16 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Japanese Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Japan is a country that has long been associated with music. From the traditional sounds of the koto and taiko drums to the more modern pop and rock of today, Japanese music has something for everyone.

And when it comes to singers, Japan has produced some truly talented and famous performers over the years. Its musical heritage is extensive and diverse, ranging from traditional folk music to J-Pop’s global ascension to stardom.

In this post, we’re going to take a brief look at the lives and careers of 16 of the greatest and most famous Japanese singers of all time. Let’s get started.

1. Yoko Ono

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1933, Yoko Ono is a Japanese singer-songwriter and peace activist. She is probably the most famous of all Japanese singers, as she married John Lennon, a member of the Beatles. 

Ono has been somewhat of a polarizing figure despite being an accomplished singer and artist. Still, she’s also highly criticized for her undeniable influence on John Lennon and his music.

She is also frequently held responsible for the dissolution of the Beatles. However, these criticisms haven’t deterred Ono from living a life full of creativity and art.

2. Suzuka Nakamoto

Next, we have Suzuka Nakamoto, who was born in 1997 in Hiroshima, Japan, and is best known for forming the Japanese kawaii metal band Babymetal, where she goes by the stage name SU-METAL. She has also been a member of idol groups Karen Girl’s and Sakura Gakuin.

Nakamoto made her debut in the entertainment industry at a very young age as a child model.  When she graduated from middle school, she also had to leave Sakura Gakuin because she reached the group’s age limit.

She then went on to form Babymetal, whose first album was released in 2014 and was well-received by critics.

3. Hikaru Utada

Born in New York City to Japanese parents, Hikaru Utada is another singer with deep roots in music, as her father is a record producer and her mother is a singer. Utada must have felt a strong draw from her Japanese roots, as she has lived in Japan extensively. 

Since her debut album First Love, released in 1999, she has been adored by the Japanese public. In the years that followed, she rose to become one of the country’s most beloved pop sensations, fusing R&B with dance-pop and rock to create a signature sound that became an effective formula that other J-pop musicians have emulated. 

Utada is well-known among video game enthusiasts as the voice behind each famous theme from Square Enix and Disney’s popular collaboration series Kingdom Hearts.

In addition, dubstep music fans have been made aware of Hikaru’s singing prowess through the song “Face My Fears,” which features Utada’s vocals and was produced by Skrillex.

4. Meiko Kaji

Born Masako Ōta in 1947 in Tokyo, Meiko Kaji was first a successful actress before jumping into a musical career. Her most prominent role was the assassin for Lady Snowblood, a revenge film based on a manga of the same name. She also reprised the role in the sequel.

Being talented in singing, Kaji also performed the theme songs for the first Lady Snowblood movie and for Female Convict Scorpion. Quentin Tarantino used both her songs in Kill Bill, which, incidentally, had similar themes to Lady Snowblood.

Encouraged by the success of the theme songs, Kaji went on to release several singles and albums, and to celebrate her work and thank fans for their support, and she recently launched her own YouTube channel.

5. Kōji Tamaki

The Japanese singer-songwriter and actor Koji Tamaki was born in 1958. A well-known rock musician, he is best known as the leader of the rock band Anzen Chitai, which was formed in 1982 and experienced considerable success, notably during the 1980s.

He began his solo career in 1993, and he has received a great deal of critical acclaim and commercial success since then.

In addition, he is generally considered to be one of the best Japanese vocalists of all time. His solo career has resulted in the publication of 23 singles and more than a dozen studio albums to date.

“Denen,” a song he released as a single in 1996, became a big hit, reaching #2 on the Japanese music charts and selling more than 900,000 copies in total.

6. Hiroshi Kamayatsu

Hiroshi Kamayatsu, also known as Monsieur, became a member of the Spiders in the early 1960s, serving as both a guitarist and a vocalist.

The group, which included fellow musicians, Masaaki Sakai and Jun Inoue, went on to record singles like “Ban Ban Ban” and “Anotoki Kimiwa Wakakatta” (You Were Young Back Then). 

After the band disbanded, Kamayatsu moved on to pursue a solo career. He wrote the song “Waga Yoki Tomoyo” (My Good Acquaintance), which tells the story of a rough and unrefined college friend, and it became a big hit.

7. Miyavi

Takamasa Ishihara, better known by his latest stage name Miyavi, is a Japanese singer-songwriter and guitarist. Born in Osaka in 1981, Takamasa began his professional guitar career at 17 under the stage name Mayabi. His finger-slapping playing style made him popular.

At the beginning of his career, he worked as a guitarist with the band Dué le Quartz, which is now defunct. After the group split after three years, Mayabi started a solo career, adopting the new stage name and releasing his first album, Gagaku.

While he continued to record singles and albums, he altered his musical style to more of an acoustic/pop style. This disappointed many of his original fans but greatly enlarged his popularity.

At the age of 25, he decided to travel to the United States for six months to learn English to reach a bigger audience. He embarked on his first world tour a year after that.

8. Ayumi Hamasaki

Since her debut in 1998, Ayumi Hamasaki has attained the highest levels of success as a singer, songwriter, and pop sensation.

Her debut initially did not launch her to fame. Perseverance won, however, and the following year, Hamasaki finally gained a following with the release of the album A Song for XX. From there, she soared.

