Kayōkyoku (, literally "Pop Tune") is a Japanese pop music genre, which became a base of modern J-pop. The Japan Times describes kayōkyoku as "standard Japanese pop"[1] or "Showa era pop".[2]

Kayōkyoku is Western-style-inspired music of Japan. Music in this genre is extremely varied as a result. Kayōkyoku in the narrower and more practical sense, however, excludes J-pop and enka.[3]

Unlike "J-pop" singers such as Southern All Stars' Keisuke Kuwata, the singers of the kayōkyoku genre do not use stylized pronunciations based on the English language, but prefer traditional Japanese.[4] There are exceptions, such as in singer Momoe Yamaguchi's song "Rock 'n' Roll Widow".[4]

Unlike enka, kayōkyoku is also not based on emotional displays of effort while singing.[5]

Famous kayōkyoku artists include Kyu Sakamoto, The Peanuts, The Tigers, Candies, Pink Lady, Seiko Matsuda, Junko Sakurada, The Checkers and Onyanko Club.[6]


1920s–1940s: Origin

Main article: Ryūkōka

The term kayōkyoku originally referred to Western classical "lied" in Japan.[7] However, NHK radio began to use the term as another name of ryūkōka around 1927, and this took hold in the late 10's of the Showa Era. (1935 – 1944).[7] However, many songs popular during this era became lost due to the association with painful memories involving World War II.[8]

1950s–1960s: Mood kayō era

Further information: Enka and Japanese jazz

Kayokyoku, though associated with ryūkōka, also refers to a specific musical genre unique from ryūkōka. For example, Kenji Yamamoto (山本健治) said that the popular genre of Showa 20s (1945 – 1954) was ryūkōka and the popular genre of Showa 30s (1955 – 1964) was kayōkyoku.[9]

In Showa 30s, Frank Nagai, inspired by jazz, sang new songs called "Mood Kayō" (ムード歌謡).[10] During the Japanese post-war economic miracle, Mood Kayō music became one of the most popular genres in Japan.[11] "Mood Kayō" was influenced by Latin and jazz music. On the other hand, in Showa 30s, modern enka began to be formed and rock and roll began to have an influence on Japanese popular singers such as Kyu Sakamoto.[10]

In 1949, 12-year-old Hibari Misora made her recording debut with song "Kappa Boogie Woogie". In the 1950s, Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura were called "Sannin Musume" (lit. "Three Girls"). Hachiro Kasuga, Michiya Mihashi and Hideo Murata were called "Three crows". In the early 1960s, Kyu Sakamoto and The Peanuts became famous. Shinichi Mori debuted in 1966. Linda Yamamoto also debuted in 1966. In the late 1960, Group Sounds became famous. Teruhiko Saigo, Yukio Hashi and Kazuo Funaki were called "Gosanke" in the 1960s. Keiko Fuji debuted in 1969 and the music genre like her songs was called enka, which was like Japanese traditional music. In 1969, Japanese child singer Osamu Minagawa made the Japanese Oricon weekly number-one single "Kuroneko no Tango" at the age of only six, establishing the still-standing youngest record to top the Oricon single charts.

During the 1950s and 60s, many Kayōkyoku groups and singers gained experience performing on US military bases in Japan. Around the same time, Yakuza manager Kazuo Taoka reorganized the concert touring industry by treating the performers as professionals.[12]

1970s–1980s: Idol kayō era

Further information: Japanese idol and J-pop

In the 1970s, Hiromi Go (who belonged to Johnny & Associates at that time), Hideki Saijo and Goro Noguchi were called "New Gosanke". Saori Minami, Mari Amachi and Rumiko Koyanagi were called "Shin Sannin Musume" (lit. "New Three Girls"). Akiko Wada, who came from "Jazz Cafe", also became popular. Momoe Yamaguchi, Junko Sakurada and Masako Mori were called "Hana no Chūsan Torio" (lit. "Flower Junior High School Three Grade Trio"). Yū Aku became one of the most famous lyricists of kayōkyoku. He wrote Finger 5's 1973 song "Kojin Jugyō" and female duo Pink Lady's 1976 debut song "Pepper Keibu."

In the 1980s, many female idols such as Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori became popular. Johnny's male solo singer Masahiko Kondō also became popular and his song "Orokamono" won the 29th Japan Record Awards Grand Prix Award in 1987. The music genre kayōkyoku is regarded as a base of another genre "J-pop".[6] In the 1980s, a part of Japanese idol was independent from kayōkyoku and associated with Japanese rock musicians.[5] Late 80s' popular band Onyanko Club was a band of borderline era between "kayōkyoku" and "J-pop".[13] Although Japanese kayōkyoku-style music after Hikaru Genji and Dreams Come True was called "J-pop", several people claimed that "J-pop" was a subgenre of kayōkyoku music.[14]

In the 1980s, remained kayōkyoku music except Japanese idol's music became regarded as enka.[5] After Hibari Misora died in 1989, the genre called kayōkyoku mostly vanished and several kayōkyoku singers became regarded as enka singers, even if their sound did not change .[15] However, Shinichi Mori and Kiyoshi Maekawa considered themselves to be not enka singers but kayōkyoku singers.[15] Maekawa claimed that an example of true enka singers was Saburō Kitajima, who could use a lot of kobushi (a kind of vocalism) for singing.[15] As the result, the music of the genre caused some confusion. For example, Kiyoshi Maekawa's song "Himawari", produced by pop singer Masaharu Fukuyama, was regarded as enka for no special reason.[15] When Junko Akimoto became popular in 2008, however, she was said to be a modern example of kayōkyoku singers.[3]


  1. "The Ventures: still rocking after 50 years". The Japan Times. 2008-08-07. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
  2. "Jazz icon Akiko Yano finds her electronic muse". The Japan Times. 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  3. 1 2 「終着駅にて」で新たな引き出し/自信満ちる「ベネチアの雪」 (in Japanese). Mainichi Shimbun. 2008-11-05. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
  4. 1 2 J-POPなぜ聞き取りにくい? 信州大教授、西宮で講演 (in Japanese). Kobe Shimbun. 2007-12-20. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  5. 1 2 3 "Special 2. Japanese popular music (final chapter)" (in Japanese). Toshiba. November 2006. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
  6. 1 2 歌謡曲はどこへ 歌の記憶呼び覚ますうねり (in Japanese). Nippon Keizai Shimbun. 2007-08-09. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  7. 1 2 "Special 2. Japanese popular music (2)" (in Japanese). Toshiba. November 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
  8. "NHK Kokumin Kayō: Singing Radio Kayō" (in Japanese). Yumi Aikawa Official Website. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  9. 雑感・戦後日本の世相と流行歌(29) (in Japanese). Asahi Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  10. 1 2 "Special 2. Japanese popular music (4)" (in Japanese). Toshiba. November 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  11. 昭和歌謡黄金時代 フランク永井と松尾和子 [Golden Age of Shōwa Kayō: Frank Nagai and Kazuko Matsuo] (in Japanese). NHK. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
  12. Martin, Ian, "'Golden age' of kayoukyoku holds lessons for modern J-pop", Japan Times, 26 May 2011, p. 13.
  13. 第11回 女性アイドル特集パート2 (in Japanese). OnGen. September 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  14. 松岡正剛の千夜千冊『歌謡曲は、死なない。』貴地久好・高橋秀樹 (in Japanese). Matsuoka Seigo no Senya Sensatsu. 2002-06-12. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  15. 1 2 3 4 第6部・演歌巡礼<2>前川清 べたつかぬ距離感で歌う (in Japanese). Nishinippon Shimbun. 2006-12-13. Retrieved 2009-01-17.

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