10 Best Karaoke Songs to Learn Japanese

Last Updated on 11.05.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

Karaoke (カラオケ) is a well-loved pastime in Japan. Karaoke involves you singing along to a song as the lyrics appear on a screen. Karaoke actually originates from Japan, with the first machine having been invented by Daisuke Inoue. As such, many people living in Japan are familiar with it and have a few songs they already like. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese culture, you might not know what songs to sing. That’s where we come in. We’ve compiled a list of some songs that aren’t just popular or catchy but are fun to sing too. As you listen (or sing along) to the lyrics, you’ll be able to hear different words and phrases that can help you learn Japanese too.

Best Karaoke Songs to Learn Japanese

’Plastic Love’ by Mariya Takeuchi

Mariya Takeuchi’s ‘Plastic Love’ is a song you might recognize. Initially released in 1985 as a single, this song has just now seen large amounts of play internationally. It was uploaded to YouTube in 2017, and has since gone viral, achieving 51 million views as of the time of writing. The song was largely responsible for a spark of interest in the Japanese city pop genre. 

The song itself is about a relationship that is breaking apart, the love between the two being insincere and fake, or ‘Plastic’. While the meaning sounds sad, the song definitely does not. The tune is catchy and makes you want to dance along, a perfect pick for karaoke. This only adds to the ‘Plastic’ nature of the song and is part of what makes it so good. The song was also produced by Mariya’s husband Tatsuro Yamashita. He himself has quite the storied career and history, so check him out too if you get the chance!

‘真夜中のドア (Mayonaka no Door)/ Stay with me’ by Miki Matsubara

Another city pop song, Mayonaka no Door or ‘Stay with me’ by Miki Matsubara is pretty similar to ‘Plastic love’. Released in 1978 as a debut single, ‘Stay with me’ has recently seen a rise in popularity on the internet. There are two main reasons for its rise. The first one is Youtuber Rainych, an Indonesian cover artist who covered the song in 2020, being many’s first introductions to the song. The second reason is TikTok, where the song is used as a sound for over 230,000 videos. It was used in a trend where children would play the song for their Japanese parents to see if they remembered it.

The TikTok trend speaks to the song’s catchiness. Even after 40 years, a lot of the parents could still remember the song’s chorus. The song itself is about a woman who wants her lover to stay with her. The song is upbeat and fun to sing, which has led to it being a popular karaoke choice.

‘ドライフラワー (Dry Flower)’ by Yuuri

Yuuri’s ‘Dry Flower’ doesn’t have much international reach, but in Japan, it’s quite the hit. Released on October 25, 2020, the song has exceeded 500 million streams, reaching 400 million streams within 44 weeks of charting, making him one of the only Japanese artists to achieve this record. The song spent 73 weeks in Japan’s Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10, the second most behind ‘Lemon’ by Kenshi Yonezu.

Yuuri himself used to be in a 4-man group, but since their disbanding, he has continued his career as a solo artist. His talent and good looks have been able to carry him to success, and he has nicknamed himself the “King of Shibuya”. His song ‘Dry Flower’ is a ballad about a relationship that didn’t work out. It is a ballad, it’s fun to sing along to, especially when the chorus kicks in. Its popularity means everyone’s at least a little familiar with it too, a great pick for karaoke.

’Lemon’ by Kenshi Yonezu

The one song to beat ‘Dry Flowers’ time in the Hot 100 Top 10, Kenshi Yonezu’s ‘Lemon’ was one of the most popular songs in Japan from 2018 to 2020. On YouTube, the song’s music video has amassed over 700 million views, the most of any Japanese music video. The song was number 1 in Billboard Japan’s Top 100 for 2018 and 2019, and still ranked 17 in 2020.

Kenshi Yonezu has had an interesting career, starting out as a Vocaloid artist under the name Hachi (八チ) before debuting as himself. He has released multiple albums prior to ‘Lemon’ like Bremen and Bootleg which helped his career. But ‘Lemon’ is by far his most successful work, winning him multiple awards at the MTV VMAJ and Space Shower Music Awards. The song itself is about life and death, written from the perspectives of both the living and dead. The sound is catchy and very unique. It uses a ‘skipping’ rhythm that can be danced to. As a ballad, it is also fun to sing along to. Its popularity and catchiness make it a great pick for karaoke.

