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A brief history of Japanese girls’ rock

22 Comments
By Casey Baseel

When most people hear “Japanese female musician,” the image that springs to mind is an idol singer, covered in frills and girl-next-door sweetness. You’ll get no arguments from us against the theory that Japan produces more bubblegum pop princesses than anywhere else, and the county’s not likely to lose the top spot on that list anytime soon.

But not every female vocalist to achieve success in Japan did so by hitching her wagon to the idol system star. While its popularity has ebbed and flowed multiple times, the history of girls’ rock stretches back at least three decades in Japan, and today we take a look at, and a listen to, some of its stars.

Up until the 1980s, music in Japan was dominated by solo acts, primarily singers of light pop or traditional enka songs. This all changed with the start of what was termed the “Band Boom,” as rock groups such as Jun Sky Walkers and Boowy and, which debuted in 1980 and ‘81, respectively, shot up the charts.

But while all members of those two groups were men, 1987 saw the first release from the all-female Princess Princess, and the girls’ rock movement was born.

The raspy voice of Hiroshima-born vocalist Kaori Okui propelled Puri Puri, as their fan called them, to a decade in the limelight, with five consecutive chart-topping albums from 1989 to 1993. Recognition didn’t come overnight, though, as the band tirelessly made roughly 100 live performances during a 16-month period early on in their career.

While Princess Princess eventually transitioned more and more into pop songs, they still occupy a special place in Japanese music history for firmly establishing the girls’ rock genre, as shown by one of their first mainstream successes, 1988′s “Go Away Boy.”

One of the earliest successors to Princess Princess was the four-member Lindberg, and while lead singer Maki Watase was the only woman in the group, she was very much the face of the band. Unlike Princess Priness, Lindberg would stick close to their rock roots for all 15 of their albums, they’re most fondly remembered for their second single, “Ima Sugu Kiss Me” (“Kiss Me Right Now”).

“Ima Sugu Kiss Me” has been such an enduring hit it was even covered by high school rocker Jurian Beat Crisis in 2010, 20 years after its initial release.

Apparently the upbeat straightforward love anthem didn’t just inspire Lindberg’s fans, but its members too, as vocalist Watase and lead guitarist Tatsuya Hirakawa wed in 2002, and unlike many celebrity couples, remain married today. A happy story for Lindberg fans, almost as happy as the group’s recent announcement that they’re ready to start making music together again after a lengthy hiatus.

While the ‘90s grunge rock movement never really completely caught on in Japan, the decade did see a move towards a harder-edge sound, and leading the charge was Nanase Aikawa. Whether channeling the emotions from her failed audition with Sony Music Entertainment at the age of 15 of the events that led her to drop out of high school, Aikawa brought a defiant angst to songs such as her 1995 debut, “Yume Miru Shojo Ja Irarenai” (“I Can’t Be a Little Girl Who’s Just Dreaming”).

With a sound so far removed from the perky female singers Japan was used to, Aikawa attracted a loyal fan base. But while her early albums were all big sellers, the common sentiment is that her music peaked around the turn of the millennium, right about the time she found love, got married, and had the first of her three children. Her voice hasn’t lost any clarity or power, as proven in albums as recent as 2013’s "Konjiki," but the tone is definitely lighter and more positive, reflecting what seems to be a happier lot in life than she had when first making a name for herself.

Sheena Ringo, whose first major release came in 1998, is the daughter of a father who loves classical music and a mother who studied ballet. But while her eclectic style shows influences from a variety of sources, her formative years synch up with the height of alternative rock, and the Saitama-born, Fukuoka-raised singer/songwriter has frequently professed her respect for English band Radiohead.

With a raw, nasal-quality to her voice and no qualms about provocative imagery (the cover album for her 1999 single “Koko de Kisu Shite,” or “Kiss Me Here,” has the singer seated on a medical examiner’s table with stirrups in plain view), Sheena Ringo remains a wholly unique persona in Japanese rock.

These days, the pendulum of Japanese music tastes has swung back towards idol singers, such as supergroup AKB48. That doesn’t mean girls’ rock is dead, though. Solo acts Yui and Miwa have more in common than their first-name only stage names, as they’re both hugely successful guitar-playing vocalists who wrote their own songs, some of which clearly take cues from their predecessors.

Sometimes, the current underdog status of girls’ rock acts is actually a shortcut to overseas exposure. As their songs often don’t command the same high premiums of their idol singing counterparts, several have been licensed for use as anime themes, which are then heard by animation fans around the globe, as was the case with “Rolling Star.”

Not occupying the absolute top level of the Japanese music food chain can also make girls’ rock bands more willing to perform outside their native country, even without a large and immediate financial payoff. The four members of the band Scandal first started playing together in high school before landing a recording contract, performing songs for hit anime such as "Bleach" and "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood," and earning enough non-Japanese fans to hold concerts in the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Given that Scandal’s only got one member over the age of 25, we can probably expect them to continue putting out new songs for at least a few more years, keeping fans happy, and at the same time, inspiring the generation of girls’ rock musicians that will come after them.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- The vocaloid classroom: Where music class meets the 21st century -- Japanese band with American singer wants to turn music industry on its ear with free downloads and gigs -- BABYMETAL invasion of the West marches on, everyone welcomes new kawaii overlords

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22 Comments
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What ! No mentioning one of the best female rock/ metal band "Show -Ya" ? Lol, for those who dont know , here the link of one their song http://youtu.be/KYDuexZ0L-8, but I like the most their song " Cry for Freedom " , also , here the link of AMV version, because there is no pure live video version of that song from that time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XC__kHIf2-Y

0 ( +2 / -2 )

While the ‘90s grunge rock movement never really completely caught on in Japan

And yet Nirvana asked Shonen Knife to tour the UK with them as their support for their first Nevermind Tour in 1991, and they also played at the seminal 1992 Reading Festival...and don't even get a mention in this article.

