I grew up to the sounds of Anita Baker and Tina Turner.
And of course, danced to icons like Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé—the list could go on and on!
So how could my heart not resonate with 小節 ¹, the vibrating vocals that give R&B its soul!?
I’m dedicating this post to my R&B lovers out there who want 歌詞³ for singing their hearts out.
Special thanks to Jazzy B for the question that sparked the idea for this post! Please follow this wonderful Morena on her YouTube channel or Instagram!
Tips for Learning Japanese through Songs
Japanese songs can be poetic. Not every line will be reusable in a conversation but you can still learn a lot of vocabulary.
The lyrics sometimes use literary devices that are not easy to translate or explain.
Also, it’s very common for English to appear in Japanese songs. And I’m not talking about borrowed words. I mean an entire phrase or a whole verse of English showing up!
Kanji Readings and Furigana: the Rundown
Kanji, literally “Chinese symbols,” are ideograms that convey meaning.
Together with kana (hiragana and katakana), which are also derived from kanji, these scripts make up Japan’s written language.
Rōmaji, or “Roman characters,” provides the sound or transliteration of the Japanese language.
If you’re not familiar with kanji and kana yet, it’s perfectly fine to start memorizing lyrics using rōmaji.
Even as you start to pick up on kanji, remembering the readings can be tricky. That’s why there’s furigana, kana used to show the best reading for kanji.
Rikai-champ (for Firefox) and Rikai-kun (for Chrome) are great add-ons to help you read kanji. I highly suggest you download these pop-up dictionaries! It’ll save you a lot of trouble.
Flashcards or Karaoke for Memorizing Lyrics?
While flashcard sites like Anki or Quizlet are great for helping words stick, singing the songs over and over aren’t a bad way to go either! Especially if the サビ⁴ is catchy!
It all depends on your end goal. Many Japanese songs have words that you’re probably not going to use every day, so there’s nothing wrong with reserving those words for whenever you sing the song.
Learning some songs, on the other hand, can turn into a major study session with plenty of new phrases and terms to learn!
Don’t feel like you have to pick one or the other. Mix and match—just make it yours!
Appreciation or Appropriation? Japan's History with Black Music
Japan’s relationship with Hip-Hop started in the 80’s, so it’s still fairly recent!
Many Japanese artists see rhyme and rhythm as a great way to express themselves.
And there’s been great music produced as a result.
When I was in Japan, I met many people who love Black culture. Hairstyles, music, break dancing—lots of admiration all around.
But how much of that translates into allyship?
I’m hoping to discuss the thin, fragile line between appreciation and appropriation in my upcoming eBook, Melanintro to Languages.
But now, on to the list!
20 R&B Songs for Learning Japanese Through Music
Hamasaki Ayumi, the Queen of J-pop, has a distinctly high pitched voice. So the R&B vocals in the background singers makes this one very unique!
Spicy Chocolate has a lot of great songs you should check out if you’re into Japanese Hip-Hop.
“Zutto” can mean forever or always. This one’s a sweet combo of sad melodies and heartfelt rhymes.
Aomizu Shota does a lot of nice R&B songs. I like this one in particular because of the soothing beat. He’s got plenty of other songs that I recommend you give a listen to!
Yamashita Tomohisa, otherwise known as YamaPi, is one of my favorite pop stars.
This song may not be R&B entirely, and the lyrics are mostly in English, but I’m still putting it on this list!
Sometimes, however, lyrics assign different readings to kanji. This gives kanji a deeper meaning.
An Example of Alternate Kanji Readings / Double Meaning in Japanese Songs
Transliteration: Unmei to omoi wa toki wo koete
Translation: Fate and love transcend time and space
時空 translates as “space-time” or “space and time.” The on-yomi or Chinese reading of these kanji are jikū.
However, it’s read and sung as toki, the kun-yomi or Japanese reading of the kanji 時.
If you’re listening to the song and you hear toki, you may just imagine 時.
