In keeping with this year’s Doors Open theme “City of Sound”, the staff of the Japan Foundation, Toronto have curated an eclectic mixtape of Japanese music for our visitors to enjoy.
Each JFT staff member hand-picked Japanese songs that hold special meaning for them and we have collected them into a Playlist. You can read their testimonials about their song selections below. You can listen to the playlist on Spotify or YouTube.
THE BOOM – Chuosen 中央線
THE BOOM – Karatachi Nomichi からたち野道
“Chuosen” by THE BOOM reminds me of my days in graduate school, which I’d spent in the Tama region, the western side of Tokyo. Chuosen, the JR Chuo Line, is one of the major railway lines running east-west of Tokyo. Decades ago, we could still see the nostalgic sceneries of Tokyo’s countryside from the windows of a Chuosen train. This song calls up the bittersweet memories of my youth with hopes and uncertainties for the future.
—Noriko, Executive Director
U-zhaan & SAKAMOTO Ryuichi feat. Tamaki ROY × Chinza DOPENESS – Energy Flo
Rekishi feat. Deyonna – Kirakira Bushi きらきら武士
BRAHMAN, EGO-WRAPPIN’ – WE ARE HERE
In Japan (and across the world), there are numerous stylistically unique artists. I consider Rekishi to be one of the standout representatives in this regard.
True to his name, he solely sings songs inspired by history (Rekishi=レキシ=歴史=history). Yet, he manages to create a multitude of unique and catchy tracks. “Kirakira Bushi (Shining Samurai)” is my favourite song, which features a great singer, SHIINA Ringo, and portrays the feelings of a girl who has fallen in love with a samurai.
Rekishi’s music might allow you to learn about Japanese history along with the Japanese language!
AMURO Namie – Baby Don’t Cry
BOYSTYLE – Kokoro no Chizu ココロのちず
SOUTHERN ALL STARS – Manatsu no Kajitsu 真夏の果実
I first heard SOUTHERN ALL STARS’ “Manatsu no Kajitsu (Midsummer Fruit)” on a beach in Japan in the summer of 2009. Being Chinese, I’d grown up with the Cantonese version by Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung, not realizing that was a cover of this 1990 Japanese classic. The song now holds multiple associations for me: a love ballad that was frequently played in my childhood home, a memory of a carefree summer night watching fireworks with my now-husband, and a comforting reminder of how good music erases boundaries and brings people together.
—Cindy, Program Officer (Japanese Studies & International Dialogue)
YOASOBI – Into the Night
YOASOBI – Yoru ni Kakeru 夜に駆ける
I chose the song “Into the Night” by YOASOBI (which is the English version of 「夜に駆ける (Yoru ni Kakeru)」by YOASOBI originally sung in Japanese) because I love the way they playfully and masterfully translated the Japanese lyrics into English. They intentionally chose English words/phrases that sound like the original Japanese lyrics while still maintaining the same message in the song and fitting them in the original rhythms. (E.g.「沈むように(shizumu youni)」 -> “Seize a move, you’re on me,” 「いつだって(itsu datte)」 -> ”It’s stuck in,” 「騒がしい日々に(sawagashii hibi ni)」 -> “Saw what got seen hid beneath”) So, even though the singer is singing entirely in English in the English version, listeners with English and Japanese knowledge will have a very unique and interesting experience where they get confused whether they are listening to the song in Japanese or English.
—Emi, Library Assistant
Rhythm Tengoku – Bon Odori
Chrono Cross – Radical Dreamers~Unstolen Jewel
Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater
“Bon Odori” is super catchy and sounds like a folk song that would have been sung throughout the ages during traditional festivals, but it was only composed in 2006 for the game “Rhythm Tengoku” (Tengoku=Heaven). “Radical Dreamers ~ Unstolen Jewel” from the game “Chrono Cross” (1999) contains self-reflective lyrics and would be a standout on any singer-songwriter’s album. “Snake Eater” is from the game “Metal Gear Solid 3” (2004) and is titled after the main character’s indomitable will to survive and complete his mission in the harshest environments. This arrangement by the “8-Bit Big Band” brings out the 1960s spy-movie musical themes.
—Daniel, Library Counter Staff
Happy End – Kaze wo Atsumete 風をあつめて
Weather in May has been beautiful. Whenever this season comes (May in Japan is also very green), it always reminds me of this song, “Kaze wo Atsumete (Gathering the Wind)” by Happy End (1971).
It was released before I was born, so I didn’t know this song very well, but it must have been popular because when I watched Lost in Translation (2003) and the song came on in the movie, I started humming along with it. I must have heard it often somewhere.
Anyway, many singers have covered this song, so a lot of people have probably heard it at least once. Put it on and let’s go outside and feel the wind in the blue May sky!
—Hiroko, Library Counter Staff
HOSHINO Gen – Koi 恋
YONEZU Kenshi – Lemon
Radwimps – Zenzenzense 前前前世
“Koi” was originally known for being the theme song for a popular Japanese drama. However, it later became famous for its music video. In the music video, HOSHINO Gen and his backup dancers demonstrate an original, upbeat dance that has everyone wanting to join in. It became a trend to try and master the dance, though few could get all of it down. Not only is the song itself catchy, but the dance helped propel it forward in popular culture. Now it’s a staple of karaoke and still a fan favourite for many.