There aren't many bands in the world that have that on their CV, let alone and all girl Japanese band.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In my teenage days, my favorite was Aikawa Nanase. Then I moved, in my late teens, to Shiina Ringo. So this article really fits my taste! <3

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I was thinking the same thing Tamarama! Where is Shonen knife in this article? They came Australia not that long ago so Girl's Rock is definitely not dead.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Given that Scandal’s only got one member over the age of 25, we can probably expect them to continue putting out new songs for at least a few more years, keeping fans happy, and at the same time, inspiring the generation of girls’ rock musicians that will come after them.

More power to my favourite girl rock band! FULL UNPRECEDENTED TALENT! Love their songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox8fs5UlsKA They play the instruments and rock everybody !

AKB48 SUCKS

These days, the pendulum of Japanese music tastes has swung back towards idol singers, such as supergroup AKB48. That doesn’t mean girls’ rock is dead, though. Solo acts Yui and Miwa have more in common than their first-name only stage names, as they’re both hugely successful guitar-playing vocalists who wrote their own songs, some of which clearly take cues from their predecessors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKj822KEzKc I recommend this song from Miwa! Awesome!!!!!!

AKB48 SUCKS

Yui, love her too!!!

AKB48 SUCKS

Ayumi Hamasaki is also a solo rocker, surprise! Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FavwM31_V3Y

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Nothing about Show-Ya, with the lovely Keiko Terada, infamous for the rose tattoo on her breast! She could teach most of the young wimps who populate 'rock bands' in Japan just how to rock. Still have her cassette tape from the 1980s, my first Japan album purchase from a shop close to Haneda, and it still sounds fresh...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

No Shonen Knife!? Can't believe it wasn't mentioned here.

I like Scandal and hope to see them live someday. Cool rockers and the girls are cute, too. lol There's also Show-Ya and something-Peony that escapes me. Real musicians with real talent play instruments and perform live. Something that seems to have been lost in this idol-crazy era.

@Titanium lol Did you know that Yamamoto Sayaka of NMB48 was the vocals and lead guitar for the indie band Mad Catz? She's a legit rocker and was still in middle school when they were signed to Sony Ent. Don't know what got her on the idol thing but eventually she wants to go solo and eventually rock on again. Here's a video of her and her band by Osaka Castle playing live (guitarist on the right). She was only 15 at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JeqYdB2fo0

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Shonen Knife is the only TRUE Japanese female rock band, in my mind, though Sheena Ringo does get some credit. Most of those mentioned are just the same sort of assembled people/groups who cannot play instruments and don't necessarily write their own stuff (save Yui and Miwa). Get out there and rock, ladies!!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Puri-Puri rocks ! Saw them a couple of times back in the early 90's !

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Missed 90% of the 20th century, however Shonen Knife took pride of place in Mums collection. I will down to Brighton to catch my 4th Shonen Knife gig..... Fri 16th May.

Shonen Knife plus support - Sticky Mike's Frog Bar

http://www.drinkinbrighton.co.uk/events/stickymikesfrogbar/shonen-knife-plus-support-2014-05-16?theme=on

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Gita Gita Hustler !!! And what about Wata from Boris? She may be the only female in the band, but she's definitely the cutest.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As several other posters have asked, where is Shonen Knife in this article but nowhere! What kind of overoversight is that?!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

No Carmen Maki? Whoever wrote this piece is an idiot!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think there is a third group that isn't mentioned here. I refer to the women and girls who are making their own music with technology and other non-Rock means. This is a growing area of music making in Japan. These artists may be heard in clubs, DJing or their CD recordings may be heard or they may be seen in small venues in Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara. The artists I am talking about include: Nirgilis, The Lady Spade, Julie Watai, Yun*chi, Sawa, Pora Pora, Cutie Honey, Candles, Saori@destiny, Aira Mitsuki, Mizca, MissWonda, pLumsonic!, Tomomi Ukumori, DJ Yummy, Emily Hashimoto and so on.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No: SHEENA & ROCHETS SANDII & SUNSETS ... Just for the most famous not mentioned. You can go back to the R'n'R history class!!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Lindberg is a girl band? Lindberg is a rock band? I like that Shiina Ringo was included, but nasal-quality?

Sad. Almost every example reinforces the cute pop stereotype, beginning with Princess Princess and ending with AKB48. In fact, most of these "artists" highlight the importance of marketing in music, and do a disservice to "girls' rock."

The writer seems to be infatuated with the love life of the selected artists, and thereby represents them as only being as good as their relationships instead of acknowledging them for their music.

Shonen Knife, Sekiri, Go!Go!7188, UA, Kojima Mayumi, ... So many other artists to choose from that actually rock.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the all girl Rock/Metal band Cyntia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And you forgot to mention Ann Lewis who went from pop to rock with the group Pinx from 1984 until the early 1990's.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I saw Shonen Knife a few years ago. Only one of the original members is still playing (and she looked pretty hot for a 50 year-old, but they definitely rock!

However, they do fall into the novelty act category, in my opinion. Poppy punk-influence, a lot of fun, but not very serious.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How do you guys define the music of Spange call Lilli line, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, BiS, Ali Project, Iruma Rioka, Kokusyoku Sumire, Asriel, Kaya, Tamurapan, Kiiiiiii and stuff like that?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i'm a huge fan of negoto

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Jon Van Dyke

I like that Shiina Ringo was included, but nasal-quality?

That should not bother you, the only when nasal voice is somehow noticeable is when she sing in Englishhttp://youtu.be/fqvnSEIT9Fw, while in Japanese is totally unnoticeable http://youtu.be/TVFfR_dDyfE , check those two songs, and you will realize that .

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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