Japanese Songs That Can Help You Study The Language
Let’s face it: Japanese is a really cool language, but, it can be pretty difficult to learn. And like anything you study, it can become tedious if you don’t have fun with it. So how can you make Japanese language learning more fun? Listening to Japanese songs, of course!
Why listening to Japanese music is a good strategy
Just like you can find yourself “accidentally” memorizing a favorite song in your native language, singing Japanese songs will help you remember vocabulary and sentence structures effortlessly. Repetition not only reinforces knowledge and memory, but helps it become more natural to you. It can dramatically improve your listening comprehension, intonation, memory, and ability to pick up new words.
Another plus about learning from music is that it often encompasses important parts of daily life and culture, so it’s also a great way to connect and converse with your Japanese friends. And being able to listen to it anywhere and on the go, you will find yourself learning from anywhere without even trying – in the car, on the train, just pop on your headphones and you’re good to go!
Learning from songs
Japanese music was my personal gateway to learning the language. Before it became easy to look up everything on the Internet, what I did was listen to and write down the lyrics old-school, buy a Japanese-English dictionary, and look up words one by one. Then I would put together a rough translation of the song, just to know what I was singing about.
Luckily for you though, you don’t have to do any of that! Now you can easily listen to songs online or on your phone, look up the lyrics, and using a dictionary app, look up any words you don’t understand.
Tone and Pronunciation
Songs are a great help for familiarizing yourself with the tone, accent, and pronunciation of the words. Hearing how the singers sing the words, and trying to sing them, can do wonders for not just learning to recognize but also to produce the sounds yourself. You will notice many times they are often said differently from the way they look when written out. For example, when “n” is pronounced as an English “m,” and when the “u” is silent in most words (such as “desu” pronounced “dess” and not “de-su”).
Lyrics and Reading Comprehension
Music is great for more than just learning vocabulary by ear! You can even learn kanji and how to read more fluently when you follow along with the written Japanese lyrics. This can be done by printing the written lyrics and following along, or my personal favorite, singing along with on-screen karaoke! The best way is to find lyrics that include all facets of written Japanese – kanji, furigana, & romaji – and of course the English translation.
Lyrics and Abstract Expressions
Songs in any language however are often not literal, and you can encounter many poetic and abstract expressions. Of course, it can be hard to judge which songs will be written this way before hearing it and establishing that you absolutely love it, so what do you do when you’re trying to learn from a song only to find that the lyrics make no sense?
Don’t panic! It’s okay to skip over certain expressions/sentences/verses that seem too difficult or abstract for interpretation at the moment. Songs should be enjoyed, so don’t feel pressured to understand every single word. Even singing along to strange lyrics does wonders for practicing intonation and learning vocabulary. And when you’re more advanced, you can always go back and learn how to understand and interpret these abstract ideas!
How to begin
I recommend popular songs and ballads, mostly because the words are usually commonly used expressions, and also have a slow enough pace to be able to understand the words clearly. (When you become more advanced, you can challenge yourself with Japanese rap, rock, and fast-paced pop, if you dare!)
Give Karaoke a try!
If you can read hiragana and kanji with furigana, the next step is to try Japanese karaoke! (Actually, even if you can’t read just yet, you may want to try Karaoke anyway!) If you live in or near a big city like I was growing up, you may be able to find karaoke houses (or bars, if you’re old enough) that have Japanese songs.
How I leveled up with Karaoke
I was using Japanese music for learning way before I was able to read at all, but going to Japanese karaoke really improved not just my ability to sing them, but also ability to read! Lyrics are displayed in authentic Japanese so while you’re singing, you will can follow along!
What I personally used to do before I was able to read fluently was plan a list of the songs I wanted to sing beforehand, and practice them at home to the point of memorization. Because I had memorized it, I didn’t feel as much pressure to worrying about not being able to read, but I was still able to follow along!
My Top Japanese Songs for Learning Japanese
Now allow me to introduce 10 of my personal favorite Japanese songs that are not just fun to listen to, but fun to sing, and easy to learn from!
My Will – Dream
This song was the very first Japanese song I ever learned. I remember finding the lyrics somewhere and memorizing the entire thing, without having a clue what any of the words meant! So as my very first memorized Japanese song, I feel obligated to begin the list with this.
Plastic Love – Mariya Takeuchi
A classic song recently revived in popularity over the internet, this is a song you can’t ignore. Easy paced with easy lyrics, you’ll find yourself back in the 80s with this one!
1/3 Junjou na Kanjou – SIAM SHADE
This was my first Japanese rock song, and a fave to this day. Catchy and really fun to listen to it will probably be stuck in your head. It’s also the song that introduced me to the proper way to say fractions in Japanese ☺
(1/3 = “san-bun no ichi”)
Aitakute Ima – MISIA
A classic and personal favorite, even people who are not a fan of slow ballads can fall in love with this song! A beautiful melody and an amazing voice.
Linda Linda – The Blue Hearts
This song is a karaoke classic! It’s also very fun to sing whether you are at karaoke or not. However if you ever were to go to karaoke with a group of Japanese friends, guaranteed at least one person will pick this song. It’s crazy, it’s fun, and it’s really catchy. Give it a shot!
Haru no Uta – Spitz
Spitz is one of my absolute favorite Japanese artists. Their songs can be pretty abstract, but they are beautiful, catchy, and pretty easy to learn. Again, this video doesn’t have lyrics, so you can follow along here.
Aoi Ryuu – Exile Atsushi
Another song I discovered from a drama a few years back, I fell in love with it. It’s melodic and easy to sing, and the video is pretty dramatic. Here are the lyrics to follow along since they are not available on the video.
BONUS: The strangest anime song I’ve ever heard!
Watashi no Tamagoyaki – from the anime Dragon Half
This was a song I heard from an anime I watched many years back, and still cannot forget about to this day. Warning: this song will probably boggle your mind, not just because of the pace, but the lyrics are so hilarious! But, that’s what makes it enjoyable, and if you can sing this, then you can probably sing any Japanese song! (The video only has the English translation so I included the romaji lyrics in case you want to challenge singing along!)
Import Japanese Songs into LingQ
Did you know you can import Japanese song lyrics into LingQ? It’s super easy, just copy any lyrics you find online, click on LingQ’s import lesson button (desktop only), and paste the lyrics. LingQ will automatically save them into your lesson library where you can study the vocabulary using LingQ’s review functionality. Watch the video below to find out more.
Conclusion (Plus words of caution):
So there you have it, some of the catchiest and most enjoyable songs to learn Japanese to!
However, please remember that some of these lyrics are often abstract, poetic, and Japanese slang so not all expressions may be correct or even appropriate in daily speech. Make sure you don’t slip up and say something wrong or embarrassing that you learned from a song when speaking to a Japanese friend! Remember the levels of politeness in spoken Japanese are different. Most songs use casual speech, so make it a point to learn the proper “desu/masu” form of words too!
Happy listening and learning!
Krys is a NYC native who has spent more than half of her life studying Japanese language and culture. A former English teacher in Japan, she now uses her skills as a translator, and to help new learners of both languages.