Top 10 J-Pop Songstresses

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J-pop, short for Japanese pop, is, according to Wikipedia, a loosely-defined musical genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s. Modern J-pop has its roots in 1960s music such as The Beatles and replaced kayokyoku (“Lyric Singing Music”, a term for Japanese pop music from the 1920s to the 1980s) in the Japanese music scene. The term was coined by the Japanese media to distinguish Japanese music from foreign music, and now refers to most Japanese popular music.”—-Wikipedia

Throughout my perusing of the top ten lists of this site, I noticed that there was no list about the Japanese music industry. This, I felt, a shame since there is so much ground to cover on such a topic. This is a basic topic, but one that I felt would be an interesting read. And thus my idea to create the Top Ten J-Pop Songstresses list was born. I am not as into J-Pop, or Japanese music as a whole, as I used to be. However, it seemed like it would make for a nice list idea.

Of course, this list is purely subjective. Also, I cannot possibly know of every female J-pop artist so this list is narrowed down by who I am aware of in the J-pop genre. Other factors for picking out the top ten included popularity and overall success, talent (a singer-songwriter who composes her own music and can also play piano, guitar, etc VERSUS just a singer), likability, and, of course, personal preference. However, it should also be noted that some of the people on this list I am not a fan of (which is where the other factors come into play). Others, however, may be on here solely because of that reason. Just know that the list is subjective and I’m sure every reader will have ideas for who could be on the list instead. Also, note, this is my first contribution to this site!

10. Angela Aki

One of my favorite musical artists in general, Angela Aki is notable in that her musical style is, for the most part, quite unlike that of the others on this list. Much of her music is orchestral or acoustic and in nearly, if not ALL, of her songs she plays the piano, one of her trademarks, and for good reason, being incredibly gifted at it. Her look is also very unique in the Jpop industry-her wild black hair, black glasses, and distinctly non-Japanese features are an incredibly refreshing sight. Aki was born to a Japanese father and Italian-American mother and is fluent in both Japanese and English and sings in both. She may also be known to fans of the Final Fantasy series for her song “Kiss Me Good-Bye”, used as the theme song for Final Fantasy XII, as well as singing a cover of the Final Fantasy VIII theme song “Eyes On Me.” Her most successful singles include the aforementioned “Kiss Me Good-Bye”, “This Love”, “Sakurairo”, and “Tegami (Haikei Jugo no Kimi e).”

9. Nami Tamaki

Despite being one of the singers on this list that I am not quite as fond of and not writing her own music, Nami Tamaki is truly talented, being known for her powerful dancing. Making her debut in 2003 with her single “Believe”, she has since put out 6 studio albums and 2 compilation albums, 4 of those albums making it into the top 10 and 2 of those four making #1 in Japan. Her voice is pleasant and her dancing is unique and powerful. Her music also steps out of just J-pop, sometimes taking very a very dark rock sound. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt to mention that she’s gorgeous.

8. Yuna Ito

Yuna Ito is an interesting artist on this list. First, it should be noted that she is in fact American, being born in Los Angeles and raised in Hawaii (though she is of Japanese ancestry). She is thus fluent in both Japanese and English. Additionally, she is one of the few on this list that is an actress as well, making her debut in film along with music in 2005 with her role in the film “Nana” and her single “Endless Story”, used as the theme song for the movie. She has since released three studio albums, her debut album, “Heart” ranking #1 in the charts in Japan. Quite honestly, it’s hard not to find her charming. Her sweet appearance and strong vocals, being inspired by the vocals of Celine Dion, are just downright pleasant. Also, it’s interesting to note that she and Angela Aki are good friends in real life.

7. Hitomi

Another singer on this list that I am less fond of, Hitomi is notable in that she is one of the artists on this list that has been active the longest, starting her music career in 1994. Also, her success is another reason she’s on this list, having sold over 8,830,000 copies of all her albums, singles, and video releases in Japan, according to Wikipedia. She is perhaps one of the first major J-pop artists and her biggest hits include “Candy Girl”, “Love 2000”, and “Samurai Drive.” Since her debut, she has put out 9 studio albums and 1 compilation album. She has also written the lyrics to nearly all of her songs. She is known in Japan for her supermodel allure.

