City Pop: A Guide

So, I’m sure most people are curious about that genre of music I’m always listening to and linking to many different music-related threads. “It’s in Japanese.” “This sounds like… (80s song).”

And one question: “Is this j-pop?”

Well, you could say that since it did come from Japan. But it’s not just pop.

stan tatsuro yamashita on Twitter: "yes i am using my art account ...

Oh, relax, Yamashita. Meet the genre that is called “city pop”.

What is city pop? You may ask, feeling like this genre is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar at once. That’s because Japanese city pop is what I call a “hybrid genre”— a unique fusion of different genres including funk, R&B, soul, doo wop, electronic music/new wave, folk music, jazz, rock (mainly AOR [adult-oriented rock], soft rock, and yacht rock) and even hip-hop to an extent. All of these also originated from black musicians… so please take a listen and give them props for creating such beautiful music! These musicians and other American musicians also collaborated with city pop artists, like in Toshiki Kadomatsu’s “Weekend Fly to the Sun” from 1982 (Tom Tom 84) and Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Circus Town” (his debut album) from 1976 (Jimmy and John Seiter, Charles Calello from the Four Seasons).

Here’s the chart:

Credits to @/Tom on Discord

It’s important to know that there are many “types” and sub-genres of city pop, like:

  • “Summer” pop: songs/albums that either give off summer or vacation vibes, with heavy usage of trumpets, bass/acoustic guitars, keyboards (synthesizers), and percussion, or most of the time- have an island or a beach on the album cover. Examples include:
  • “Timely!!” (1983) by Anri
  • “Sea Breeze” (1981), “On The City Shore” (1983) and “Summertime Romance” (1984) by Toshiki Kadomatsu
  • “Big Wave” (1984) and “For You” (1982) by Tatsuro Yamashita
  • “Lagoon” (1976) by Shigeru Suzuki
  • “The Aegean Sea” (1979) by Haroumi Hosono, Takahiko Ishikawa and Masataka Matsutoya
  • “Summer Breeze” (1983) by Piper (I don’t know if this is city pop. Piper is Piper)
  • The Come Along albums by Tatsuro Yamashita and DJ Kamasami Kong/Katsuya Kobayashi
  • “A Long Vacation” (1981) by Eiichi Ohtaki
  • “Another Summer” (1985) and “River’s Island” (1983) by Sugiyama Kiyotaka and Omega Tribe
  • “Beyond…” (1986) by Kiyotaka Sugiyama
  • “Monday Morning” (1980) by Bread and Butter
  • “Telescope” (1978) by Shigeru Suzuki

  • “After hours” city pop: this genre, to me, is much more complex than the aforementioned genre. It includes more funk, jazz, rock and soul. This came from the disco culture in the late 70s and hit its peak in the early to mid 80s. It contains heavy usage of bass guitars, pianos, saxophones and trumpets, percussion, keyboards/synths, and some electronic instruments. Examples include:
  • “Circus Town”, “Spacy” (1977), “Moonglow” (1979) and “Ride on Time” (1980) by Tatsuro Yamashita
  • “After 5 Clash” (1984), “Gold Digger (With True Love)” (1985), “Touch and Go” (1986) and “Before the Daylight (Is The Most Darkness Moment In A Day)” (1988) by Toshiki Kadomatsu
  • “Love Trip” (1982) by Takako Mamiya
  • “Monochrome” (1980) by Minako Yoshida
  • “Such A Funky Thang!” (1988) by Toshinobu Kubota
  • “Magical” (1984) by Junko Ohashi and “Friday Magic” (1982) by Meiko Nakahara.

