J-pop is probably the hardest genre of Japanese music to categorize or describe. As is the case for "pop music" in the United States, a great deal of different sounds tend to fall under this label. A lot of the bands tend to have a cutesy, "bubble-gum" pop sound while others tend to exhibit a more edgy dance, r&b, or funk sound. The teen idols of Japan are just as big (if not bigger) as the Britney Spears and Nsync's of the U.S. The members of bands such as Morning Musume, Tanpopo, Luna Sea, and Da Pump are worshiped as pop culture icons. The love for these icons is so great that the death of certain Japanese pop and rock stars in recent years reportedly devestated some young fans so much that they took their own lives out of despair.

Not surprisingly, a band or artist's image is often even more important than the music itself. Many music icons become the trend-setters for fashion with Japanese girls in particular attempting to emulate their particular styles.

Relevant Links:

Bonsai's Jpop Pages: Huge collection of Jpop and jrock pages on practically every artist/band imaginable.
Vivamusic.com: Diverse site with a very large collection of jpop information and music videos.
Tomobiki.com J-Pop/J-Rock Guide: Vibrant, informative site with biographical information on bands and sound samples.
The Birth of Japanese Pop Music: Interesting and informative article on the birth of kayokyoku, the Japanese word for pop music.
Top 40 Chart: The current top 40 singles in Japan, illustrating the mix of Japanese and Western artists.

J-Rock and Visual Rock

J-Rock is another fairly broad genre encompassing a sound similar to the alternative/rock sound of the West. Most of the bands are guitar and/or drum driven. Similar to the music industry of the U.S. and Europe, many rock bands work their way up through the ranks of the "indies," or lesser-known bands signed to Independent labels. If they gain a strong popularity among Japanese youth they are likely to get signed to a major label.

Visual Rock is a sub-genre of J-Rock that is as much about visuals as it is about sound. Visual Rock artists often wear vibrant costumes and sport bright, flamboyant hair and makeup, using their appearances and movements to play a role just as important as the music they create. Some of the male Visual Rock artists dress androgynously or in drag. Dir En Grey and Malice Mizer are popular Visual Rock bands. The line between being Visual Rock or just a part of the larger category of J-Rock is often sketchy, with the categorization of popular bands such as GLAY and L'Arc-en-Ciel up for debate (e.g., as one fan told me, "Well Glay sorta was Visual, but now they're sorta not.").

Relevant Links:

Bonsai's Jpop Pages: Huge collection of Jpop and Jrock pages on practically every artist/band imaginable.
Tomobiki.com J-Pop/J-Rock Guide: Vibrant, informative site with biographical information on bands and sound samples.
Celebration of Visual Rock: Great site with information on five popular Visual Rock bands.
Visual Rock Art: A very fancy site on visual rock.
Visual Rock Dimension: Another very nicely made Visual Rock website.

Electronica (J-Synth)

The past decade has seen a huge revolution in electronic music around the globe. Japan is no exception. Often blending with the other genres (particularly j-pop and j-rock), Japanese electronic music (sometimes referred to as J-Synth) has flourished both in Japan and abroad in recent years. Japanese artists such as Takako Minekawa, Fantastic Plastic Machine (aka Tomoyuki Tanaka), and Kahimi Karie are creating some of the most ground-breaking beats in the world today.

Relevant Links:

TokyoPop.com article: Excellent article on Japanese Electronica.
Launch.com article: Another great article on Japanese pop/electronic music.
Japanese Electronica CDs: A selection of some of the newest Japanese Electronica CDs.

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