A Japanese Cultural Tradition – Kouhaku Uta Gassen

We all know that karaoke is a Japanese cultural staple, what person hasn’t enjoyed a fun-filled night out with friends, singing at the top of their lungs to their favourite songs? Maybe you’re wondering what some good songs are to learn Japanese. If you’re a beginner, then slow and simple children’s songs are best while you build up your comprehension. Once you have some basic skills, then you’re ready to move on to adult music.

One place to find good songs to learn Japanese is the cultural phenomenon of Kouhaku Uta Gassen. It is held every year on December 31st to celebrate New Year’s Eve and features the top songs from Japan from the year.

What is Kouhaku Uta Gassen?

Kouhaku Uta Gassen, usually known as Kouhaku, is a live broadcast by national broadcaster NHK aired on both television and radio. It runs all evening and ends just before midnight so it’s quite the marathon. It has been running since 1953 and is a popular way for Japanese families to spend the New Year’s Eve, watching the show and eating special foods.

How does it work?

The show divides the performers into two teams – red (akagumi) and white (shirogumi). Red is female while white is male. Everyone performs, and at the end of the show judges and the audience (including those watching at home) vote on the best team.

Performing on Kouhaku is considered a great honour and only the most popular or successful acts in the industry are invited to perform. NHK tries to choose singers appealing to a wide range of demographics, so as to include songs popular with both young and older people.

At the end of the show, all the performers sing Hotaru no Hikari together, a song based on Auld Lang Syne. You can practice part of the lyrics:

Hotaru no hikari, mado no yuki,

Fumi yomu tsukihi, kasane tsutsu

Itsushika toshi mo, sugi no to wo,

Aketezo kesa wa, wakare yuku.

Light of fireflies, snow by the window.

Many days and months spent reading.

Before one knows it, years have passed. The door

we resolutely open; this morning, we part ways.

Some of the acts from the last edition included LiSA with Akeboshi, Yoshimi Tendo on his 26th appearance with Anta no Hanamichi and Misia with Ashita e.

Learning Japanese through song

You can watch Kouhaku this December and choose all your favourite songs from the show. Then you can find them by searching in Japanese on Youtube (or maybe English will work too). Find the lyrics for the songs and practice singing along. Then head to karaoke and show off your new skill.

While you are learning the songs, you can look up any words that you don’t know and hopefully since it’s fun and musical your brain will retain some of the vocabulary.

This is a great way to learn some of the top songs of Japan for 2022 and improve your Japanese!

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