‘Ue o Muite Arukou (Sukiyaki)’ by Kyu Sakamoto

‘Sukiyaki’ is a classic. Released in the early 1960s, it quickly became an international hit, topping the charts in a number of countries. It became so popular that it became one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold 13 million physical copies worldwide. You may be wondering how ‘Ue o Muite Arukou’ becomes ‘Sukiyaki’ overseas, especially when the phrase Sukiyaki doesn’t show up once in the song. It was only named ‘Sukiyaki’ because ‘Sukiyaki’ as a phrase is short and recognizable as Japanese!

‘Ue o Muite Arukou’ meaning “I look up as I walk” is about a man looking up as he walks so his tears would not fall. The lyrics describe the man’s emotions and memories but are left vague enough that you could interpret them in their own way. The song itself is light and fun. The music is easy to bob along to and the lyrics are easy to sing along to. This makes it a great pick for karaoke.

’Tonari no Totoro’ 

Really any Ghibli song could have worked here, but if there’s any Ghibli song that comes to mind first, it’s ‘Totoro’. Everyone’s seen a Ghibli movie, and everyone’s seen Totoro. The song’s upbeat tune, simple lyrics and the fact that everyone’s heard it at least once make this a really easy pick for karaoke. 

’Marigold’ by Aimyon

‘Marigold’ by Aimyon is yet another J-pop song that has attained quite a bit of popularity. The song made the top spot on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 and has amassed 200 million plays across streaming services. The music video for the song has over 200 million views.

Aimyon started as an indie artist in 2015 and has gained a strong following thanks to her writing. Her lyricism and melody shine through in Marigold, and the song was able to become a hit because of it. Marigold is simple to follow and not too fast, making it an easy song for karaoke.

’Himawari no Yakusoku (Promise of the Sunflower)’ by Motohiro Hata

‘Himawari no Yakusoku’ is a bittersweet ballad. The song, released in 2014, has been ranked in the top 10 on the Oricon Karaoke Chart from 2015 to 2018.

If you’re a fan of Doraemon, you may recognize it from the 2014 movie Stand by Me Doraemon, where it was used as the theme song.

 The song’s simple acoustics and heartfelt vocals make the song’s lyrics of two people separated making it that much more emotional. Of course, as a ballad, it can be fun to sing along to, and the slower tempo and moments where the singer really gets into it make this a fantastic song for karaoke.

‘PonPonPon’ by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

PonPonPon by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a lot less serious than the other picks on the list. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a lot of fun. The song ranked on Billboard Japan’s Top 100, and much of that success can be attributed to the music video. The video is themed around being 可愛い (Kawaii) meaning cute but combines it with a lot of weirdness. There is a lot of abstract imagery and a combination of 2D and 3D animation. If you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth your time.

Overall, the cheeriness of the song as well as the ridiculousness of the lyrics makes this a blast for karaoke. The artist, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is also worth noting, having had a 10-year long career as a musician associated with the “可愛い” and “デコラ”(Decora) culture. Most recently, she performed at Coachella 2022, performing this very song.

‘Heavy Rotation’ by AKB48

Another lighthearted song to round out the list, Heavy Rotation is a song by AKB48, an idol group. AKB48 was started in 2005 and intended to be a theater-based idol group. This means that the group would perform daily so fans could always see them live. They were “idols you can meet”, and had multiple signing and handshake events. They initially started with a whopping 24 members, and have since grown to have multiple teams and overseas branches. Their music is cheerful, fast J-pop, and ‘Heavy Rotation’ is no different. 

This makes it a fun song for karaoke, and a great pick if you want to have fun! The music video is somewhat controversial, however. The video is rather risqué and depicts all the girls in lingerie acting intimately with one another. The song is fine, but maybe don’t watch the video around kids. Also, note that most of the original performers of ‘Heavy Rotation’ have already retired from the group. In idol groups, a member leaving is commonly referred to as them graduating. The more you know!

We hope you enjoy the list! Next time you go out for karaoke with people, try one of these songs!

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