Play It Back: My Japanese Music Connection To Anime

My iPod is my daily companion. Wherever I go, it goes with me. With my varied taste in music, it gives my train commute to work or a Target errand run the flare I need to either elevate my energy to get through my day, or it becomes my soundtrack of the day. Among the songs taking up residence in my iPod are Japanese songs of the J-pop or J-rock variety. Songs with its bubble gum poppy sweetness to the headbanging chords of an electric guitar, I can’t even begin to sing along to the words blaring through my earbuds even if I tried. As foreign as the song’s lyrics and most of the Japanese artists are to this American girl, there’s something about the music I discovered that I couldn’t get enough of. And my love of the J-pop and J-rock genre is all thanks to anime.

High school was the height of my anime nerdom and it was in those years I explored more anime that went beyond Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. When I began watching series like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Fushigi Yugi, I came in knowing I’d be fully invested in the story and characters. What I hadn’t expected was also falling in love with the music, specifically the opening and closing themes of most of these animes. Up until that point, I was listening to the usual Top 40 hits on the radio with some hits from the ’70s and ’80s mixed in. These were songs I was familiar with and I could sing along to. Sometimes, I knew these songs by heart and could probably sing them in my sleep. But Japanese songs? That was a whole other world of music for my teenage self.

Maaya Sakamoto
Maaya Sakamoto

Most of these Japanese artists were barely known in America, if they were known at all, and the songs weren’t even in English! I couldn’t exactly sing along to them, and even if I could, I had no idea what I was singing without a visual or written translation of the song laid out in front of me. In spite of all this, I found myself seeking out more of the sounds I heard from my favorite anime series. Artists like Maaya Sakamoto and Daybreak were among the ones whose vocals I couldn’t get enough of. Oftentimes, I downloaded just the opening and ending themes I found from animes I’ve watched. It has ultimately led me to other artists who had songs found in Japanese TV dramas or video games. Particular favorites that comes to mind are Utada Hikaru and Arashi.

If a Japanese artist was especially good, I tend to scour the internet for their other albums with no anime, video game, or TV tie whatsoever. Pretty soon, I watched as my music library became a little more international with my collection of Japanese songs and artists. What I especially liked about having these songs on my iPod was how it triggered my memory of a favorite anime or scene from a Japanese drama every time I heard the song play next in rotation. Even if months or years have passed since I’ve watched a series or show, somehow it’d be comforting to remember the experience and feelings I had when I first watched an episode for the first time.


Without having been an anime fan, I may have missed out on a world of music I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. Admittedly, the lack of anime watching I have been doing into my adult years have seen a well of new Japanese music and artists to add for my listening pleasure dry up. Luckily, watching Steins;Gate recently has not only made me remember why I love anime in the first place but it has also renewed my love and interest in finding more great music by Japanese artists.

Japanese music will always be synonymous with anime in my mind. When the mood strikes to transport me back to my avid anime watching days or to feel like I’m touring the city of Tokyo, I only have my iPod to turn to for my all J-pop and J-rock playlist.

6 thoughts on “Play It Back: My Japanese Music Connection To Anime”

  1. One of my most precious gifts in high school was a CD of anime opening/ending songs a friend made me. This was before you could just download anything lol. I think it had things like Kenshin, Gundam, Outlaw Star, and my favorite Cardcaptor Sakura. My friend was a big fan of L’arc~en~ciel and got me hooked, too 🙂 I listen to J-pop at work when I need to feel energized.

    1. That’s really sweet! A similar gift was given to me and the members of an anime club I was a part of in college. The club president made individual burned CDs with J-pop and J-rock songs she particularly liked and distributed them at the end of the semester. One of the artists she put on my mixed CD was L’arc~en~ciel. It’s memories like this one that makes it impossible for me to separate my love of Japanese music with anime. They’re one in the same for me! 🙂

  2. I really enjoy Japanese anime and video game music to the point where half of my IPod doesn’t even have American songs on it anymore. I love listening to the opening theme of Attack on Titan, Steins;Gate, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, among others tracks including the actual OST (such as OST’s by Yoko Kanno and Hiroyuki Sawano) of whatever anime it is that I’m into. J-pop is like white noise to me when I need some background noise to get through some dull homework. 🙂

    1. There’s really something about J-pop and J-rock music that’s completely different from the American music we’re used to. I definitely love the opening and ending themes to Steins;Gate and plan on downloading it for my iPod soon. I also love some of Yoko Kanno’s work too. I really can’t imagine my iPod not having any Japanese anime and video game related music. It certainly makes my music library vastly more interesting. 🙂

      1. I feel like a lot of Japanese music has meaningful lyrics, not just for when a song’s written for an anime, but in general, they write about meaningful things that aren’t shallow like so many popular American songs. My IPod would be really boring if it didn’t have Japanese music on it, that’s for sure! 😀 Yoko Kanno did some really wonderful work for the latest anime Terror in Resonance, though she also did a really great medley of My Favorite Things for the anime Kids On The Slope.

      2. Thanks for sharing these! I really enjoyed listening to them and I especially love the piece from Terror in Resonance. 🙂 I haven’t even watched this anime and I want to download this song now.

        I definitely agree that a lot of the Japanese songs I look up the English lyrics to often have such deep and rich meanings to their music. Aside from having beautiful arrangements, the songs do make me think. The ones that often make me think and have meaning to them are the ones I can’t really forget.

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