Language is not a barrier

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One of the first questions that might come to your mind when taking your first step into the world of Japanese music is: will I understand what they say? What sense could lyrics have if I can’t understand a single word? These are legit questions of course. Truth be told though, language isn’t really a problem or something that can obstruct your enjoyment of Japanese music.

Think about the people who can’t speak English in the world who enjoy songs from mainstream acts singing in this language: they can’t understand a single word, yet they still enjoy these tunes because they simply like the music. Nothing wrong with it. Yet, when it comes to other languages, particularly Asian ones, most people tend to feel a bit more hesitant even though the situation is the same as described above; they probably can’t understand English, just like they can’t understand Chinese, Korean or Japanese, but they feel intimidated by oriental languages. So they kind of voluntarily create a limit by themselves. It makes no sense, right?

The reason is simple: hearing a language one is not used to listen to may feel uncomfortable, and give a sense of feeling “distance”, but that’s just an impression. If you’re really interested, keep listening to this language without imposing limits to yourself, and this self-imposed limit will fade away in no time.

Here’s a short list of reasons why Japanese lyrics aren’t a problem:

1. You can find translations everywhere in the web.
2. Japanese is a very melodic language, and hearing such different lyrics is something new and refreshing for your ears.
3. It may be your chance to get interested in this fascinating language and start learning it.
4. Of course, you’re completely free of not caring about lyrics.

In case you enjoy Japanese music but you’re too lazy to search lyrics every time or, very simply, you don’t care about it, it’s completely fine. Of course you may miss something like the poetry in a song, or the message that a particular artist wants to convey, but it’s not a huge issue as it seems. I can’t understand a single word of what Japanese singers say, but I still enjoy it a lot nonetheless, and I can tell you for sure there are many people doing the same thing.

There are several ways to enjoy vocals and lyrics in music, and everyone is free to do it in the most personal way: you may like the way certain lyrics sound or are singed, you can give them your own personal meaning, or even consider the voice as an instrument hitting notes. Let’s take CAPSULE’s ambient-inspired album CAPS LOCK, for example: Yasutaka Nakata recorded Toshiko’s vocals by making her pronounce simple words with no melody at all, and then merged them all and gave them melody through a vocoder, creating a collage that resulted in a human/artificial singing voice; he pretty much used the voice itself as an instrument, giving priority to the musicality of the pronounced words and not to the literal meaning (that doesn’t exist in this case).

In the end, either you care to understand Japanese lyrics or not, the initial language barrier is just an apparent limit that doesn’t exist, but only a factor that can be freely faced in any way you prefer. It’s only up to you, and however you’ll decide to listen to Japanese vocals and lyrics, it’ll be completely fine.

– Alex

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