  • Jazz fusion: jazz blended with funk, yacht rock and soul. This uses a blend of both acoustic and electronic instruments. Examples include:
  • “Sea Is A Lady” (1987) and “Legacy of You” (1990) by Toshiki Kadomatsu
  • “Casiopea” (1979), “Superflight” (1979), “Make Up City” (1980), “Cross Point” (1981), and Mint Jams (1982) by Casiopea
  • “Seychelles” (1976), “An Insatiable High” (1977), “Takanaka” (1977), “Brasilian Skies” (1978), “All Of Me” (1979), “Jolly Jive” (1979), “The Rainbow Goblins” (1980), “Alone” (1981), “Saudade” (1982), and “Can I Sing?” (1983) by Masayoshi Takanaka… just listen to his whole discography…
    Anyways, I gotta get back on track.
  • “Hot Is Cool” (1987) and “Ocean Drive” (1988) by Katsumi Horii Project
  • “Breath From The Season” (1988, produced by Toshiki Kadomatsu) by Tokyo Ensemble Lab
  • “Dream Cruise” (1984) by Noriki
  • “Summer Breeze” (1983. this falls in between city pop and jazz fusion), “Gentle Breeze” (1983) and “Lovers Logic” (1985) by Piper
  • “Funky Stuff” (1975) by Jiro Inagaki and Soul Media
    True Japanese jazz exists, though, like:
  • “Scenery” (1976) and “Mellow Dream” (1977) by Ryo Fukui
  • “Pacific” (1978) - Haroumi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki and Tatsuro Yamashita
  • “Cat” (1975) by Hiroshi Suzuki
  • “June Night Love” (1983) and “Especially Sexy” (1984) by Jun Miyake
  • “Shakuhachi & Bossa Nova” (1969, it’s traditional Japanese music and jazz) by Hozan Yamamoto

  • Next up we have the quirky side of city pop, known as synthwave or technokayo. This genre relies heavily on electronic instruments as it is electronic music so it’s very synth-heavy and tends to use vocoders. Examples include:
  • “Yellow Magic Orchestra” (1978) by Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO)
  • “Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto” (1978) by Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • “Naughty Boys” (1983) and “Solid State Survivor” (1979) by YMO
  • “Ongaku Zukan” (1984) by Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • “Neuromantic” (1981) by Yukihiro Takahashi
  • “Romantique” (1980) by Taeko Ohnuki
  • “Tadaima” (1981) by Akiko Yano
  • “Murdered by the Music” (1980) by Yukihiro Takahashi
  • “Paraiso” (1978) by Harry (Haroumi) Hosono and the Yellow Magic Band (before YMO was formed)
  • “Cochin Moon” (1978) by Haroumi Hosono

  • Idol pop - pop music released by idols, who were managed by companies and heavily controlled (by that, I mean their songs, the production, their career…) Some examples of idol music are:
  • “Adventure” (1986) by Momoko Kikuchi
  • “North Wind” (1980) by Seiko Matsuda
  • “Prologue” (1982) by Akina Nakamori
  • “Catch the Nite” (1988) by Miho Nakayama
  • “L.A. Blue” (1979) by Momoe Yamaguchi
  • “Cobalt Hour” (1975) by Yumi Arai/Matsutoya

  • And but not definitely not least, there’s folk rock. Yup, country music exists in Japan, and some include:
  • “Kazemachi Roman” (1971) by Happy End
  • “Hosono House” (1973) by Haroumi Hosono (this guy is everywhere when it comes to Japanese music, he’s famous)
  • “Songs” (1975) by Sugar Babe
  • “Morning” (1977) - Chu Kosaka
  • “Kori no Sekai” (1973) - Yosui Inoue
  • “Caramel Mama” (1975) - Tin Pan Alley

As seen above, there are many different subgenres of city pop, and city pop has, in my opinion, shaped modern j-pop, especially with artists such as YMO, Tatsuro Yamashita, Toshiki Kadomatsu and Masayoshi Takanaka. This genre, once you listen to it- whether it’s “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi, “Midnight Jokes” by Takako Mamiya, or “Ride on Time” by Tatsuro Yamashita- creates feelings of nostalgia and longing for simpler times. The 80s were a crazy time, but beautiful music came from it as well.




What songs would you recommend to someone who hasn’t listened to a lot of j-pop?

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If we’re referring to this, I’d recommend some of the basics:

  • “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi
  • “Ride On Time” by Tatsuro Yamashita
  • “Off Shore” by Toshiki Kadomatsu or “If You…”
  • “I’m in Love” by Tomoko Aran
  • “Windy Summer” by Anri

If we’re talking j-pop in general, some anime OSTs would be good, like the ones for “Inuyasha”, “Neon Genesis”, “Cowboy Bebop”, “19-Nineteen” (I think that’s the name), “City Hunter” and “Tokyo Ghoul”

Bumping this with an underrated song by Toshiki Kadomatsu

Never heard of that term but it’s great to read about something new! And you did a really good job on that guide :smiley_cat:

@Music this could be interesting for you!

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Thank you!

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Closed due to inactivity :zombie: