The Showa era, which lasted from 1926 to 1989, was a time of significant cultural and social change in Japan. It saw the emergence of new musical styles, including the popular genre known as kayokyoku.
Kayokyoku, which means “song music,” is a style of Japanese pop music that was popular from the 1950s to the 1980s. It is characterized by its emphasis on vocals, melody, and harmony, and often features a blend of Western and Japanese musical styles, with elements of jazz, rock and roll, and enka. The lyrics of kayokyoku songs typically deal with themes of love, heartbreak, and nostalgia.
Here are 10 iconic artists and bands from Japan’s Showa era that you should know.
1. Hibari Misora
One of the most famous and influential artists in the kayokyoku scene. She had a powerful voice and sang in a variety of genres, including pop, enka, and jazz. Some of her most well-known songs include “Kawa no Nagare no You ni,” “Ai San San,” and “Makkana Taiyo.”
2. Hachiro Kasuga
Hachiro Kasuga was another popular kayokyoku singer known for his deep, rich voice and his renditions of traditional Japanese songs. His hit songs include “Kojo no Tsuki,” “Sakura Sakura,” and “Furusato Yubin.”
3. Pink Lady
The female duo consisted of Mie and Kei, who were one of the most successful musical acts of the late 1970s. Their energetic dance routines and catchy pop songs made them household names in Japan. Some of their hit songs include “UFO,” “Southpaw,” and “Pepper Keibu.”
4. Chage and Aska
A pop duo formed in the late 1970s, they were known for their heartfelt ballads and upbeat pop songs. Their hit songs include “Say Yes,” “Meguriai,” and “On Your Mark.”
5. Yellow Magic Orchestra
Known also as YMO, the band was a pioneering electronic music group formed in the late 1970s. They blended traditional Japanese music with Western pop and electronic music to create a unique sound that influenced many artists in Japan and around the world. Some of their most famous songs include “Computer Game,” “Rydeen,” and “Behind the Mask.” The late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto was a member of YMO.
6. Kyu Sakamoto
A Japanese singer and actor who became famous with his song “Ue o Muite Aruko” (or “Sukiyaki” in English) in 1961. The song became an international hit and sold millions of copies worldwide.
7. Teresa Teng
The Taiwanese singer was extremely popular in Japan during the Showa era. Her gentle voice and sentimental ballads won her many fans in Japan and other countries. Some of her hit songs include “Toki no Nagare ni Mi wo Makase,” “Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin,” and “Aijin.”
8. Yumi Matsutoya
Also known as Yuming, she is a singer-songwriter who debuted in 1972 and became one of the most successful Japanese musicians of all time. Her hit songs include “Haru yo Koi,” “Tsubasa wo Kudasai,” and “Rouge no Dengon.” Yuming’s songs have also been featured in films like Kiki’s Delivery Service (1981) and The Wind Rises (2013).
9. Seiko Matsuda
Fondly called “Seiko-chan,” she is one of the most popular J-pop singers of the 1980s. She had a sweet voice and sang a variety of upbeat pop songs. Some of her hit songs include “Aoi Sangoshou,” “Cherry Blossom Evening,” and “Anata ni Aitakute Missing You.”
10. Mariya Takeuchi
A singer-songwriter who debuted in 1978 and gained fame with her song “Plastic Love” in the 1980s.
The Showa era produced some truly iconic and influential musicians. These artists left an indelible mark on the country’s musical landscape, from Misora Hibari’s powerful vocals to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s pioneering electronic sound.
We hope this list has given you a glimpse into the magic and mystery of kayokyoku, and that you’ll continue to explore the rich musical traditions of Japan’s Showa era.
Author: Galileo Ferrari