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Lots of people outside of Japan want to get their hands on Japanese music. Whether it’s Japanese learners who just want more passive learning materials, or just people who love Japanese music, it’s in high demand across the world.

The problem is that it can be really difficult to find Japanese music outside of Japan. It seems like most music retailers don’t want to have anything to do with any Asian music that’s not Gangnam Style.

So what do you do if you want to get Japanese music, but aren’t lucky enough to be living in Japan? Fortunately, you have more options than you think:

Brick-and-Mortar Stores

While more and more people shop online than ever before, there’s still a lot to be said about going to a physical storefront and shopping around there. Shopping in a brick-and-mortar store might be better for you if you don’t want to deal with shipping, if you want to casually browse in the store, or if there’s a store nearby to where you live.

If you live in a place that has a Japantown or some sort of Japanese community, then the easiest option might be to just go and check out whether or not any local stores sell Japanese music.

kinokuniya

Photo by brewbooks

There are some Japanese book store chains, like Kinokuniya, that offer Japanese music in addition to books and magazines. If there aren’t any chain stores in your area, then there might small, mom-and-pop operations.

Even if they don’t carry the particular CD you’re looking for, it’s worth asking to see if you can order it through them. The store will have connections to sellers that you don’t, and you get the warm, fuzzy feeling of supporting a local business.

Vendors at Conventions

If you like to go to conventions, whether they’re for Japanese culture, anime, video games, or anything even tangentially related to Japan, chances are there will be a vendor somewhere there selling Japanese music CDs.

con-vendors

Photo by alan.stoddard

This isn’t a great option for a couple of reasons. These vendors are temporary, you won’t know what they’ll have until you get there, and these will have to basically be impulse purchases.

Even with all of those downsides, dealers are worth checking out if you’re already at a convention anyway.

Online

scholastic-internet

Some people don’t want to hit the bricks to go get Japanese music. They either want to live a hikikomori lifestyle and never leave their home, or they don’t want to bother with old-fashioned physical music formats like CDs. 21st century, baby!

Fortunately, there are a lot of options for getting Japanese music online, whether it’s buying a CD online, downloading music, or streaming music.

iTunes

iTunes is one of the biggest music sellers in the world nowadays, and I’m sure it’s how a lot of you buy music. You can buy Japanese music through iTunes, but it can be kind of tricky.

Each country has its own, separate iTunes store; meaning that even if you have an iTunes account in your home country, you can’t access all of the music in the Japanese iTunes store without a bit of work.

itunes-japan

You can create a Japanese iTunes account pretty easily, but the tricky part is the payment. The Japanese iTunes store requires you to pay with a Japanese credit card, which I’m guessing most of you don’t have.

Fortunately, people have discovered a few workarounds that have reliably worked for years now. The best option most people seem to use is to buy Japanese iTunes gift cards and use those in the place of a Japanese credit card.

There are sites out there (like Japan Codes) that deal exclusively in gift card codes, so you don’t even have to worry about importing an iTunes gift card from Japan.

Amazon

Ordering from Amazon Japan is forunately less convoluted than iTunes. You have to create a separate, Amazon Japan account, but you don’t need to use a Japanese credit card or anything like that. There’s even an option to see parts of the page in English!

The downside is that there’s no guarantee that they can ship to you. For that, there services that will ship anything to you (for a price). I’ll talk about those more later.

eBay

eBay’s long been a great way to get your hands on virtually anything you can think of, whether it’s a collectible lunchbox from a 70s TV show, or an antique rug.

You can find Japanese music on eBay too, but not very reliably. Instead of a consistent selection, you’re pretty much at the whims of whatever sellers are on the site. Definitely a place to check out if you’re seeking out some specific piece of music, but not something to rely on too heavily.

Music Blogs

One of the best ways to get music online, Japanese or not, has always been through music blogs. What could be better than somebody who loves music and shares it with the world?

Getting music through music blogs can be a lot trickier than buying it. First of all, music blogs are generally very specific to that person’s music tastes. If you’re looking for Jpop on a Japanese metal blog, then you’ll be SOL.

Not only that, but there’s no real centralized directory that you can use to find a music blog that suits your tastes. Finding a music blog you love can be a really hit-or-miss process, but it’s all worth it when you find somebody who’s into all the same music as you.

Streaming

If you don’t want all of the hassle of buying, downloading, or shipping music, then streaming music online is a good option too. That way your delicate little netbook hard drive won’t fill up!

