Late Showa J-pop

The internet in the quarantine facility I’ve been in for the past week and a half has been really spotty, so I’ve found myself restricted to listening to whatever music I already have on my harddrive. For all sorts of reasons, the majority of what’s on there is J-pop from the 70s and 80s, so that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, more so than I usually do. A lot of the past two years I’ve been trying to listen to more Chinese music, which has resulted in there being a lot of Japanese musicians I used to listen to very regularly that I hadn’t touched in a year or more until this week.

I’ll get one thing out of the way: I don’t like City Pop. This is of course purely because everyone these days seems to think City Pop and 80s J-pop are synonymous, which annoys me. The truth of the situation is more along of the lines of the particular R&B/Jazz-fusion genealogy of City Pop not resonating with me the way certain other currents of late Showa J-pop do.

I remember listening to one of Seiko Matsuda’s earlier albums while in the car with my sister and she commented “This sounds like Hairspray.” She was totally right, which I suppose diagnoses part of why I like a lot of Showa idol pop: some of it sounds like Hairspray.

So I want to spend a little time listing some of the other tendencies and varieties that I notice in Late Showa J-pop (with some early Heisei when it makes sense) and why I like them. None of this will be rigorous, since the only qualification I have is having listened to a bunch of music over the years, often with big holes in what I’ve listened to. I know very little about the history involved, which I’m kind of ashamed about. Part of making this thread is the hope that others with better Japanese than me will share their knowledge, and also to compel myself to put more effort into researching the history, looking up interviews, etc. (Though not right now. This first post will be merely a braindump.)

Unlike a lot of threads of this nature, I’m not going to fill this thing with Youtube links, mostly because accessing Youtube is a pain right now. In the interest of making myself feel better about that, I’m going to say that Youtube is a crutch anyways, and without it I’m forced to try describe all of these musicians, songs and albums in an interesting enough way that you’ll feel compelled to do the extra thirty seconds of work that goes into looking them up yourself. You can feel free to link to Youtube, but please write out song/artist names for my benefit in case I can’t open the links. Soulseek works in China without VPN!

Turning back to Seiko Matsuda, she’s probably the big idol I like the least. That being said, when I was living with my dad in Boston, the elevator in his apartment building did a little Ding Ding when it opened that was the same timbre and interval as the opening two notes of *Nagisa no Balcony*, the fifth song from her album *Pineapple*. As a result, I’ve somehow convinced myself that that album is a diorama-like musical replica of all the feelings I had during my year in Boston. I listened to it quite a bit, since every time I got in the elevator coming home from work I heard that Ding Ding, thought of the song, then felt compelled to listen to the album as soon as I got through the door. The second song from that album, *Pineapple Island*, is most representative of the parts of Seiko Matsuda that I like: hypnotic, ever-repeating melodies, whispered at the volume of a scream. It feels very distinctive of the second phase of electronic music production that happened in the 80s, when music made with the aid of machines was no longer obviously “electronic” sounding. If you want to extrapolate from that, you could say Seiko Matsuda is everything new being employed in pursuit of the conventional and established.

After Seiko Matsuda, my impression is that the next two biggest distinctly 80s idols were Akina Nakamori and Kyoko Koizumi, each of which represent a different sector of J-pop to me.

Of the three, I think Akina Nakamori is probably the most relevant today? I like *Fushigi*, which has some abstract barely distinguishable portrait of her face on it. It is the logical conclusion of the direction her earlier albums had gone in, leading further and further into darkness and confusion. A much poppier favorite song of mine is *Unsteady Love*, on *Bitter and Sweet*. I’ve listened to Akina Nakamori probably more than anyone else in this post, yet I don’t really have many thoughts about her music. In some ways it feels like a pleasant default to me that I can listen to without thinking about it. Maybe it’s interesting that I feel this way about Akina Nakamori, who from what I can tell is thought of as having a deeper more complicated sound than someone like Seiko Matsuda. I’m not really sure what’s behind it.

If you 1) know anything about 80s J-pop, and 2) have been paying obsessive attention to the various hints I’ve dropped in all the posts I’ve made on this forum over the past two years, then it’d be very obvious to you that my favorite 80s idol is Kyoko Koizumi. I suppose she represents “electronic eclecticism”, which you see on early albums like *Breezing* and later albums like *Hippies* -- though she has plenty of the more orchestral songs typical of the early 80s. Elements of her seem like a continuation of the spirit of Momoe Yamaguchi, with a lot more Rock and Roll to her music than some of the other idols. Her best album is undoubtably *Beat Pop*.

