K-pop Group - BlackPink
Music Education

Influence of K-Pop in Japan

Throughout history, there have always been rivalries between two parties. America vs the UK, Microsoft vs Apple, DC vs Marvel. All of these have their own fan base, with some being more toxic than others. But, I don’t know any fan base as toxic as K-pop.

Now before you attack me, let me be clear, I’m also a k-pop fan. I was introduced to the magnificent world of k-pop during the end of the 1st generation. Although, I’m more familiar with the 2nd gen and of course 3rd gen.

Growing up in the States during the early 2010’s k-pop wasn’t nearly as mainstream as it is now. However, Japan didn’t share the same lack of popularity compared to the rest of the world. I should note, when I say K-pop I’m referring to Idol K-pop. I know other genres of K-pop are popular as well, but nowhere to the extent of the idol genre. So, let’s explore the history of K-pop and its influence in Japan.


You’d be surprised how many people think the first popular Korean musician in Japan was BoA. Korean Pop Music was generally always popular in Japan, which was during Japan’s imperialist rule of South Korean from 1910- 1945.

The Most popular musicians spaned from the 1930s to ’60s were, Choi Gyuyeop, Yi Nan-Yong, Akiko Wada.

Choi Gyuyeop:

According to Wikipedia, he was the first Korean singer to gain a strong following in the Japanese Music Industry. And Tange Arirang, a famous Korean folk song. His state name was Hasegawa Ichiro. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any more information on this man. Not even a picture.

Yi-Nan Yong:

Another Singer from the ’30s, Yi Nan Yong, started her career as a singer at a local movie theater. Once again not much information on this woman. On a side note, she trained her children to become musicians and formed the Kim Sisters. They were a somewhat popular group in America during the ’50s.

Akiko Wada

Japanese Singer - Akiko Wada

This woman was a little different from the others. Not only is she a singer, but also a “Tarento” or talent. Wada is significantly more known that the other two singers. On top of that, you could say she was a bit progressive for her time. In a country where women’s looks are highly valued, she threw a curveball with her more masculine appearance. Despite her appearance, she also had an incredibly unique voice. And by unique I mean a very deep voice.

Singing Trot Music

Most famous Korean singers during these times would sing Trot Music. Trot is the equivalent of Enka. And enka…well, it’s old people pop music! In other words, it’s just an older form of Korean pop-Music, which took inspiration from Japanese Enka, during the time Japan ruled over Korea.

Certainly, all of these singers influenced the popularly of modern K-pop, but if there is one thing I’ve learned with the music industry, sometimes, there are out factors that catapult a song or intros case, an entire genre.

Arrival of Modern K-pop

Fast forward to the 2000s and we have reached a point where Crystal Kay and BoA have debuted. Granted, Crystal Kay was born in Japan, but her ethnicity is Black and Korean. And during the ’90s Japan was still having a hard time understanding the concept of someone not looking Japanese, while being Japanese. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have called her the “haafu” who sings Japanese.

Japanese Singer - Crystal Kay

BoA had immense popularity in Japan despite being born and raised in Korea. However, I can’t say she did much to promote K-pop.Japanese citizens, know she is Korean, but are only familiar with her Japanese albums. True, current k-pop idols have Japanese versions of their songs, at least the very popular groups, but that’s becoming less mandatory considering many young Japanese teens prefer the Korean versions.

What really pushed K-pop in Japan was a K-drama called, Winter Sonata.

It all started with K-Drama

Popular K-drama - Winter Sonata

I remember downloading this drama when I was going through my k-drama craze phase. It was cheesy, over-dramatic, and was basically like one of my grandma’s soap operas, but damn was it entertaining. And Japan loves over-dramatic drama’s! Anything that tugs the heartstrings.

Modern K-pop in Japan

Now, I like to introduce to what I like to call the Mother and Father of Modern K-pop in Japan; Big Bang and Girls Generation.

Big Bang made their debut in 2006, and was part of YG Entertainment.
Big Bang was an overnight success in Korea, and they carried that success to Japan in 2008, when they released their Japanese album, “For the World, which ranked #10 on the Oricon Charts.

As for the girls, Girls Generation formed in 2007 and was part of SM entertainment.

Their first Japanese single was released in 2010, the Japanese version of Genie. By the way, here’s a fun fact. In Japan, the group isn’t called Girls Generation, but Shojo Aidai (少女時代), which is a literal direct translation.

Later in 2011, they released their first studio album in Japan, titled “Girls Generation” and became the first foreign girl group to rank #1 on the Orion Charts, and sell over one million copies.

From this point, K-pop skyrocketed in Japan. And just when everyone thought k-pop was at it’s highest point in Japan until Psy’s arrived on the scene.

Do I really need to explain Psy’s Gangnam Style? This song was an international phenomenon. It was even the first video in YouTube History to reach 1 Billion views.