There are some streaming options out there for you. Grooveshark is a good, all-purpose streaming service that lets you stream a single song or a whole album for free.

Some sites, like Soundcloud let musicians upload individual songs for streaming and sometimes download, but fewer big-name musicians use it. Soundcloud is better for smaller acts, remixes, and DJ mixes.

nujabes-lastfm

Other services let you stream Japanese music, but with a little less control. Pandora has been a big name in music streaming for years, but the songs you listen to are chosen by an alogrithm; you get very little say in the process, especially if you don’t have a paid account.

Last.fm lets you have a little more choice. You can play certain, select songs for free and listen to radio like Pandora, but your choices are very limited. The main selling point of Last.fm is in the community and artist pages, which are very helpful for learning more about a musician and finding out about new artists.

Streaming services Spotify and Rdio have both announced that they will launch Japanese clients in the future, but as of right now, they’re rather lacking in Japanese music.

Export Sites

There are a ton of sites out that cater specifically to people who love Asian media and want to buy physical copies. They act as a middleman between you and . Sites like YesAsia or Play Asia export music, video games, movies and more.

Other sites are more general. You pay them a fee to track down a specific product in Japan, and they buy it and export it to you. We’ve written about Tenso before, but there other sites like DankeDanke and many more.

The downside to these sorts of sites is that you have to deal with shipping and handling, which can really add up. But if you want the real McCoy delivered directly to your door, it’s hard to do much better.

Japanese Sites

You can obviously go to Japanese sites to buy Japanese music, but they’re geared towards a Japanese audience. That means that not only are the websites usually in Japanese (which can be a problem for Japanese beginners), but they expect to ship domestically too.

The advantages to shopping on Japanese sites are that you cut out the middleman and you can find a broader and more current selection of music. Still, it wouldn’t be something I would recommend for most people.

Warning: Mileage May Vary

While you should have a pretty good rate of success with these methods, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for. There’s some music that’s rare, highly-sought after, old, or just plain hard to get a hold of. (I’ve been on the look out for a copy of Nujabes’s Metaphorical Music for years but have never been able to find one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.)

The really tricky thing is that these methods might vary from place to place, region to region. Different countries have their own intellectual property laws and agreements with the various music conglomerates.

I don’t guarantee that all of these methods will work for everybody that reads this, or that they’re always entirely legal in your country. But I hope that this is a good jumping off point for people who’re looking to get some Japanese music.


Edit: Bonus Wallpapers!

Our wonderful illustrator Aya has been kind enough to make the header image for this post into desktop backgrounds. Enjoy!

japanese-music-sample-wallpaper

1280 x 800, 1440 x 900, 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200

  • paulalabuddhada

    Wow, thanks for the info about “Japan Codes”! Will try it out next time I come across something on Japan iTunes I want to buy. :)) Good article…and in addition, not only is music sometimes difficult to get a hold of, but seeing Japanese artists live in concert is difficult as well :/ They rarely tour in the US anyway~but, little by little, some of them are touring every now and then.

  • DAVIDPD

    PlayAsia is my hookup for YUI!!!

  • Ash

    CDJapan is also a great service! http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/

    I’ve used CDJapan many a time, and it sells more than music, too.

  • Lurp

    Use Google (or ask your favorite J-music blog administrator) and try to find someone zealous enough about Japanese music to send you an invite to JPopSuki.eu. This site is kind of like a (functional) version of Demonoid, and despite the name, it features all genres of both Japanese and Korean music.

  • http://twitter.com/treeghosts bauauamgeggeist

    you OBVIOUSLY FORGOT piracy

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    There is a shocking amount of Japanese music on Amazon’s US mp3 store. In fact, between that and iTunes, I have never had a problem finding something I wanted (with anything I couldn’t find there getting from CD Japan).

