Before my life became consumed by all things video games related, my past hobby was discovering new Japanese musicians. This, of course, stemmed from consuming a wealth of anime — and when the same singers and musical units kept being mentioned (Looking at you, ALI PROJECT and ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION), I found my way into the realm of indie J-music goodness.
Here, I’ll recommend 10 female vocalists you may have not heard of before that are worth a listen. In my humble opinion, of course.
Sucrette is a Shibuya-kei, picopop indie duo, made up of vocalist Shiho and sound production/Flavor Records runner, Hidetaka Okuda.
Shiho’s distinctive, delicately whispered vocals are as fluffy as cotton candy, giving the unit a refreshingly unusual charm even among the diverse field of Japanese music. Her vocals alone make the duo’s soft and warm music stand out from other musical talents in Japan.
As hinted at by their name, they take inspiration and influence from French elements, with this being clearly seen in their song titles, their style in music videos and their album art. It’s all got a very comforting and sweet vibe to it.
While seemingly lost to time, since the duo has been silent in updates and releases ever since 2006, they have left us with a solid discography to go back to again and again when you want to simply kick back and relax with some cute, comforting Japanese music.
Their first mini-album, C’est si bon, is available for purchase on iTunes, while their full albums, C’est si bon plus and Bon voyage, each consisting of 10 songs each, are a little harder to obtain via legitimate means these days. YouTube might be your best bet if you want to keep your conscience at least semi-clear.
Rie a.k.a. Suzaku
While our next amazing lady works for a very well known Japanese music label (King Records/Poppin Records) and has been covered by multiple websites dedicated to the metal genre, Rie a.k.a. Suzaku continues to go under the radar for many.
It’s understandable considering her expertise is instrumental metal; it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Despite this however, Rie a.k.a. Suzaku’s talent should be recognised for her continuously evolving technical abilities, which have been improving ever since her debut in 2008.
My first exposure to her was with her first ever release Messiah. This is an EP containing seven tracks, each with guest vocals (except the closing track Suzaku). While the vocals from each outstanding singer make the tracks all the more memorable and impactful, they never quite steal the spotlight from Suzaku, whose exceptional guitar skills are second to none. The fact that she wrote the lyrics for each track makes this EP all the more impressive.
Her most recent release is her compilation album World Journey that dropped last year. You can buy this latest release of hers and her other works on iTunes. The music video above may look rather dated with that fairly obvious and distracting green screen — but don’t let that put you off. Just enjoy the rocking guitar work from this exemplary Japanese musician!
For Tracy Hyde
Shoegaze is one of my favourite musical genres, both within Japanese music and outside of it.
Whether it’s the well-known Plastic Tree (known best as the band behind the otome game Collar x Malice’s opening number ‘Silent Noise’) or the highly acclaimed SUPERCAR — who inspired bands like For Tracy Hyde — the genre has birthed many distinguishable musicians.
The ethereal genre of effects and distortion backed with unique vocals makes the shoegaze genre in Japanese music all the more appealing and memorable due to how breathy and whimsical the vocalists tend to be. For Tracy Hyde is no different. The band formed in 2012 and their vocalist eureka joined them in 2015, shortly before my favourite album of theirs dropped in 2016: Film Bleu.
For Tracy Hyde have been continually evolving since their conception, as they’ve played around with different genres in each album. While my favourite is Film Bleu’s safe Shibuya-kei inspired sound, their 2017 album he(r)art took on a more synthpop sound, while their third album New Young City and onward is where it’s at when it comes to shoegaze goodness.
There’s surely material of theirs somewhere in their expansive discography to appease plenty of us! The indie band dropped their latest album last year with Ethernity which is just as much of a recommended listen — and with so many albums to get to listening to, you’ll be daydreaming in an instant by buying their discography on iTunes.
Chara will most definitely be the best known Japanese musician on this list — and she’s got quite the history.
Established in 1990, and forming a regular presence in the Japanese music charts (Oricon) since her first album Sweet released back in 1991, Chara has been an inspiration for other famous musicians such as Shiina Ringo and BONNIE PINK. She also paved the way for others to follow by being the first female musician to be on the cover of the originally male exclusive rock magazine Rock On Japan, and was regarded as a fashion icon in the ’90s.
She collaborated in notable units, including the iconic YEN TOWN BAND, a musical unit associated with Swallowtail, a 1996 movie Chara also appeared in, and the hip-hop group m-flo, where she created one of my all-time favourite songs ever, Love to Live By. She also provided background vocals and was the badass drummer in the all female rock band, Mean Machine.
Most recently she released the mini-album echo alongside YUKI, with whom she had previously worked in both Mean Machine, and during YUKI’s time as the vocalist in the band JUDY AND MARY.
Her underratedness comes from her dismissal in the west. Her vocals may be an acquired taste, but they make for very distinctive listening and memorable performances (especially live!) that heighten her individual charm and particular aesthetic that stands out within the field of Japanese music.
Her full album Secret Garden is one of my favourite Japanese music records of 2015, and one of her earliest and best selling albums, Junior Sweet, remains important to me to this day — particularly the best-selling single Yasahii Kimochi from its track list.
I’ll be singing her praises until my last breath. Support this terrific woman on iTunes.
Swinging Popsicle is a three-member indie pop/rock unit. Coming from humble beginnings — the trio found one another through a newspaper advert — their first album release, Sunny Silent Park, reached the second spot on the HMV Shibuya charts back in 1997. And they’ve been doing the rounds ever since — without ever really receiving the attention they deserve outside of Japanese music circles.
