8 Mind-Blowing Facts About Music Business In Japan

Lee-parsons-japanBy Lee Parsons, Founder of Ditto Music.

As founder of Ditto Music, an online music distribution service. I was recently asked to undertake a learning expedition to Japan and present my company to the Japanese music market.

Here are 8 facts that will blow your mind about the Japanese Music Market:

  • It is ILLEGAL to sell a CD for less than $25 in Japan
  • The CD market in Japan is still the biggest making up over 80% of the market, but not just sales….
  • The majority of Japanese consumers 'rent' the latest CD. They rip it and then take it back.
  • The biggest group in Japan is called AKB48. They have 89 members and had record sales of over $226 million. A large percentage of the music industry revenue as a whole is JUST from AKB48.
  • The Japanese digital market is small but growing. Spotify have had Japanese offices since 2011 but have so far been unable to launch.
  • Product placement is king in Japan. Unlike the western world where certain practises are frowned up, it is considered an honour to be in the latest TV advert for washing powder or any other product or service
  • Advertising is old school. Billboard vans drive around Tokyo blasting out music from their latest artists
  • Japan remains a strongly cash-based society. On average, only four credit card transactions are undertaken per person per year! This poses big problems for online services.

How to get gigs in Japan

Japanese music promoters work the same as any other country, they want to sell tickets. If you aren't well known in the market then unless you book the venue and sell tickets yourself you may struggle to organise gigs. Our advice is to contact Japanese artists and see if they will help you out. Plenty of Japanese artists would love the chance of getting exposure in whatever country you live in, so a kind of exchange system would work really well. Work with each other and you will be surprised at the results. Myspace is still very popular in Japan so get retro, create an account and start some conversations.

Gaining Japanese Fans

If you are spending all of your time promoting your band in your hometown it could be time to think outside of the box. Japanese culture is very similar to others, they use Twitter and Facebook heavily and have a great respect for western music. The language barrier can propose a problem but a lot of young Japanese, especially in Tokyo have a good knowledge of English. And that doesn't stop you brushing up on your Japanese.

The key to any new market is hard work. While a lot of artists may see the obstacles, with such a small percentage of people truly spending the time to build their Japanese market, there is a massive opportunity for the ones who do.

Further Information, visit Export to Japan

Ditto Music – Wired Japan Feature


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  1. Great article! Technology has made the world feel like a much smaller place in the past few years, but it seems important to realize that each country still has it’s own unique set of cultural norms, and in terms or marketing/selling music, one size does not fit all…

  2. As you’d expect from the clickbait title, there’s a lot of nonsense in this post. Even a cursory glance at Amazon.jp clearly shows CD’s selling around the 15USD mark.
    And accusing the majority of Japanese music fans of renting & ripping their music is a sweeping generalisation that’s simply not true.

  3. As you can see from the photo, i was part of a trade mission to Japan where the Japanese Music Industry was presented by the English Ambassador and Japanese consulate.
    These are the official facts, of which i still have the slides, that were presented by the Japanese Music industry. Whatever Amazon charges does not reflect trading laws governing the shops.

  4. As someone that has lived and worked in Japan and currently deals with Japanese pop culture media, I will not only concur with the information presented, I will also add that retailers with storefronts are very rarely allowed to discount physical product, if at all. This explains why all of them use point card systems to drive frequent purchases.
    In Japan, CDs aren’t meant for the casual music listener to begin with, which explains the existence of legally sanctioned CD rental shops, ownership is heavily tied with the media collector market since CDs are considered too expensive for all but the most dedicated collectors.
    You see this in the sales for AKB48 CDs, but it’s more pronounced with Japanese anime, which have opening and ending songs sung by pop stars and are typically sold as singles or more recently bundled with physical releases of anime episodes on Blu-Ray.

  5. Then “the English Ambassador and Japanese consulate” were wrong or very unprofessional people who tried to be “official” by getting away with a smattering of knowledge. Or they used a bad translator.
    As someone who has owned a record label and sold CDs in Japan, I’ve never heard “It is ILLEGAL to sell a CD for less than $25 in Japan”. I could understand if they had wanted to say “it is UNETHICAL” while I still digsagree to this.
    If you quote others’ presentations, especially when you want to call theirs “facts” to draw readers’ interest, you should add not only the link but also the speaker’s name and the name, date, venue of the conference, etc. as well.

  6. I have lived in Tokyo since July of 2006, released my first record from here in 2008. The info presented in this article is not bad, and it was nice of you to share your findings with us given how mysterious and difficult it is to break into the worlds second largest music market. A few personal notes from my own experience: Only with the help of a J label did my CD get into Tower/HMV…..etc. J likes to import foreign acts, you don`t want to try to make it from within J (unless you are a mob of 16yo girls who sing in unison). The live scene is pay-to-play, you or a promoter rents the “live house” and are responsible for getting people through the door. Many artists buy portable PA systems and perform outside of busy train stations (like Shibuya and Shinjuku). J society does not view music as a career option, it is always categorized as a “hobby”. I would not recommend anyone to approach the J market without the help of an insider. Unlike other modern Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, English is not enough to get by, you need at least a basic command of the Japanese language.

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