TOPArt & CultureMusicRosalía, Bad Bunny and Other Artists Singing About Japan

Rosalía, Bad Bunny and Other Artists Singing About Japan

We look at the best – and the worst – songs in homage to Japan and Japanese products

By Kim Kahan

Since the 1950s, Japanese singers and songwriters have inserted random English words into their tracks to give them a Westernized feel and appeal to the masses. The tables have recently turned, however, as the West looks towards Japanese subcultures for inspiration.

This may be in part thanks to its tourism campaign, ‘Cool Japan’ which launched in 2009. It set out to bring in tourists by promoting the ‘cool’ side of Japanese culture and worked well before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The number of tourists increased year on year until 2020.

Several musicians and producers came out here which seems to have had an influence on certain lyrics from various artists. As a result, we decided to round up some recent additions to the ‘songs about Japan’ section.

1. “Chicken Teriyaki” – Rosalía

The one with the random Japanese food and a motorbike. Disclaimer: We love this track.

Former Flamenco singer Rosalía is fully aware of how tongue-in-cheek this song is, even remarking that it was “written with a sense of humor.” A funky, reggaeton-inspired beat alongside Rosalía’s hype-up vocals make for a super fun track. Since its release in February 2022, it has been all over the internet, in part due to its TikTok-able dance and in part due to its ridiculous lyrics.

A song made directly for TikTokers, with its own TikTok dance, Rosalía says that this was inspired by Japanese kawaii culture.

Whilst the dance seems a credible link, the chorus includes the lyrics:

Pa’ ti naki
Chicken teriyaki
Tu gata quiere maki
Mi gata en Kawasaki

Which translated means…

Nothing for you
Chicken teriyaki
Yo’ chick wants maki
Yo’ chick on a Kawasaki

At one point during the video, a motorcyclist arrives bringing – you guessed it – chicken teriyaki. And what about ‘maki?’ Does this chick want maki sushi? We think that Rosalía generally likes Japanese cuisine for this one. She shouldn’t have stopped at chicken teriyaki and maki sushi, though, we wish she’d mentioned some other classics such as karaage and udon.

2. “Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers

The mundane Japan tourist one.

Here we see ballad-lover Phoebe Bridgers turn into a one-woman indie band on her song which describes feelings of displacement. The song was inspired by a voice note taken on tour and recorded at the height of Covid.

One of many songs about worldwide travel at a time when it was basically impossible, “Kyoto” sees a frank description of a typical tourist experience in Kyoto. As a whole, whilst the lyrics are of little note, there is one line which does ring very insightful:

You called me from a payphone
They still got payphones

Yes, this is Japan where on one hand there is top technology such as bullet trains and toilets which turn from clear to opaque as you lock the door. On the other hand, city ward offices only have fax machines and to change your address at the bank you have to go in person.

How perceptive of Bridgers. The rest of the lyrics read like a continuation of Lost in Translation.

3. “Yonaguni” – Bad Bunny

The one with the random Japanese bit at the end.

This is one popular song right now. Like him or not, Bad Bunny is top of all the Spotify charts thanks to this song about Yonaguni – a part of the Yaeyama Islands in the western area of Japan.

Yonaguni has long been associated with myths about ‘island women’ so we can see why he chose to name his song.

He sings about trying to seduce a mysterious lady. In truth, though, it is famous for one part and one part only:

今日はセックスしたい
でもあなたとだけ
どこにいますか?
どこにいますか?

Which translates to…

I wanna have sex today
But only with you
Where are you?
Where are you?

It’s kind of cute? Well, at least it ties together the title and music video with the song a little bit.

4. “Shinigami Eyes” – Grimes

The video for this song is one of the best things about it, which says more about the video itself than the song.

Space scenery and a full-on cosmic fairy costume see Grimes in a Mugler-esque bodysuit, accompanied by Jennie Kim, member of the popular K-pop group Blackpink. Grimes rushes through neon-lit, 3D-modelled worlds to the words “Are you ready to die? Got my shinigami eyes on.”

“Shinigami Eyes” is a direct reference to the Japanese manga and anime series Death Note, in which characters who have struck a deal with the death gods can kill people with ‘shinigami eyes.’ In Grimes’ version, she uses her eyes to kill previous lovers who may have wronged her in the past. Beware Elon.

5. “La Javanaise” – Julien Doré

The one that’s just ‘why?’

Apparently, this song is a Japanese cover of a French song. Only, it’s sung by a French guy (Julien Doré), in Japanese? We really don’t understand the reasoning behind this – maybe it was for his Japanese class? Possibly a good learning experience?

“La Javanaise” was originally written and performed by French singer Serge Gainsbourg. The title translates to ‘The Javanese woman’ referring to the Indonesian island of Java. So really covering the song in Japanese is… well at the very least not obvious.