  • Maru Laari

    I think the internet section pretty much covers piracy and other streaming or sharing sites like youtube too

  • grimpoteuthis

    Nice writeup! It’s a bummer more Japanese bands don’t tour the states,
    guess the market just isn’t there yet :( but I’ve seen some good ones,
    sometimes touring on their own (like Guitar Wolf or Melt Banana) or as
    part of the Japan Nite US Tour that happens after SXSW each year, and
    they usually have cds for sale pretty cheap at their shows. But yeah,
    so so many of them rarely play outside Japan, the night I finally saw
    Eastern Youth live at a smallish club in Kyoto… I remember walking
    outside after and thinking “if I were to be struck by lightning right now
    I’d die happy.”
    And yay for Cornelius- Fantasma in the header :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I was trying to focus on legal means in this guide :o)

  • http://twitter.com/forgottenmems Janelle

    I think Amazon Japan/iTunes/Yes Asia should have gotten more to the top of the list. I’ve been buying Japanese Music online alot over the past 5 years and by far Amazon Japan is the easiest and cheapest solution (provided you order enough at once to warrent international shipping costs, but that’s a minor issue) . I’ve never had an issue with them not shipping to the US unless it’s food items so the article is a bit misleading.

    Second is iTunes Japan. It’s true you can get codes everywhere especially from Jlist/JBox.com if you want a trusted seller of Japanese iTunes cards. The only problem here is that sometimes music is a little more expensive and the selection isn’t as good as Amazon Japan. The advantage though is if you only want one of two songs of a CD you don’t have to pay for the whole CD.

    Third is Yes Asia because they usually charge and arm and a leg for stuff like CDS and DVDS that you can get cheaper on Amazon Japan. Also, their shipping takes forever compared to Amazon Japan.

    I honestly wouldn’t bother with any other options listed as they are all inferior to the three I mentioned above. Just my opinion.

  • Kidd
  • Lily Queen

    I’ve found a surprising amount of Japanese music on regular American iTunes recently, including Golden Bomber, World Order, capsule, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Bonnie Pink, Utada Hikaru (and not just her iffy American stuff), the GazettE, etc. etc. If you haven’t looked in a year or two, you should look again. And don’t forget to request things that you want. http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunes.html

    (Why only one Ulfuls single? So weird.)

    Another source is artists’ Facebook pages or websites, especially for indies, who may provide their own sources. For example, Golden Bomber’s mp3 albums can be purchased through Facebook as well as iTunes.

  • shadowmonk

    If you are into JPop and streaming is OK check out Big B radio, http://www.bigbradio.com/. They also offer Chinese and Korean if you are into that as well.

    I just wish we could have a true international market for digital music distribution that wasn’t so tied up with copyrights.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I have to get pretty much everything online since the only Japanese band I’ve ever seen at the local store is Dir en grey… And that’s the store where I find my more obscure metal albums. They also still sell vinyl records along with old, cheesy, obscure movies.

    And they don’t have much in the way of Japanese music… I don’t think I’ll be finding any physical locations any time soon…

  • NJ

    I use Grooveshark a lot and while it is great for a lot of stuff it also runs on the whims of what people upload to it. A lot of albums appear on there incomplete, plenty of artists don’t appear at all and you can find your playlist a few songs short if takedown notices come to bite.

    As for iTunes, pretty much every import site worth a damn sells iTunes cards/codes now. JList as Janelle said is good and Play-Asia sells them as well.

  • Michael

    how in the world did you find jmusic on pandora?

  • http://www.facebook.com/AveryGoodgame Nick Hattan

    I just busted my ship xDDD

  • http://www.facebook.com/giita17 Zach Green

    This is awesome! I was just trying to find some globe albums last week!

  • Jon

    I’ve used Noppin before. I wanted to get some piano sheet music books for Macross Frontier, and I couldn’t get it in America. Amazon’s shipping would have been about $40, so I didn’t go there, They basically act as a Japanese address and ship it for you when it arrives. You can even get concert tickets through them, although they don’t ship those internationally (it would defeat the purpose of going, after all). They even have a site in English.

    On the subject of Japanese music, go Crow’s Claw and Demetori! Woo!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ricardo.buijsman Ricardo Buijsman

    no Pandora for people outside the u.s.a @,#

  • This guy called Drew

    Yeah. I “buy” my music. On google.

  • Laeng

    Nujabes insta-like.

  • mish-mash

    This Grooveshark thing is all sorts of awesome. :D

  • Pepper_the_Sgt

    First, the header image is particularly awesome today (which is impressive, as I always love the header images).

    There’s a local shop here that sells bunches of used media (books, movies, games, music, etc). They have a very small Asian section that I always thumb through. Their selection is really random and not that great (like “Selections for the Shakuhachi” or something), but every now and then I’ll see something I don’t recognize and that doesn’t look awful, so I’ll buy it. I’ve come across some gems. My last great find was an EP called “Stereo 2″ by Yamazaki Masayoshi. That thing is amazing.