—Melanie, Administrative Assistant & Volunteer Coordinator
FUJII Kaze – Matsuri
FUJII Kaze has been posting videos of himself playing the piano on YouTube since he was a child, and even after turning professional, he sings in a wide variety of genres. He also uses Okayama dialect in the lyrics of his cool and fashionable songs, and his sense of humour is one of his charms, such as using “washi” for the first person and “anta” for the second person.
He also covers a wide range of music with his interpretations on YouTube, including songs by Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, AMURO Namie, SHIINA Ringo, UTADA Hikaru, and other Japanese artists, as well as piano covers of classical music.
—Noriko, Program Officer (Japanese Language Education)
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – Korogaru Iwa, Kimi ni Asa ga Furu 転がる岩、君に朝が降る
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir – Linda Linda
WANDS – Sekai ga Owaru Made wa 世界が終るまでは…
I fell in love with the prolific ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION once I heard their opening song for the Fullmetal Alchemist anime series. Since then, they have become one of my all-time favourite bands. “Korogaru Iwa, Kimi ni Asa ga Furu” rocks from start to finish, but that opening line still gives me chills: “If I could I would want to repaint this world, not something as big as getting rid of all wars, but I kinda want that as well…” (translated from Japanese). Even though Drinking Boys and Girls Choir’s “Linda Linda” is a cover of The Blue Hearts’ 1987 punk hit, I chose it because it most resembles the version of the song featured in the 2005 film Linda Linda Linda (one of my favourite films) sung by South Korean actress Bae Doona.
—Phil, Program Officer (Film & Audiovisual Programs)
Mr. Children – HERO
MATSUTOYA Yumi – Mamotte Agetai 守ってあげたい
Ikimonogakari – SAKURA
“HERO” brings back memories of my 5th grade Japanese class, where my teacher, a passionate fan of the Japanese pop rock band Mr. Children, asked us to put away our textbooks and distributed printed lyrics for a discussion on the song’s meaning. Using pop culture as educational material was inspiring to me at that time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion with my classmates. In a previous interview, vocalist SAKURAI Kazutoshi mentioned that he wrote this song from the perspective of a parent who aims to be the best “hero” for their children. Even now, this song remains one of my favourites, as I now understand his intentions better than when I was just 10 years old.
YAMAZAKI Masayoshi – Celery
Ketsumeishi – Danjo 6 nin Natsumonogatari 男女6人夏物語
JUDY AND MARY – Sobakasu そばかす
The song “そばかす(Sobakasu)” was the main theme song of Rurouni Kenshin, a popular TV anime based on the 1990s’ manga. There is a live-action movie series directed by OTOMO Keishi as well. I picked this song because I liked the manga and the band, JUDY AND MARY. I’m sure that everyone used to sing this song at karaoke a lot!
—Sayaka, Administrative Assistant
SPITZ – Cherry
HIRAHARA Ayaka – Ohisama~Taisetsu na Anata e おひさま～大切なあなたへ
“Cherry” is the first J-POP (Rock) song that I carefully listened to out of the many CDs my older brother used to play at home. Since then, I have loved the band “SPITZ.” They are among my top 3 favourite J-POP bands of this genre. KUSANO Masamune, the vocal and guitarist of this band, has a beautiful, nostalgic, and relaxing voice; it is like an original musical instrument. In addition, lyrics of SPITZ’s songs are very unique, and every time you listen to them, you will find new feelings, new discoveries, or new views in your heart.
—Tomoko, Administrative Officer
TAKEMITSU Tōru – From Me Flows What You Call Time
TAKEMITSU Tōru – Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)
“Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)” represents the warmth in people’s hearts and their love of Japan. Contemporary composer TAKEMITSU Tōru (1930 – 1996) arranged this traditional song into a choir piece with serene soundscape. TAKEMITSU had some connections with Toronto through Toronto Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Seiji Ozawa, as well as with Torontonian musicians such as flautist Robert Aitken and harpist Judy Loman. For the Canadian percussion group NEXUS, TAKEMITSU composed a special percussion concerto titled “From Me Flows What You Call Time.”
—Toshi, Program Officer (Visual & Performing Arts)
BEGIN – Shimanchu nu Takara 島人ぬ宝
NATSUKAWA Rimi – Tinsagu nu Hana てぃんさぐぬ花
The song ”Shimanchu nu Takara” is by BEGIN, a band that represents Okinawa. It’s all about love for your hometown. The lyrics honestly capture how Okinawan people feel about the sky, the sea, and the music of their beloved island where they grew up. Even if you’re not from Okinawa, it’ll remind you of the nature and culture of your own hometown, which you might have taken for granted. It’ll make you proud of growing up in such an amazing place!
—Yuiko, Japanese Language Lecturer / Japanese Language Education Advisor