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She released one album at the tail end of the 80s where she started making “House” music, appropriately called *Koizumi in the House*. All of it is good, only some of it is House. What makes it great is it’s missing all the soul that permeates normal House and replaced it with weird Kyon Kyon energy. I guess an indicator that I like the spirit of Kyon Kyon more than the spirit of House is that my favorite song from it is *Otoko no ko wa minna*, which really doesn’t belong on the album. It was probably left over material from earlier albums.

I really like Iyo Matsumoto’s album *Endless Summer*. Unfortunately the most ostentatious, bombastic song on the album that has everything I love about 70s pop music swirling around inside of it, held in stasis until 1983 when all the tools were available for its full realization, is called *Chinese Kiss*, and has the English words “Chinese kiss” repeated over and over, so neither in America nor in China can I ever listen to it in front of anyone (not that I ever listen to music in anyone’s presence anyways).

Moving away from teen idols, there’s Yumi Matsutoya, who has such an incredibly distinctive voice. My favorite album by her is *Delight Slight Light KISS*, filled with overwrought edifices of music. In college I got wrangled into taking a computational physics class for some reason and was put in a group with the other person who knew nothing about physics (he was also only 17 — he was some boy genius who had graduated from high school at 15 and was incredibly good at math, but unfortunately not physics). We were assigned a massive project that we left until the day before it was due, and he ended up not being able to figure out the part he was in charge of, so I had to do the whole thing myself. The algorithm we were running would take like 8 hours to finish normally, which was way too long since it was 11pm and we had until the morning, so I figured out a way to parallelize it so it only took an hour which made me feel like a genius for actually getting it to work. While I was waiting for it to run I watched a concert film of Yumi Matsutoya’s *Delight Slight Light KISS* tour, and just as the results came in looking correct the song *Koi wa No-return* came on, and Yumi Matsutoya was just leaping around the stage at unhuman velocities, doing all sorts of crazy and unnecessary acrobatics. I felt a sort of satisfaction I’d never experienced well up inside of me as I messaged the boy genius that I finished and listened to her delightfully shrill voice over the bubbling of brassy synthesizers.

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Ok, it’s past 1 am here and I have only talked about a tenth of the singers I planned to talk about. I wanted to at least discuss some 70s stuff more. Also the singers I’ve brought up have all been female thus far. I’ll have to start the next post with, like, Kenji Sawada or some other male singer that I have a lot to say about. In the mean time I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has anything to say about non-City Pop 80s J-pop. I mean, if you must talk about City Pop, I guess it’s ok. Just be aware that if I wake up tomorrow and there’s 20 posts of people talking about Tomoko Aran I will be sad.

I‘ve never been motivated to determine precisely what is and isn’t City Pop, but I assume it‘s something like Anri, with her bass-heavy R&B kinda songs with emphatic choruses. I think I agree with you because she’s not my favourite; I prefer the lighter, melodic orchestral side of 70s/80s J-pop. I like the idea of a music thread where we don't post music, so I will take your lead and attempt to describe a few of my favourite artists in the genre.

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**Yumi Tanimura** was my first love -- I came across this album, PRISM, at a Book-Off during my first week in Japan, and was really struck by the cover art. Ended up falling head over heels; she's one of the few J-pop idols where I've listened to every one of her albums. I remember my dad saying her voice reminded him of Olivia Newton-John. I don't know how true that is but maybe it will serve as a useful comparison for some people. Her music is quite jazzy and cool.

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**Yukiko Okada** is another favourite of mine. I think my favourite album of hers is _Okurimono II_, but I think the cover above captures her essence the best. Her soft, whisper-like, almost crackly voice carries so much melancholy and sweetness, even in her more joyful songs.

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**Yuki Saito** is someone I've gotten into more recently, but I can't really think of what to say about her. From the first song on this album, 卒業, I was just hooked. For some reason, I get a sort of traditional feeling from her music and vocal style, but I can't tell where that impression comes from.

### On A More General Note,

I relate to the way in which you enjoy this music. I found my way to the genre pretty willy-nilly, just buying random albums at Book-Off and seeing what I liked, with no context for what I was listening to. It was very sad for about a year after I came back from Japan, because I couldn't figure out how to access any more of this music, but eventually, through sheer luck, I found my way to several websites that specialize in just this sort of thing.

One way I found new artists was by watching 80s mecha anime; this is how I found **Hiroko Moriguchi** and **Hiroko Kasahara**, from _Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam_ and _Patlabor_ respectively. I love outer space-y J-pop: a cool non-idol recommendation I would give is **Cosmic Invention**, a group of teenagers who put out one album called _Cosmorama_, which I find very strange and cool.

My usual method of getting into a new artist is to start from the beginning and listen to the albums chronologically, which works strangely for J-pop idols because they often have like 15-20 albums, so I generally grab the first three or four and then go, "Alright, that's enough of that," and just listen to those early albums over and over. Which means that although I listen to **Koizumi Kyouko** a lot, I'd never heard of that album you mentioned! So I will have to check it out.

