Cultural Exports: Japan Has Wealth of Quality Music It Could Profitably Share with World

Japanese popular music has the potential to captivate the world, but it is not being fully utilized. The music industry and the government need to strengthen their strategies to market it overseas.

Japan’s domestic market is expected to stagnate due to a declining population — but anime, manga and other entertainment content is seen as an area with potential for export growth. Japan’s music market is second only to the U.S. market, and there are high expectations for Japanese music to expand overseas.

However, compared to Japanese content such as animation, the nation’s music has a limited international profile. Perhaps because of its large domestic sales, Japan’s music industry has not focused its attention on overseas markets.

For a contrast, look to South Korea. A rising number of K-pop songs have recently climbed the U.S. charts. This is likely a result of the South Korean government setting up cultural promotion offices in various countries and working with the industry to promote sales of music.

In Japan, many people still purchase CDs, but in the rest of the world, listening to music through online streaming has become the mainstream. The challenge is how to attract people overseas to Japanese music through online streaming.

Henceforth, it will be important to broadcast promotional videos with foreign-language subtitles on social media and to foster singers who are fluent in other languages. It would also be advisable to increase tie-up efforts with movies and TV dramas.

In recent years, songs produced in the 1970s and ’80s have been attracting attention in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. We are now in an age when old but good songs can become new hits through online streaming, as long as people have the opportunity to encounter them. Older works should also be valued.

The Cultural Affairs Agency has begun a showcase project to establish bases in North America and Southeast Asia to promote Japanese music. The agency is urged to promote a wide range of initiatives, such as joint production of songs with local music professionals, to ensure that Japanese songs are accepted in countries of those regions.

Cultural Affairs Commissioner Shunichi Tokura has expressed the idea of establishing an award to honor Asian artists, and he hopes to hold an award ceremony as early as 2025 in Kyoto, the city to which the agency relocated from Tokyo.

Tokura said he hopes to create an Asian version of the Grammy Awards, the most prestigious awards in the U.S. music industry. The envisioned creation of the award would provide more opportunities for Japanese artists to expand their audiences overseas.

However, there are many issues that must be addressed to make the awards a reality, such as securing funds to hold the awards ceremony and determining the method of judging. It is essential to fully consult with the music industry and closely examine how the government might be involved, among other things.

Johnny & Associates, Inc., which developed many popular groups, has fallen into an existential crisis due to the founder’s sexual assaults against its performers. The nation’s music industry must uncover and eliminate all scandals, and rebuild itself.

Sending Japan’s quality music overseas will lead to a deeper understanding of Japan and its culture.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2023)