Saturday Soundtracks: 5 Funky Songs from 1980s Japan

Now that my Very Full-Time Job cuts into my regularly scheduled study time and I’m no longer in school taking Japanese classes, I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese music at my desk and in the car. I read that the best way to motivate is to completely immerse yourself in a language, and that listening to music exclusively in the language you’re trying to learn is the best way to do it. At this point, I’m pretty much hoping to learn Japanese through osmosis…

Usually, I’ll listen to a bunch of anime soundtracks and openings for ~immersion purposes~, but when I’m at work, I want to listen to more poppy, easy-listening type stuff. You know, something upbeat that will keep me awake and happy, but something that isn’t too distracting. And so, through the wonderful website that is YouTube, I discovered the world of funky Japanese 80s music, which is now accidentally my passion.

I feel it is my duty to share my five favorites with you. It would be a crime to keep such stone cold bops to myself.

Mariya Takeuchi – “Plastic Love”

I’ll start you off with a song that’s an 80s staple, and for good reason. Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” is one of my all-time favorite songs already, and that’s saying something – I’ve never wanted to listen an eight minute long song on a regular basis before. The horns section, the guitar solo, the way the lyrics are filled with regret but sung in a way that still makes you want to jiggle your buns…it’s incredible.

I also have a soft spot for the way she says “discoteque,” for some reason. I think any song that has the word discoteque is an automatic winner.

And the outro! The outro where she actually sings the lyrics, “I’m just playing games/I know that’s plastic love/Dance to the plastic beat/And now the morning comes,” over and over again for a good two minutes somehow doesn’t feel repetitive at all. In fact, I want to hear those lines for another, like, five minutes. I want to listen to this song forever.

Junko Ohashi – “Telephone Number”

Forget 867-5309. Tommy Tutone who? This song has AWOOOOOOOOOOs in it, and of course, a great brass section. And that smooth saxophone solo…what more needs to be said?

Oh, actually, I will say something else – this is a great song to shave your legs to. Trust me.

Takako Mamiya – “Chinese Restaurant”

This was actually the first 80s Japanese bop I listened to. It tells the story of two people in a small town meeting at a Chinese restaurant and falling in love. Amazing, right?

Listening to this song really does stir something within me…it reminds me of my love for simple, corny love songs. I actually want to make a short film based on this song – it inspired me that much. I want to get a shitty camcorder and just film people holding hands running through a Chinese buffet and making out in a room covered in Chinese take-out containers. One day I’m gonna make that movie. I’ve storyboarded it and everything. I just, uh, have no resources, so for now, I’m just going to listen to this song & think about the hypothetical music video a lot.

Tatsuro Yamashita – “Sparkle”

I realized that this list was entirely made up of female singers, and then I realized, DUH! I forgot about the King, Tatsuro Yamashita. The entire For You LP is fantastic, but the opener “Sparkle” is my favorite. The electro-acoustic strums in the beginning pull you in immediately, and I adore songs with call-and-response choruses like this. “Hey Reporter!” is a fun one, too – it has this gritty electric guitar in the background while Yamashita croons.


Chakra – “Myun Myun”

If my brain had a soundtrack, it would be this song. If I were an elevator, this would be my music. If I were a company that had a 1-800-HELP number, this would be my hold music. Actually, the number wouldn’t even connect to a live representative, because this song would be all the HELP anyone would need. This song is a masterpiece. Chakra is suddenly my new favorite band. I can’t describe it in a way that does it justice…it’s like, Bjork but if she was pretending to be a Japanese five year old. Please, listen to all six minutes of this, it will change your life. It definitely changed mine.

I hope you enjoy these songs, because they make my morning commute so much more fun. Listening to them also reignites my yearning to master the Japanese language – I want to be able to appreciate them even more!

Of course, I still haven’t studied any more…

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