There are many other artists in the genre I love, but I can't quite figure out anything particularly interesting to say about them... I'm no expert in talking about music, and I'd have to give the albums a good listen to come up with good ways of describing them. For example, **Kawai Naoko**, who I think has some truly amazing albums. I guess I will mention _Japan as Waterscapes_, which has a wonderful title and is quite a beautiful album.

@“wickedcestus”#p90445 Sorry for taking a few days to reply. I finally have time to write a response that is sort of thought out.

I'm also not 100% sure what the actual definition of City Pop is. Anri would definitely be labeled City Pop and probably shows up in all sorts of those playlists, but I'm not sure if she is exactly representative of the sort of City Pop that exists as youtube videos with millions of views put over looping anime clips. A lot of those are "chiller", and feel closer to Jazz fusion, whereas Anri feels like more of a descendant of Disco to me? This is mostly based on me having listened to Timely and one other of her albums that I forget a few times several years ago, and relistening to a few of her songs right before writing this, so I might be wrong. She's definitely on the cusp of that sound though: e.g. Shyness Boy sounds more like City Pop to me, 悲しみがとまらない sounds less so.

Also it’s sort of a made up thing, because half of the people associated with City Pop, e.g. Mariya Takeuchi, only made a handful of actual City Pop songs. There are also plenty of idols that made music that is more City Pop like, but still doesn’t feel all the way there to me, maybe because of the singing style or whatever. One in particular that I’m thinking of is Momoko Kikuchi. Her album Escape From Dimension is very electronic, with some songs seeming more in the electronic Jazz fusion tradition, and therefore sound more like City Pop, while others feel more like evolutions of the orchestral 70s idol sound done with electronic instruments -- but in her case the songs that instrumentally resemble City Pop are sung in such a bubble gum style that it doesn't feel like City Pop to me. Though anyways, there are specific sounds and cliches that cross back and forth between all these different sub-genres of pop, so maybe it’s dumb for me to try to do too much defining.

Ok no more talking about City Pop.

The issue with listening to a lot of these singers chronologically is exactly what you said: it’s hard to actually get through a singer’s entire discography unless you really like them. With a lot of the idols that started in the early 80s and had careers that spanned the whole decade, they often transformed into something very different by the end of the 80s, and that’s typically where a lot of what made them unique and worth remembering happened.

I feel like this is part of some larger historical trend in Japanese music, though I don’t really know enough to say definitively. It feels like super-commercial J-pop became much more varied and “artistic” in the last few years of the 80s — though maybe I just think this because that is when a lot of the musicians I most associate with the 80s reached their full maturity, started getting more creative license, were allowed to express themselves in unprecedented ways, etc. Obviously less commercial music in Japan had always been filled with creativity and experimentation, and commercialism of course exists on a spectrum, so it’s possible the changes I feel I’m perceiving are just illusions created by cherry-picked definitions of “commercial”.

Anyway, I like the comment your dad made, though I’m also not sure how well I can evaluate it. I always find the reactions of people never exposed to J-pop interesting when they’re presented with some obscure or old Japanese music.

Thank you for the recommendations! Keep them up whenever you think of stuff! I’ll eventually write some more micro reviews when I have time.

If you have any more late-career idol albums to recommend, make sure to do it!

Just wanna pop in and make a single album recommendation.

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This is **Naomi Kawashima** with _So Long_. This is probably my single favourite idol album. Definitely feels more of the **Yamaguchi Momoe** era than some of the later artists I mentioned earlier. (I'm just going to start making up names for J-pop eras.) A few of the songs have a very distinctly American 50s feeling, which I always love out of J-pop. Primarily, "浮気な Birdie Boy" and "ゼミナールは車の中で". We've also got some whiney guitars, blaring trumpets, and even a track with bongos and a steel guitar.

For whatever reason, I've never found any of her other albums to live up to this one. But I've listened to this one over and over enough times to put her in my top 5 for sure.

I'm finding myself thinking about this music much more deeply than usual, trying to figure out how to explain it in words. I feel like there are so many little influences I can pick out when I listen to these albums, but I don't know how to talk about them. It's funny, you could easily tell me that a lot of these songs or even singers sound quite similar, and I'd say, yeah, that's absolutely true, but I like it! I like hearing the echoes of other artists whenever I pick up a new album, and trying to square together the different "sounds" that make up the genre. There's definitely distinct eras and distinct "types" of songs, but there's this undercurrent that ties it all together, and who knows what that exactly is. If it's even possible to put it into words, I kind of don't want to know!