Now, she is one of the best-selling solo artists in Japan, having sold millions of CDs and racking up a slew of top-tier chart records along the way.

Hamasaki has a considerable presence in Japanese pop culture and the entertainment industry. In addition to being a pop star, she also has her own fashion brand, is a TV and radio show host, and even opened a restaurant for a short time.

9. Sakura Miyawaki

Born in 1998 in Tokyo, Sakura Miyawaki is a Japanese singer and former member of the Japanese idol girl group HKT48.

While on hiatus from the above-mentioned group in 2018, Miyawaki competed in Produce 48, a Korean reality show. She finished second, earning her a spot in the project’s working group Iz*ONE.

After her contract with Iz*ONE expired in 2021, she separated from HKT48, having her graduation concert in June 2021.

Miyawaki has recently joined another girl group called Le Sserafim.

10. Hyde

Born in Wakayama in 1964, Hideto Takarai—more commonly known by his stage name Hyde—is the lead singer of the Japanese rock band L’Arc-en-Ciel.

While in the group, he rose to international prominence as a singer and guitarist and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.

In 2000, Hyde went solo. His first album, Roentgen, reached #5 in the charts. After successfully releasing a couple of singles and having a solo tour in Japan.

Hyde soon went international with his second album, Faith, which peaked at #2 on the Oricon charts. In 2007, he joined the hard rock group Vamps before returning to focus on his solo career in 2017.

11. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Born in Tokyo in 1993, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a Tokyo-based pop artist who uses an eclectic combination of sweetness and shock in her songs and visuals.

In her early years, Pamyu’s primary interest was fashion, which is evident in her eye-catching ensembles, including the Harajuku style and blonde wig.

Her career as a singer started in 2011 when she released a promo single called “PONPONPON.” The song went viral on YouTube. Since then, she has released five albums, all highly acclaimed.

In addition to being an accomplished singer, Pamyu is also a fashion blogger and model. Pamyu attributes a lot of her success to the popularity of her music videos on the internet.

12. Kyu Sakamoto

Born in 1941 in Kawasaki, Japan, Kyu Sakamoto grew up in a family of restaurateurs. He began singing in jazz bars when he was a youngster, and in 1959, he landed a record deal with Toshiba Records.

He had released several hit Japanese pop singles, as well as starred in films and on television and radio shows. His love song “Ueo Muite Arukou” gained him international fame.

Sadly, Sakamoto’s career was cut short. He was killed in a plane crash in Japan in 1985. The crash, considered the deadliest plane crash in Japanese history, left 519 dead.

13. Takahiro Moriuchi

Born in 1988 in Tokyo, Japan, Takahiro Moriuchi is a Japanese singer known by his stage name Taka. He is the lead singer of One Ok Rock, a Japanese rock band where he is the primary songwriter and composer.

When he was young, he left his parents to live with his grandmother and pursue his musical career. He joined One Ok Rock in 2005. The band gained popularity for their theme songs in both Rurouni Kenshin live-action films.

As an apology to his parents, Moruichi performed “Nobody’s Home” in a 2010 concert in which his parents attended.

14. Damo Suzuki

Our next singer, Damo Suzuki, was born in 1950 in Tokyo, Japan. He is most known for his involvement with the German experimental rock band Can, where he served as the band’s lead singer from 1970 until 1973.

While with the band, the group released a few well-received albums, such as Tago Mago and Future Days. As the band’s singer, Suzuki often free-formed and improvised lyrics to their songs.

After separating from the group in 1973, he went on hiatus, only to return to music in 1983 with Sound Carriers—various local music groups that tour and perform live improvised music.

He has been a part of the Krautrock movement, which emerged in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s and is known for its experimental rock sound.

15. Kōji Wada

A Japanese pop singer who rose to fame in the 1980s, Kōji Wada, was born in the Kyoto city of Fukuchiyama in 1974. He was best known for singing the theme songs for numerous installments of the Digimon anime television series.

Wada’s recording debut was in 1999 with the song “Butter-Fly,” the theme song for the Digimon Adventure, which became his most popular single and perhaps the reason why his nickname is Immortal Butterfly Anisong Singer. He then continued to provide the theme songs for six out of seven of the Digimon series.

In 2011, however, Kōji paused his career due to health reasons. Sadly, he passed away a few years after due to nasopharynx cancer.

16. Kumi Koda

Pop artist Kumi Koda was born in 1982 in Kyoto. She started her career in the music industry when she came in second place in a talent search sponsored by the record label Avenue.

One of her best performances, though minor, was for the opening and ending themes of the video game Final Fantasy X-II, where she sang “Real Emotions” and “1000 no Kotoba” (1000 Words), respectively. The latter reached #3 in the charts.

Koda has gone on to become a prolific seller and well-known artist in the Japanese pop music industry, constantly releasing a series of top-twenty singles. Although her singles weren’t the hits she and her label had hoped for, she eventually established herself as a regular hitmaker.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Singers From Japan

The list above features some of the greatest Japanese singers of all time. They have each contributed their own unique style to the world of music and Japanese culture.

Music is one of the many things that unite us. It helps define our cultures while creating new ones. If you’re looking to expand your musical horizons, hopefully, some of these singers fit your tastes.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.