Japan is the envy of the world, especially when it comes to music.
Not only do they have a healthy and thriving local music industry — even aside from J-pop — their bands inspire devoted fanbases around the world, majority of Japanese music lovers are still loyal CD and vinyl collectors, and they host several massive music festivals for many genres (Knotfest, Hostess Club, Summer Sonic and, of course, Fuji Rock). It's no wonder that the country has the second biggest music market in the world.
Their diversity in music genres is also breathtaking, and they have as many popular pop icons as they do underground cult favourites.
A popular genre in the country, like the rest of the world, is indie rock — a genre term that, even though seems like a contradictory tag to detractors, defines a wide range of experimentation merged with a rock music foundation. It's a term that can describe Yo La Tengo and Pavement as fittingly as it does to Two Door Cinema Club and Arcade Fire.
It's all semantics, but there are tonnes of amazing indie rock acts in Japan right now. Aside from established acts like Tricot, toe, Mass Of The Fermenting Dregs and Mono, here are 12 of the best the country has to offer.
This three-piece band have serious pop chops — almost every song they've written is recorded with frenzied precision, featuring big hooks, airy synth textures and their signature frenzied vocals of Kenji Mihara.
Frederic's music is unfailingly joyous, and their latest album Frederhythm showcases that fully within its hour-long runtime.
If you're familiar with the Japanese genres of city pop and Shibuya-kei — both borne out of Western influence and executed with jaw-dropping precision — there's a big chance you'll fall in love with this group.
Sharing a love for invigorating pop melodies and mellow, jazzy instrumentation, Suchmos are the perfect antidote to a tiring day.
Another fan favourite, THE ORAL CIGARETTES are, in some ways, Japan's answer to Muse. Both sharing a love for sci-fi imagery and soaring falsettos, this Japanese outfit stands out for their fair share of danceable choruses and their tendency to mix Japanese and English lyrics.
It's no surprise that the band's signature song 'Kyouran Hey Kids!!' also serves as the theme song of popular supernatural anime series, Noragami ARAGOTO.
An absolute gem in the Japanese indie rock scene, Kinoko Teikoku have slowly gotten attention from around the world, and it's no surprise. Their wide range of genre influences are tied together by sharp songwriting, with their early stuff a cult favourite with shoegaze and dream pop fans. They've also employed dreamy dub atmospheres and electronic-heavy production in their newer material.
Frontwoman Chiaki Sato has a remarkably gripping presence on every album, not unlike Sharon Van Etten or Angel Olsen — showcased especially on their wonderful 2012 mini-album, Uzu ni Naru.
The band may be rooted in Japan, but their music — dominated by a shimmering mix of bright synths and anthemic guitars — features all the hallmarks of a gleamingly confident Britpop band.
While most Japanese bands stick to singing in their native language, Ykiki Beat frequently write and perform in English, and their frontman Nobuki adopts an almost-identical Scottish accent for his vocals — a move he attributes to being inspired by classic English poetry and listening to Scottish indie rock band The View.
Risen out of the ashes of Tokyo Shoegazer, a short-lived but highly influential — you guessed it — shoegaze band, CQ was initially formed as a reaction against what they perceived to be the monotony of the genre.
CQ, instead, draws from the world of post-punk and gothic bands like The Cure and Echo And The Bunnymen. The urgency of the band's songwriting has also led them to push out two records under the span of two years, the latest being Communication Cultural Curiosity Quotient.
Similar to Suchmos, Pictured Resort draws from a distinctive point in Japanese pop music history: city pop. Wonderfully breezy and melodic, Pictured Resort conjures picturesque beaches and 8-bit swimming pools.
The band's approach strips away some of city pop's studio polish, presenting a rougher, more reverb-heavy take which adds to the dreaminess of their music — best displayed on their recent debut album, All Vacation Long.
Their music may have the standard fast tempos you've come to expect from J-rock, but their approach is even more ragged and frenetic, inspiring more moshpits than your usual indie rock band.
Fans of the newer wave of pop-punk, like bands Neck Deep, State Champs or Luca Brasi, will have immense fun digging into the music of 04 Limited Sazabys.
Ykiki Beat share a kindred spirit in The fin. — frontman Yuto Uchino found solace in the English language when it came to defining the band's sound. "The words just didn’t fit and I could never really say what I wanted to say," he says in an interview with The Japan Times. "After I switched (to English), the melodies and words I had been looking for came together.”
It doesn't matter that the band writes in English anyway — Uchino's vocals drift with inviting falsettos, and his words are usually indistinguishable in most songs. Influenced by Toro Y Moi and Phoenix, The fin.'s buoyancy makes for a very captivating listen on a dull day.
Bolstered by propulsive rhythms, sizzling guitar leads and urgent vocals, Kyuso Nekokami could be mistaken for your average punk rock band.
But their lead single 'ビビった' (which means "scared") is disarmingly light-hearted and spirited, while 'わかってんだよ' (which means "I understand") works powerfully as an anguished 2000s emo anthem. The band has range, and you wouldn't need to know Japanese to understand that.
For a country which used to outlaw public dancing, Japan sure has an incredible tapestry of danceable rhythms in music.
Awesome City Club, originally a mid-tempo indie rock act, has grown to infuse disco and R&B to a degree of stunning clarity. But the highlight of the band has been their distinction of having both male and female vocalists, adding to a dynamic that's already invigorating.
Rounding off the list is Polkadot Stingray, whose name is a perfect fit for their playful, funky compositions — featuring muscular basslines, shuffling rhythms and frontwoman Shizuku's commanding vocals, songs like 'Telecaster Stripes' and 'Before Daylight' are unconventionally catchy and executed with precise technicality.
They're so good, they've inspired one blogger to write about why the band "radiates coolness.”
This feature article is sponsored by SPACE SHOWER RETSUDEN ASIA TOUR 2017
Catch Frederic, THE ORAL CIGARETTES, Kyuso Nekokami and 04 Limited Sazabys at SPACE SHOWER RETSUDEN ASIA TOUR 2017 in Millian Singapore on March 16th.