  • Tyler

    Fair warning, iTunes is nuts about some stuff. Software purchased on the App Store can be region locked; i.e. you can lose access to it on your iPad, etc, after changing the region.

    I haven’t heard of that happening with iTunes music, but honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked.

    Does anyone know if there’s a region lock capability in iTunes music DRM?

  • Flora

    I sometimes order online from Anime Jungle. It’s a store based out of L.A. that deals mostly in anime DVD’s & figurines, but they sell a good amount of other stuff, too. I’ve been buying Cure magazines from them for months, and they’re WAY cheaper than CDJapan or YesAsia. Best thing about them; the more you order from them, the less they charge for shipping. :)

    Their music selection isn’t great, though. I don’t listen to Jpop, but their Jrock collection consists of old An Cafe CD’s, anything Kisaki related (some artifacts going back to the days of VHS), and a $50 copy of BORN’s “Psycho Diva”.

  • Flora

    Just remembered that the store is a branch-off of the flagship in Japan (which you can order from directly), so they MIGHT be open to taking requests. However, I’ve never tried so I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronaldstevencurtis Ronald Curtis

    Great post!

    And thanks for introducing me to Metaphorical Music and Nujabes! Heard his music before on Samurai Champloo but didn’t know his name.

  • MrsSpooky

    cdjapan.co.jp – I’ve bought almost a dozen CDs of Japanese music from them. I think they’re wonderful and have been my lifeline to new Japanese music. :)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I never even thought about it. I’m surrounded by Japanese music every day. I like listening to the radio while driving, but I also bought a lot of used CDs that I’ll take back home if I ever leave Japan.

  • Anna Li

    What about YouTube?

  • Mr Nightcat

    More love here for YesAsia and CDJapan, but the best of all to me is still Amazon Japan if you’re not afraid of a bit of communication. Use marketplace sellers for purchases and either write yourself in Japanese or ask someone to help you write a request to see if the seller will ship outside to Japan and if so, where to and for how much. It’s far less complicated than it sounds.

    Last time I was looking for Haruko Momoi’s Mail Me single (couldn’t even find it in Tokyo! Was only there for 6 days though), I slapped together a message with the beginner proficiency I had back then along with some vocab help, and the seller was so positively surprised to hear from me that his/her reply was almost ecstatic. I don’t quite remember how shipping costs went down but I got the single easily and cheaply.

    I’ve bought several books and CDs this way. Thumbs up again to YesAsia and CDJapan though, they were still very reliable and friendly.

  • Laure

    Check out bookoff locations to see if there’s one near you. They well CDs that are used and in good condition. The price ranges from one dollar to 20 something?? Actually I never bought the expensive cds… I’ve only bought from the 2 dollar section

  • Peter Graham

    My folk/rock/pop songs about Japan are here for free download: https://soundcloud.com/peterg-sings/sets/paper-windows

  • ジョサイア

    Went in expecting a soundless gif :P
    WOW xDDD

  • http://profiles.google.com/ronmoses Ron Moses

    Very cool. I remember requesting a post like this a few months back, and the response led me not to get my hopes up. Glad to see it finally come to life!

    Sad story: A few years ago, Bo-Peep toured the northeast US and played a small bar in my hometown… two months before I discovered them. GRRRR!!!!

  • CelestialSushi

    I was really surprised to see this article now, considering Amazon Japan just told me I can’t buy their MP3s because it’s a Japan-only service O_o There are just some anime-related themes that are a little difficult to come by for me. Thankfully, iTunes has been getting a few in (Like “Sabrina” by Ieiri Leo), and they’ve now got a TON of Sonic music :D (Japanese music insofar as SEGA is Japanese). I’ve used PlayAsia before, and they’re pretty good (but ever since that accusation of bootleg figures–vehemently denied by Play-Asia–I’ve been skittish about purchasing from there. I’ve likely got nothing to worry about, though, but I tend to be overly cautious about some things. If anyone can assuage my concerns about buying from Play-Asia, I’d be very appreciative.)