Reading the lyrics 時空（とき）adds another layer of meaning. Now we’re talking about space too. Aw, snap!
Why do lyrics have kanji readings like this?
There’s no one answer. It’s the creative choice of the person who wrote the lyrics! This is also common in Manga.
In Anime too, you’ll most likely see the lyrics onscreen.
Amuro Namie is known for her amazing dancing skills. She’s a multi-talented artist who has songs of different genres, included R&B.
Wild was one of the first videos I ever saw by Amuro. Check it out for yourself and behold her awesomeness!
Ito Kana’s I’m Here is such a powerful and moving song. She does a great job performing this single in this live performance.
Utada Hikaru, also known as Hikki, is a legend. She’s also composed songs of different genres. I thought she really did great with her R&B songs and really wanted to hear more.
She’s explored various genres throughout her career. so I feel she’s a very talented artist.
This one of the first songs that I ever heard by her, so it brings back lots of memories. I hope you enjoy it!
Hero might be the theme song for the Tokyo Olympics!
It sounds so inspirational and powerful. I absolutely adore it. I know that you will too.
EXILE is a popular boy band in Japan with dozens of members. It’s led by two main singers and the rest are usually dancers.
This song is one of my favorites for it’s great energy. Also, I love Atsushi, one of the lead singers.
Chemistry is an awesome duo consisting of Yoshikuni Dōchin and Kaname Kawabata. They have a really nice harmony together and I fell in love with their music the first time I heard it.
They also do some J-pop, J-rock songs but their R&B songs are my favorite.
This one could have just been a gimmick since John Legend doesn’t sing anywhere in this song. But it’s overall a nice melody with piano.
This band, Tsubakiya Quartet, falls more into the Blues and Rock category, but the singer’s voice is really smooth. I was surprised that there’s music like this in Japan. It’s so cool! But I’ll let you be the judge.
Another EXILE song because I just love that band!
This one is Atsushi singing Bruno Mar’s awesome song.
I love the Japanese in it. This song may be awesome to start with if you’re already familiar with the lyrics!
Ai is another awesome Japanese R&B artist. She and Atsushi have collaborated several times and they have awesome chemistry. Hope you like this one!
Another solid hit by Tsubakiya Quartet. It starts out really strong and the melody is just so good!
I used to listen to this song over and over on the bus ride to school while imagining myself in Japan. It’s such a great pick me up song!
Not sure if Jasmine has been active in the last few years, but I hope to see more from her soon. Her voice is really powerful.
A collaboration that Utada Hikaru did with with Rodney “Darkchild” Sterling.
It’s a must for your R&B playlist!
The story of Chris Hart amazes me. He’s been pretty active in Japan for years now and landed a record deal through a reality show in Japan where non-Japanese people sing. He’s done some awesome covers of Japanese hits and has even released his own album!
Crystal Kay is a Japanese singer. Her father is African-American and her mother is Japanese and Korea
Kay has collaborated with many other Japanese Hip-Hop and R&B artists like Chemistry and m-flo. Her voice is so talented. I’m happy I found an artist like her to listen to in Japanese!
You may recognize the English version from the movie Super Hero 6, otherwise known as Beymax in Japanese.
This song brings back so many good memories. I sung it many, many times in the karaoke boxes in Tokyo.
Ai Carina Uemura, known as the Princess of Japanese R&B, was born in Los Angeles.
Her father is Japanese and her mother is Japanese and Italian. She grew up traveling between L.A. and Kagoshima prefecture.
She’s been active since 2000 but rose to fame with the release of her Album Ai in 2004.
This song is not only amazing, but the lyrics are beautiful! It reminds me
There’s my list for you! I hope you do discover some more artists. If you have any favorites, let me know!
Beautiful vibration of vocals that singers use. Mariah Carey’s vocal style is a great example. This technique is also very common in Enka (Japanese folk music).
To be deeply moved by someone or something
The hook of the song. The catchy part of a song.