Many of us may very well be familiar with their name, since their track Satetsu no tou on their brilliant album Fennec! is the character song for Akiha Tohno from the legendary Tsukihime; their song Kagayashiki Nichijou is the ending track for Miyuki’s route from the visual novel YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story; and they provide the opening songs for the Sumaga games with (a)SLOW START and Perfect Loop. Additionally, their bassist, Hirata Hironobu has composed tracks for the DRAMAtical Murder sequel re:connect, and the Super Sonico SoniComi video game.
The band have many works worth checking out, including Go On, transit, and mini-album flow — these can all be found on iTunes, while other albums such as Fennec! and their compilation album LOUD CUT can be found on YouTube.
Female-fronted operatic bands feel very underrepresented in Japanese music. LIV MOON not only stands out because their competition is so lacking, but because their sheer talent really shines in every performance. Whether it’s Akane Liv’s impressive vocals, the sublime guitar riffs or simply their spectacular theatrical performances and look, this is a group that makes quite the impression.
As a symphonic metal band, Akane’s sensational, operatic vocal abilities single-handedly push LIV MOON into being something even grander and sublime. While their most accessible works are often covers of English opera tracks or famous songs (Blondie’s Call me, anyone?), every single original album from LIV MOON deserves far more acclaim and attention than it tends to get here in the west.
Akane’s vocal range is off the charts as she switches from falsetto to head voice effortlessly, sounding powerful in one note, then angelic in the next. Her high notes will hit deep into your soul in many of their tracks.
And while my favourite album of theirs has always been Symphonic Moon, their previous releases of Double Moon and Golden Moon are often regarded as the stronger albums. Overall, the theatrical aesthetic and sound of LIV MOON, fronted by the astonishing talent of Akane, makes their underappreciation both within and outside of Japanese music all the more confusing — so head on over to iTunes if you like what you’ve heard!
The atmospheric, experimental works by Japanese musician Ferri are in an entirely different realm, quite unlike the output of any other musician I’ve ever heard of before.
If you’re looking for something hauntingly beautiful then look no further than Ferri. Her first album A Broken Carousel is breathtakingly sorrowful. Her poignant lyrics, delicate yet technically extraordinary vocals, and emotionally captivating music videos all come together to form a confounding and emotional experience for the ears and eyes.
Ferri achieves exactly what she set out to do with her work, which is to reinforce the theory of music as a form of “comprehensive art”. Her exciting and unique songs never sound the same as one another, whether it’s the distorted and depressing electronic sound of Fading Sigh, the vocally impressive Requiem, or the hopeful and powerfully whimsical Porte. The fact that Ferri can make such an impression with just one album from the three under her belt is telling enough.
And better yet, for those of us listening here in the west, Ferri’s lyrics are entirely in English!
When it comes to Visual Kei, female representation in this genre — pretty much exclusive to Japanese music — is woefully lacking. As the Japanese equivalent to Glam Rock, the visual style of the bands in this genre is often how they draw in potential fans. Luckily for DISACODE, they are fronted by the gorgeous AKIRA, a KERA model who very much delivers the goods — she looks fabulous while she shows off her vocal oddities, and provides much of the band’s unique appeal.
AKIRA is a worthy of note for her unique masculine tone, often sounding so husky that her gender can seem a little ambiguous — very much understandable for the Japanese music genre the band are in, which often emphasises androgynous looks. With an upcoming album in the works, we’re looking forward to seeing how far the band has come — and for even more AKIRA, of course!
Find their albums and EPs on iTunes.
When I think about the acoustic perfection that is Hanako Oku (famed for her tie-in songs on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), no one has gotten as close to her appeal as Nasu Asaco.
Unlike Hanako Oku however, Asaco’s pitch is always clear and remarkably controlled, making for consistently transparent and sturdy vocals throughout her songs. She is, for me, superior in every way — making me feel that Asaco is remarkably underrated, and undeservingly so.
Fittingly enough, and as another parallel to the famous Oku, Asaco is also equipped with merely a piano for the majority of her works, hammering home how simple yet divine and emotional her songs are. They come across as timeless.
You may very well know of her already since flora is an insert song for the video game Atelier Firis. If you’ve already heard that beautiful song, then you have no excuse not digging deeper into her discography — though I wouldn’t blame you for struggling in doing so, since Asaco’s music can be a pain to track down in our region. It’s not available on streaming services, so for now we’re required to import her CD’s or stick to YouTube.
Finally, to close out this list, let’s have another serving of bizarre and unique vocals!
Kominami Yasuha was active from 2010 to 2015, leaving us far too soon and falling into obscurity. So here I am to hopefully raise her back up a bit!
That said, she may not have been completely forgotten already, as her second and last album Bokuo Sukuttekurenakatta Kimie contains tie-in tracks to a free-to-play game many of us are likely familiar with: SUDA51’s rather peculiar beat ’em up LET IT DIE.
Yasuha’s vocal quirks will not be surprising when we consider her influences, from Janis Joplin to Shiina Ringo — and her love for horror and fantasy. She’s an eccentric oddball who, despite seeming somewhat constrained in the pop/rock bracket because of how unique her pitch is, she still rocked our socks off with plenty of mini-albums to appease fans, intriguing and deep lyrics, and an perfect first album in the form of Chimera.
While her most recent musical work is the composition of the track BEAUTIFUL WORLD for LiSA on last year’s album LEO-N-INE, more recently she’s moved into the world of visual art.
Keep Kominami’s musical legacy alive by giving her discography a listen on Spotify.
Have I missed out on any of your favourite female musicians of Japan? Let me know in the comments or via the usual social channels!
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