6. Yui

One of my favorites on this list, Yui is an incredibly talented young woman, writing, composing, and arranging her own music, playing multiple instruments (she is well known for her guitar playing), and being an actress. Despite being a J-pop artists, she often delves into rock and it suits her well. Her voice and looks are strangely deceiving, having typical cute qualities (high voice, sweet features), yet she is not at all cute and is incredibly intimidating in a way, making me love her even more. She has released 4 studio albums and one compilation album and many of her songs have been used in animes (Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, etc). It must be said, I highly recommend her.

5. Kumi Koda

Koda is another interesting artist on this list. She is well known for delving into the Urban and R&B genres as well as her provocative and sexy image (Just watch the music video for Taboo. That’s all the proof you need). She is a talented dancer and has also won many fashion awards. Her voice, however, is not to my liking. Yet, despite that, it’s hard not to love listening to her dance tracks. Koda’s songs have explored themes of sexuality and taboos, a few of them even dealing with homosexuality, something I appreciate, being gay myself. Since the start of her career in 2000, she has written the lyrics to her songs and has released 9 studio albums and countless compilations. Her number one singles include “You”, “Feel”, “Yume no Uta / Futari de…”, “Freaky”, “Taboo”, “Stay With Me”, and “Alive / Physical Thing.” Despite her somewhat annoying vocals (in this guy’s mind, anyway), she is definitely one to look up.

4. Namie Amuro

Notable for being the longest active singer on this list, Namie Amuro is incredibly popular in Japan, even being revered as the “Queen of Japanese pop music.” Amuro is another person on this list that is just plain fun to listen to, the majority of her music consisting of dance-pop and later incorporating R&B and hip-hop. At the height of her popularity, she was also a fashion leader in Japan, leading to the Amuraa craze in Japan which evolved into ganguro, for better or for worse (mostly for worse…just look up ganguro.) Her popularity fell in the mid 2000’s, though in more recent years, she has gained it back. She is without a doubt a huge contributor to Japanese pop culture and fashion.

3. Ayumi Hamasaki

Well, where to start? She is among the most successful musical artists in Japanese history, selling over 50 million albums there. She also holds many records in Japan, such as most number one hits overall by a female artist, most consecutive number one hits by a female artist, highest sales, and most million-sellers. Since 1999, she has had at least one single top the charts each year.  Hamasaki is the first female singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the Oricon (Japanese music charts) and the first artist to have a number-one album for 11 consecutive years since her debut. So…pretty successful eh? She also writes all of her own music and dabbles in composing her songs (Her album, “I Am…” was composed entirely by her). She is known for her honest and heartfelt lyrics. However, her voice and dancing have been negatively compared to other popular Japanese artists and even her fans have labeled her voice as screechy. Despite this, she remains enormously popular in Japan and is an icon of the Japanese musical and fashion industries.

2. BoA

Aaah, Boa…No Top Ten anything dealing with Jpop list could be without her. However, despite her being number 3 on this list, I am not a fan of hers at all. But she is more than deserving of number 2 on this list. The major difference between her and everyone on this list is that she isn’t even Japanese. She is Korean, but this does not keep her from being incredibly popular in both countries. Heck, she’s popular all around the world! She even released an album in the US back in 2009. She covers quite a few genres, though her area of expertise is dance music, being an INSAAAANELY talented dancer. Since her debut in 2000, she has released NINE Korean albums, SEVEN Japanese albums, and the aforementioned English album. Needless to say, BoA’s pretty successful. And onto number one…

1. Utada Hikaru

Number one goes to Utada Hikaru. Making her debut in 1998 at the age of 15, Utada Hikaru, or affectionately known amongst her fans as Hikki, has been labeled a J-pop goddess. Her debut album, “First Love”, is to this day the best selling album in Oricon history. In other words, Japanese music history. Utada has had three of her Japanese studio albums in the list of the Top 10 best selling albums ever in Japan (“First Love” at number 1, her sophomore album “Distance” at 4, and her third album “Deep River” at 8) and has had six of her albums be in the top 275 best selling albums ever in Japan. Utada has an estimated 52 million records sold worldwide.
Born in New York and raised both there and Japan, Utada is fluent in both English and Japanese. She has released 5 Japanese studio albums and 2 English studio albums and 3 compilation albums. She is particularly well known for singing the theme songs to the Kingdom Hearts series, “Hikari” (“Simple and Clean” outside of Japan) and “Passion” (“Sanctuary” outside of Japan). She writes all of her music herself (excluding her English albums) and has arranged and produced nearly all of her music. Additionally, she plays both piano and guitar.
In 2010, she announced that the following year she would go on hiatus. She released her final album till her hiatus, Utada Hikaru Singles Collection Volume 2, a compilation album that included 5 new recordings. Without a doubt, she is most certainly a J-pop goddess.