Random observation:

I feel like the word "Marionette" is used a lot in older J-pop (maybe it's still used frequently -- I don't listen to as much newer J-pop).

Off the top of my head there's Marionettes by Tsukasa Ito and Akina Nakamori, and I've definitely heard the word show up in the lyrics of other songs. There's also Marionette by BOØWY. I guess the connotations of the word are different in Japanese? In English you'd immediately associate "Marionette" with being manipulated by someone, and I guess maybe you'd expect these songs to be about how these singers feel they're nothing but marionettes being manipulated by producers and songwriters, performing for your amusement. But as far as I can tell, even Akina Nakamori's Marionette, which seems like the darkest, is about being controlled by her own memories and feelings, rather than someone else necessarily. BOØWY's Marionette is sort of about being controlled by others, but it seems to be a less sinister metaphor than the word "marionette" would make me think of. In that song they're just talking about fitting into society I think.

Well I guess this is where I should share this marico with cute song I keep listening to. I might have shared it already but I'm listening to it again, so here you go

@“exodus”#p139335 Maybe this says more about me than the song or genre itself, but I can‘t listen to this and not feel like I’m about three drinks in and shuffling down a neon-lit sidewalk where there are a lot of people smoking cigarettes and carousing.

I think I remembered not participating in this thread because it started with the caveat of not liking city pop (I barely know what city pop means anymore) but I‘m just gonna power through and say I love the synths in this song from mariko tone, which I’m sure has showed up in y‘alls algorithms. I have the record here so I’ve been listening to it LIVE.

I (accidentally) got a promo version and it comes with an issue of the mariko times. I wonder how many editions they printed?


@“exodus”#p139938 yeah, please ignore whatever I wrote a year ago. I was just annoyed by a particular person I know (not on this website). I also have no idea what City Pop means.

Anyway, I hadn't seen this song before! Thanks!

I have nothing to contribute but I love the title of this thread.

I recently applied for a narrative design position, and this was my celebration music for turning my application in.

I need to come back to this thread when it’s not so late and post some of my favs!

Kinda made me think of this one - I‘m not sure whether kimiko kasai’s was the original but she certainly did it first, and this is an English cover of it. I‘m not usually into that but I really like the instrumentation on this version. Maybe folks have heard it since it’s got a heck load of views. It's a hot one!

Gonna throw a mix of obscure-ish and obvious picks? Good music regardless; I'd rather share more for people who are unfamiliar than just gloss over it.

Haniwa-Chan - かなしばり (Kanashibari)
Stellar Kiyohiko Semba side project. I don't know how popular this one actually is in Japan, but this has always been a bona fide classic to me. If you only have time for one track, give 体育祭 (Taiikusai) a shot.

Yukako Hayase - 大きな言語と小さな願望
I've seen Yukako Hayase's Polyester recommended in a different thread somewhere, but this was the song/album that originally got me into her stuff.

Iyo Matsumoto - TV No Kuni Kara Kirakira
Iyo Matsumoto has already been mentioned earlier in the thread, but a classic's a classic. Probably the most "insert credit" pick here, thanks to lyrics by Shigesato Itoi!

Sandii - Drip Dry Eyes
I love this cover more than Yukihiro Takahashi's original, honestly.

Hirono Mio - Fruits of the Moon EP
Mentioned in a different thread, but posting again here for posterity. One of my all time favorite pieces of music ever. Be sure to track down the CD version when looking for downloads for the extra tracks! They're just as good.

Ryou Takashi & Takeshi Onaga - Misc. Singles
Now here are some weird ones! I found these from a channel that likes to share rips of their private pressing collection. These were some of my favorites when I was going through them all; definitely worth checking the account out in general.

I just pulled these out of a hat! I'll always share more if anyone ever wants it. I don't consider myself an expert on this stuff, but I do like it a lot! Definitely hope people keep posting recc's here.

@“exodus”#p140071 I admittedly am not too familiar with her in general, so this is new to me! And also great. Need to put more of her stuff in my “to listen to” pile.


@“ninjapresident”#p140337 Iyo Matsumoto has already been mentioned earlier in the thread

the super massive idols, like Matsumoto, Nakamori, Koizumi, etc all contain a whole world across their dozens of albums. E.g. starting around 1987 or so and going into some point in the 90s, every Kyoko Koizumi album was a completely different genres. so no one should be shy about recommending a different song/album by someone who's already been recommended!

i really like this dude hiroshi sato's albums. the first one i got into was awakening:

i think(?) this is more in-line with the fuison-y type of city pop some folks aren't fond of, but i think sato does some interesting stuff with synths and there's a little melancholy to his music that elevates it. but i'm also a tourist in this genre. this just came on shuffle and i wanted to share.

Kurt Feldman showed me this album, I like it.