Golden Age of K-pop

While the rest of the world was easing their way into k-pop, South Korean Music companies doubled down hard in Japan, by introducing groups such as, KARA, 2PM, Exo, SHINEE, and SISTAR

Ever since K-pop became mainstream, there has been the debate of which is better, K-pop or J-pop? But honestly, I don’t plan on going down that rabbit hole.

Instead of talking about which is better, I’d rather talk about their difference and K-pop has such an appeal to the Japanese.

Image of K-pop

In terms of MV style, K-pop tends to have a more mature feel, compared to J-pop. This is easily seen with female groups. Of course, there are plenty of k-pop videos with “cutesy” styles, but it still looks more mature than let’s say a live-action IdolsM@ster concert, Juice=Juice, or HKT48.

For teens, many find it to be more exciting and refreshing than the overly-dramatic Japanese boy & girl groups. Of course, not everyone has these feelings towards J-pop. I know plenty of girls who have the hots for Sho Hirano from King & Prince.

Musical Style: J-pop

Of course, It’s not only MV’s where K-pop and J-pop have differences. It’s the musical style as well. I want to keep this video simple, so I won’t go into music theory. The easiest way to explain the difference is by understanding the genre’s goal.

J-pop is J-pop! Yes, I know it sounds redundant, but what I mean is, J-pop is meant to cater to a Japanese audience. J-pop uses a variety of scales that give a unique sound.

These scales are called Miyako-Boshi Scale, Min-Yo Scale, Ritsu Scale, and Ryu Kyu Scale. A combination of these scales is what gives Japanese music it’s traditional, or “poppy” happy sound. You can hear this in multiple Japanese songs.

Musical Style: K-pop

K-pop takes its inspiration from Western Styles of music. American pop, R&B, hip-hop. Do you want some hip-hop in your K-pop? Listen to BlackPink or my personal favorite 4minute. Do you want some R&B? Listen to Spica’s PainKiller, or Mammamoo. American Pop, basically any Exid song.

American musical influence is all over K-Pop. For example, Teddy Riley, who has worked with Keith Sweat, and Guy who has worked with Girls Generation and Jay Park. Then there is Harvey Mason Jr, who worked on songs with Toni Braxton and Justin Timberlake, and has written for Boa, SHINee, TVXQ, and Exo.

I’ve come up with a simple theory explaining why K-pop has such a strong appeal in Japan. These are based on facts I’ve gathered, growing up in a Japanese community, and from years of living in Japan.

Social Acceptance of K-Pop vs J-Pop

This applies more toward female groups, but J-idol girl groups have a stigma for being popular with otaku. Of course, not everyone is an otaku, but it is more common for otaku to flock towards J-idols. This is because men enjoy the pure, young, and custsey style of female J-idol groups.

There are female otaku who are obsessed with males j-idol groups, but the numbers are much lower compared to men.

Let’s break it down:

Scenario One

25-year-old Takeshi likes listening to Nogizaka46. He’s just an average guy who buys their CDs and sings their songs. In Japan, guys listening to j-idol groups can be a little creepy, due to the perceived image; which are sweaty dudes holding a glow-stick singing and dancing along.

Scenario Two

Now let’s take 25-year-old Naoto, who is just like Takeshi, but listens to TWICE. No one thinks much of it, because there isn’t a negative perception of guys in Japan listening to K-pop.

I realized this also comes down to accessibility to seeing idols. It’s easy to see your favorite J-idols in Japan, because well…they live in Japan. However, K-pop idols are different. Their main audience is South Korea, so they aren’t in Japan all the time.

The funny thing is if you go to South Korea, and look at the scene with K-pop Idols, then you will realize that South Korea has the same problem as Japan when it comes to otaku. And that’s because they have easier access to seeing these girls. Although, I believe that “otaku” in Korea is lower compared to Japan. However, criticism from netizens towards K-pop idols is much harsher compared to J-pop.

The portrayal of K-pop in Japanese Media

K-pop idols are seen as more mature, elegant, and over hyper-sexualized to the extent of J-idols. There is something to be said about Japan openly creating gravure photo books of J-idols who are as young as 15 years old. Yeah, I’m aware every culture is different, but in a country where 20 years old is the age of adulthood, it’s a little odd to see young girls flashing their little bitties…or tig ol’ bitties for perverted men.

As of now, K-pop is still going strong in Japan, TWICE and BTS being the new powerhouses in Japan.

Although recently, it hasn’t been in the top 10 for Oricon. Then again, you have to remember Kpop, specifically k-pop idol music has to compete with multiple genres on the charts. And no offense to the Oricon charts, but it’s hard to take some of these sales seriously when 3 of the top 10 daily sales in Japan are Idolm@ster songs.

When the k-pop craze dies out internationally, it will still be popular in Japan. K-pop idol music was popular in Japan before it reached international’s success, so I see no reason why it would die out after.

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