By Michael Beatrix


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24 Comments

  1. I like this list, I only knew two of them.
    I’ve always liked Rie Fu, but she usually sings english songs 🙂

  2. I really liked this, I’ve recently got into listening to a lot of K-Pop and I wanted to find something that wasn’t manufactured and lacked depth but was still Asian. I only knew of Hikki and a few others before this.

  3. Great list. Boa is actually Korean artist but she is very popular in Japan and debut there as Jpop artist. Completely agree with 1st but i might add Rie Fu and put Ayumi at 2nd place and Yui for 3rd.

    • Michael Beatrix on

      Haha, sorry I’m not familiar with Kpop. The only Asian singers/bands I really follow still are Utada and Stereopony.

  4. You have no idea how happy it makes me that people like Utada Hikaru for more than just ‘Sanctuary.’
    Everyone I know only knows her because of Kingdom Hearts, and it bothers me sometimes, I guess.

    • Michael Beatrix on

      yeah i suppose that annoys me too haha though i’m not ashamed to say that Kingdom Hearts is the reason I found out about her. Simple and Clean is still my favorite song by her. but yes i love nearly all her music (not a fan of her english stuff though-she tends to whore herself lyrically when she comes to the states, sadly).

  5. Thank you! I don’t know much about J-pop, but I more or less enjoyed all of these. My favourite Japanese bands are Dir en grey and Loudness. They don’t really fall into the category of J-pop. 🙂

  6. sad to see no hello!project people on here 🙁
    personaly, yes i know no h!p members right their own songs, i like mano erina …or even goto maki

  7. You need Ai Otsuka and Shiina Ringo. They can be #2 and #1, respectively, and just bump off any of the other 10, objectively, subjectively, or randomly.

    • Michael Beatrix on

      I’m not really a fan of Ai Otsuka. And, frankly, I forgot about her. That’s why I didn’t include her. But she DEFINITELY wouldn’t have been #2, even if i had included her objectively.

      I am a big Shiina Ringo fan. However, she is not one of the most successful J-Pop singers around right now, and is not one of my favorites. Therefore, both subjectively and objectively it felt wrong to put her in the list. She wouldn’t have been #1, regardless. That spot goes to the queen (Utada <3)

  8. Thank you for compiling this list. It brought back many fond memories of the days when I was truly into J-Pop.

    I went digging into my old CDs and found the group Speed’s album Memories, I had forgotten they existed haha.

    Undoubtedly, Hikki is the Queen. The day she returns, the better the it will be…

  9. I think YUKI (Isoya) should make this list but somehow without replacing anyone because they are all exceptional artists; but YUKI is just as unique in her style as she is talented in her art. She kinda makes me think of a a Japanese contrast to Bjork. LOL. Just thought i’d drop my two cents in. LOL

  10. Finally a list which gets it right!! No question about Boa as she hasn’t even hit her peak yet. Add this to her Hollywood movie debut coming out later this year. In addition to being a huge role model for both Japanese & Korean artists alike. She most certainly deserved the #2 spot no question. K-pop wound not be where it is today if it weren’t for Boa. People seem to forget that fact more then not. With that said I would like to add a few honorable mentions which should be on this list as well. These artists might not be as well known but are among my favorite in addition to what you have listed here.

    1. One artist which is hugely underrated is Lecca. She is a Japanese Pop/Reggae artist which has one of the most unique voices in all of J-pop. She reminds me a lot of Shakira and has the talent to back it up. The good news is Lecca seems to finally be getting some exposure now though. She recently did a collaboration with Shaggy which was pretty epic. She might not be as well known as some of the others here. Although is one of the few artists which could transition into the US market fairly easily. Now with Utada in hiatus & Namie & Ayumi well into their 30’s. Lecca I think has the potential to fill in the void if given the chance. You really can’t go wrong with Lecca and can’t recommend her highly enough!!

