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.
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.