    A warning about conventions, though: oftentimes, bootleg (here meaning fake/pirated/unofficial and illegal) CDs can run RAMPANT here… I remember looking through a bunch of CDs in one dealer room and saw that at least one (if not most or all of them… it was a handful of years back, so I don’t remember exactly) was from a knock-off company (I think it was “K-O Records”, known for bootleg CDs). You just have to do the research on which companies are and aren’t legit, and if the price seems too good to be true, then it is (as the maxim goes). Same goes with other merchandise, especially figures and other character goods.

  • Jeremiah

    ShoutCast.com is also a good place to here Japanese music, although 70% of the songs are played in Japanese animation.

  • launchpad

    Seriously!! Go to YouTube and use an MP3 online converter to download music.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    YouTube is an option, but there’s no guarantee of quality and it’s not great for the artist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helenadetroy Helen Kirifides

    Great article Hashi! There were a lot of things on here i’ve just recently learned of, like Grooveshark and Soundcloud, and i never even thought to look at iTunesJapan, so, Thank You!! :)

    I may definitely be echoing some of the commenters (as i did not thoroughly read all the comments, so i apologize in advance) but i will say, that if you don’t know what bands to listen to, or where to find them, but have an idea of the type of music you like, find out the name of maybe one or two popular bands in that genre (you could probably find a few by Googling “Popular Japanese Rock Bands”, “Popular Japanese Pop Artists”, etc., as there are a lot of music blogs (as someone mentioned), and then find it on YouTube (my Holy Grail of Japanese music), there will usually be a few different but similar sounding bands in the sidebar that you can then check out as well.

    If you decide you really love one band in particular, you’ll probably get really tired of hitting “Play Again” and go seek it out to buy it, and that’s just another new fan that that Japanese band or artist didn’t have before, so YouTube is just an amazing free promotion tool for musicians in my opinion, and if you mess around on it a bit when you have the time, you may just find your new favorite band. :)

    If you like rock, you could start by YouTube searching “X Japan” They only have about 110,000 more results than The Beatles, so they’ll be easy to find, and you’ll probably find other similar styled rock, metal, alternative rock, indie rock, pop rock, and pop bands.

    X Japan, L’Arc~en~Ciel, Luna Sea, The GazettE, Dir en Grey, gackt, Miyavi, An Cafe, Plastic Tree, and an old favorite- no longer together, but worth checking out, the avant garde duo, Pizzicato Five are all on YouTube, and all have either multiple albums or songs on American iTunes. But i would never have known that, or found out about any of them if it weren’t for YouTube <3. I hope everyone finds something they're into to enjoy!! :)

  • jimthing

    You forgot the obvious: Discogs…

    Nujabes “Metaphorical Music”? Your wish is my command!:
    http://www.discogs.com/Nujabes-Metaphorical-Music/master/344580

  • http://www.facebook.com/AbigailCamarillo Cam Abi

    I’ve used this site countless of times with no problems as well. I was kinda expecting to see it in this post as well. The cool things is that they’ve expanded their selling point to famous name brand clothing. If you have no idea what size you are in Japan you might have a bit of trouble, but nothing you can’t overcome with a measuring tape though.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ronmoses Ron Moses

    True, but the industry isn’t great for the artist either. The artist can’t make money if the industry won’t make their music available to you at a realistic price. Given the current state of technology, that’s just incredibly short-sighted. Sell me FLACs (or even MP3s) online and I’ll support you all day, musicians of the world! Which leads me to mention the excellent http://www.japanfiles.com – now that’s how you support the artist. Go there and buy the new Bo-Peep album, you won’t regret it.

    Anyway, my point is, I don’t like acquiring music by means that don’t profit the artist,
    but barring a legitimate option I figure it’s preferable to not
    hearing the music at all.

  • nmcb

    Hi! I’m a former radio DJ currently selling off my Japanese CD collection. If you are looking for Japanese indie, post rock, and electronic music, this might be of some use:

    http://www.nipponmusicchamp.com/sale/index.php

    All CDs have been tested prior to listing. Unfortunately I can only ship to the U.S. at this time, sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for looking!

  • x3rampage

    i suggest Youtube. i know it’s not the finest, and it’s annoying in the sense that you have to go back to the page everytime a video finishes, but so long as you know the name of the song it’s really convenient, and FREE

  • helenaaaa

    This is just for listening, but http://www.kampsite.jp which is an awesome place to find tons of independent Japanese music, is now uploading videos on YouTube. :) Enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/user/kampsitejp/videos?sort=dd&tag_id=&view=0&shelf_index=0

  • Dylan H

    Hear hear!