    2. Consisting of sisters Yoshika and Tsugumi SoulHead is the second group on my list which deserves honorable mention. They are a hip Hop R&B Soul/funk duo which is are also largely underrated!! Part of the reason for that I believe was due to Sony, their previous label which they are no longer with. SoulHead are not only great artists but very gifted songwriters who have worked with the likes of Sowelu, Ken Hirai, Crystal Kay, Koda Kumi, Soul’d Out & Yoshika among others. The good news now though is they have signed with Avex which I believe is a much better fit for them which will utilize their talents much better I think. They recently came out with a new album “Jump Up The Wall” which is among my favorite at present. If anyone deserves some credit it’s these two which has been long overdue.

    3. Speaking of Crystal Kay she is my third pick and regardless of what her heritage might be deserves a lot more credit then she gets. Crystal is half black/Japanese which in and of itself has put her in a negative light unrightfully so. Crystal is right up there with the best but seems to get the shaft more then not due to her mixed heritage. Crystal is another artists which could transition well and could be pretty big here in the US if they promoted her properly.

    In closing one thing that does bother me though is how a mostly talentless group like AKB48 is taking away exposure from more deserving artists. If it weren’t for Utada, Koda, Namie Boa & Ayumi holding them back. That is all you would ever hear about lol. Japan at present is the second largest music producer in the world outside the US. South Korea is making some inroads but it has a ways to go before matching Japan. Although I do like 2NE1, BEG & Miss A which are are rare exception.

    In retrospect though it does somewhat concern me if and when the day comes Ayumi finally decides to retire? She is already deaf in one ear and Avex is foolish putting all it’s eggs in one basket. Expecting her to hold up an entire industry is not fair to Ayumi as well as many other deserving J-Artists. I agree with all of what has been said here and hope more effort is put into promoting all the great talent Japan has to offer. 🙂

    • Correction Crystal Is half Black half Korean. Sorry about that mistype!! Since I am replying on this I may as well add a couple others I should have mentioned as well.

      1. HeartsDales – These two are also sisters consisting of Yumi Sugiyama and Emi Sugiyama or better known as Rum & Jewels respectfully. HeartsDales are fluent in both Japanese & English as they grew up in NYC mostly before returning to Japan to pursue their music career. I would say they are primarily more urban hip-hop then anything but are some extremely talented ladies as well. These two are some of the most on point rappers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Although they are equally gifted with some major pipes to back that us as well. Unfortunately though they are no longer performing as of now. Although continue to pop up from time to time collaborating with various artists. I continue to hope they will return one day as are sorely missed.

      2. Origa – Origa is a Russian Japanese artist which you can’t miss by her stunning appearance and angelic voice. She most closely reminds me of Enya and has the voice to match!! If there was any doubt at the level of talent Japan brings to the table. Origa puts that to rest pretty quick. Chances are you have heard her before if you are a fan of Ghost in the Shell SAC. She did both the title tracks which are epic!! It is a true shame though that most people are only familiar with her through this. Just one of many gifted J-artists which slip under most peoples radar. Ok I think I am done now haha. :b

    • With all do respect Tanner. I am sure the author was well aware Boa is Korean. She was the first successful crossover artists from Korea to make it in Japan. In fact she is the current record holder for a Korean artists in digital sales in Japan at present. Secondly she is one of only two non-Japanese Asian artists who have had million-selling albums in Japan As well as is one of only two artists to have six consecutive number-one albums on the Oricon charts. She has been as much an influence on Japanese artists as she has Korean. So she deserves to be on this list.

      I also agree with Sonic and thanks for those suggestions. I will be sure to check them out. I also have a big problem how a no talent group like AKB48 gets so popular! I just about fell over when i heard they would be representing Japan during the 50th NYC Cherry Blossom Festival this year. Of all the outstanding artists Japan has to offer. It had to be AKB48 who the Japanese government selected as representives lol. Anyways i agree with this list mostly as well. Good Job mate!!

  11. Sorry to break it to you, but most of these ladies are as mainstream as it gets. I myself i’m a HUGE Namie fan, but she’s not really a songstress… She doesn’t write any lyrics anymore, nor she doesn’t play any instruments now. But she probably has more control over her music/image/promoting that any other artist on the list.

    You guys should check Ms Yuki Kajiura, she’s not a singer anymore, she’s a composer and also writes lyrics and plays intruments. She’s well known for her soundtracks and aswell for being the overall producer of Kalafina. Yuki Kajiura is SO damn talented, she even made up her OWN LANGUAGE!

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