The commentary in this post reflects the opinions of Hiro (and Hiro only), and does not represent the thoughts and opinions of the other members of the Selective Hearing staff.

2011 was quite a year for Japanese music. On the surface, it was another year dominated by idols, namely those produced by one Akimoto Yasushi and those represented by Johnny & Associates. While many of my favorite singles were performed by idol acts, I’ve thrown a few surprises that will show you that “If I like it, I like it” regardless of genre or preference. While my favorite single of 2011 is listed first, the remainder is in no particular order.

Kaze wa Fuiteiru – AKB48

This was my favorite single of 2011. I was drawn to it immediately due to the guitar introduction. There is potential for a great live performance accompanied by an acoustic guitar, much like the Matsui Sakiko piano opening to “Ponytail to Chouchou” at the Surprise wa Arimasen concert. This wasn’t an idol song, but rather a song sang by an idol group. The voices meshed, the lyrics inspirational, the live performances enjoyable. About the only thing I didn’t love was the PV, but that itself was very memorable due to the insertion of one buck-toothed and mop-headed beast.

Sakura no Ki ni Narou – AKB48

This is the song that made me a fan of AKB48. I love a good ballad, as ballads will show me the strengths and weaknesses of a singer’s vocal prowess. While this wouldn’t be a tough song for the Matsuura Ayas or the Ito Yunas of the world, we’re talking idols here. Fortunately, this passed my litmus test (unlike “Sakura no Shiori”) and the group has earned my interest ever since.


Naturally – Matsushita Yuya
This is an upbeat Japanese R&B tune that I could really get into. It’s a shame that a song of this quality could barely sell 10,000 units. The kid is good-looking, dances and sings well, so I’m not sure why he isn’t more successful.

Shounai Heiya Kaze no Naka – Mizumori Kaori

“Shounai Heiya Kaze no Naka” is an enka ballad. Yup, enka. This is not a troll job by Greg. I actually like and grew up listening to enka, although I didn’t really like it as a kid. When I think of Japanese music, enka is the first style that comes to my mind. “Shounai Heiya Kaze no Naka” is a prototypical enka ballad that deserves to be a theme song of a great samurai drama. Mizumori Kaori continues to excel in a genre that some say is becoming extinct.

Sayonara Kizu Darake no Hibi yo – B’z

This song just rocks.

Each Other’s Way ~Tabi no Tochu~– EXILE

My favorite of EXILE’s three 2011 releases. I don’t think it’s as strong as last year’s “Motto Tsuyoku” or “I Wish For You”, but it’s a damn good song and an example of why EXILE is among Japan’s elite musical acts.

Kiss me Aishiteru – °C-ute

A strong follow-up to last year’s “Aitai Lonely Christmas”, this was the direction I was hoping their discography would follow, that being a more mature sound. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the remainder of their 2011 releases, which were more of the syrupy-sweet idol standard. I’m getting a little too old for the sugar overload, so I’m hoping for more songs like this from °C-ute in 2012.

Cry – DiVA

From the first listening, I knew I was gonna love this song. It’s similar to what I would listen to if I still listened to American music. Still being quite the AKB newbie, I was shocked to hear what a great voice Masuda Yuka had. Definitely not a typical idol voice, but perfect for this Japanese R&B/dance jam. If Aki-P is looking to graduate some members, and yet keep them active, I would think about graduating all four DiVA members and making them a separate and permanent group.

Let Me Cry – Jang Keun Suk

I first saw Jang Keun Suk in a CM for TBC with Maeda Atsuko and Oshima Yuko and thought to myself, “Who’s the Asian David Cassidy-looking guy? He looks more feminine than Acchan and Yuko!”. Despite having looks that qualify him for Johnny’s Juniors, the guy sings a mean rock song. I am surprised it hit #1 on the Oricon Weekly Singles chart, as Jang’s style is very different than the other male Korean acts that have reached Japan over the past few years. This is not your standard K-Pop import, just very good rock.

Naminori Kakigoori – Not yet

“Naminori Kakigoori” is one of those songs that screams “Let’s have fun and go to the beach!”. Actually, it’s translated as “Surfing Shaved Ice” and what says Summer more than surfing and shaved ice? I know….DISGUSTING BIKINIS! Sorry, “Everyday Katyusha” didn’t make my list.

What will 2012 bring for fans of Japanese music? I’m not sure, but I’m going to do my best to inform you of the songs and PVs I like shortly after they are released or as I discover them. Sometimes I’ll be a little late to the game, but in my opinion, it’s not a race. I’d go as far as saying you might even find some of my choices to your liking.

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