Shishamo; Shonen Knife; The Wisely Brothers

3. Pop-rock Bands

Scandal: Sakura Goodbye

Scandal is the most popular all-girl band of the last decade. It is a quartet featuring Haruna Ono (vocals, guitar), Tomomi Ogawa (bass, vocals), Mami Sasazaki (lead guitar, vocals) and Rina Suzuki (drums, vocals). They have gone from being a schoolgirl band (the song in the featured video is from their 2009 debut album) to veterans of the Japanese music industry. Along the way, have inspired a lot of girls to pick up guitars and drumsticks and say “hey, wanna start a band?”.

To read more about this band as well as other pop-rock groups like Stereopony and Silent Siren, go to: longzijun.wordpress.com/words/all-girl-bands-from-japan-pop-rock-bands.

The bands featured on this page are: BLiSTAR; Chelsy; DOLL$BOX; Eu Phoria; Gacharic Spin; GO-BANGS; Nakanomori BAND; Mi, NEGOTO; Princess Princess; THE PINK☆PANDA; SCANDAL; Silent Siren; Whiteberry; ZONE

4. Metal Bands

Mary’s Blood: Take a Chance (Live)

Mary’s Blood is one of Japan’s preeminent all-female metal bands. The band’s current lineup features Eye (vocals), Saki (guitar), Rio (bass) and Mari (drums). In the last decade, there has been an surge in all-female metal bands. I am not a huge fan of metal, so I found out about most of these bands via reader recommendations. Of these recommended bands, I like Mary’s Blood best, partly because of the intense stage presence of their vocalist, Eye, and partly because of the bands riff-heavy arrangements.
(official website: marysblood.sliptrickrecords.com)

To find out more about this powerful band and some of the Japan’s other all-girl metal, power metal and nu-metal bands, go to: longzijun.wordpress.com/words/japanese-all-female-metal-bands.

The following bands are featured on that page: Aldious; Anarchy Stone;  BRIDEAR; Cyntia*; Destrose*; FATE GEAR; ; Girls Rock Band Kakumei; LOVEBITES; Mary’s Blood; New Strike Zipper*; RiViNi

5. Avante-garde, Punk and Pop-punk

Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re : Jaguar

Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re are an indie band who play in…whatever style they want, as long as it has some energy and as long as it is a little quirky or unsettling. The band is now celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary. (official website: tsushimamire.com/ja/)

To find out more about this band as well as pop punk bands like
Suttoko Dokkoi, go to: longzijun.wordpress.com/words/all-female-punk-avant-garde-bands-from-japan.

This page features: The 5, 6, 7, 8’s; Mescaline Drive; Su凸ko D凹koi; Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re; tokyo pinsalocks


6. My Thoughts

After doing the research for this article, I came to a few conclusions:

6.1 A Vibrant Music Scene

The band scene in Japan is rich and varied and full of talented musicians who are willing to throw themselves into their music. In Japanese culture, there is quite a strong sense of “you should what you are supposed to do” (i.e.,study hard, get into a good school, get into a top university, get a job with a big company, find a mate, settle down” etc.). Perhaps being in a rock band is an attractive way for young people to express their creativity and individualism.

6.2 Organic Development

Almost all of the bands introduced on these pages simply started organically when a group of friends (and in some cases siblings or cousins) with a shared interest in music decided to form a band. Quite often the band members met when attending the same school.

Quite a few of the all-girl rock bands were formed by schoolmates in their school’s light music club. These clubs are basically ‘band clubs’. Members form small groups and perform whatever they want. In these light music clubs, the fledgling bands have a place to practice, like-minded peers to be inspired by and gain motivation from and opportunities to gain experience by performing in school concerts. For example, here is a band from the Light Music Club at Kanto Gakuin Rokuura Junior High and High School (関東学院六浦中学校・高等学校) playing a cover version of MONGOL800’s song 小さな恋のうた (Little Love Song) in the courtyard of their school:

Light Music Club at Kanto Gakuin Rokuura Junior High and High School

At this early stage in their musical development, the musicians may hone their skills doing cover versions of play-along versions of rock songs. Here is a video of SERINA (from Rick Rack and Fern Planet) doing a play-along version of Orianthi’s Addicted to Love on her 14th birthday (video now offline):

Here is a video of elementary school girls (the drummer is ten years old and the other two girls are eleven) doing a cover of a song by Chelsy (Chelsy is featured in the page on all-girl pop-rock bands).

Accént: Cover of Yes by Chelsy

Children and teenagers interested in music may also take courses from music training companies. For example, the four girls from SCANDAL met when they took courses at the Caless Vocal and Dance Studio in Osaka.

There are also quite a few opportunities for young bands to play in live performances on the street or in parks, and this gives the musicians valuable public performing experience. Here is an early video of SCANDAL performing in Osaka Castle Park in 2007, the year before they released their first single:

Scandal: Early performance in Osaka Castle Park

There are also a lot of band and teen band competitions held by music stores, record labels, radio stations and other businesses.

If the band is good, they may start getting offers to play at live houses (bars and restaurants featuring live music) and may be invited to do promotional activities by record stores. For example, SCANDAL’s first three singles were released exclusively for Tower Records. The next step is to get a record deal with many of Japan’s independent labels or one of the boutique record labels of a major music company like Sony, but . . .

6. 4 A Difficult Environment

Despite the opportunities and support provided to young musicians, being a professional musician is not easy. When reading up on the bands, I kept coming across “she left the band due to” followed by a reason like: health reasons, throat surgery, hearing problems, a panic disorder, muscular problems, etc.. For many musicians, it can be a struggle to simultaneously make ends meet, improve one’s skills, create music, promote it and also deal with the little obstacles that life tends to throw in one’s way.

In addition to having to deal with personal challenges, the musicians are also operating in a brutally unforgiving environment. It is extremely difficult to catch the attention of the general public, and it is even more difficult to hold that attention for any length of time. Quite a few of the bands featured on this page enjoyed a brief spell of modest popularity after their initial releases, but were unable to build any momentum and basically dropped out of the public consciousness soon afterwards. A band might get a hundred thousand to a million views on their more popular videos and then struggle to get 10% of those views a few years later. Some other bands never even managed to get that brief spell of popularity.

Despite this, some of the indie and avant-garde bands enjoy very long lives, with of the indie and avant-gard bands like Shonen Knife, the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, tokyo pinsalocks and Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re still performing after two or three decades.

Despite the struggles faced by the musicians, there are a lot of great songs being made. Keep going!

Your Thoughts?

Which bands do you love? Why? Which bands have I missed? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

All-Female Rock Bands from Japan: The Series

More Articles on Japanese Music


J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing