After several false starts, the streaming era of music has truly started in Japan. The arrival of Spotify to the archipelago this past September (in beta mode at time of print, not open to everyone quite yet) cemented that the country’s music industry, long skittish when it comes to new platforms for music distribution, was at least willing to give it a shot. Don’t expect to see Tower Records vanish anytime soon, but listeners in Japan now have more digital options in front of them.
This sudden influx of streaming services means potential users have a lot of choices. There are currently six major players in the burgeoning market—Apple Music, Spotify, AWA, Rakuten Music, Google Play Music, and Line Music. Unless you want to splurge on all of them, you need to find the platform perfect for you. We’re here to help, highlighting the pros and cons of each.
Facts: The folks who possibly made your smartphone and computer also have a streaming service.
Basics: ¥980 a month, though you can get a three-month trial for free. You can also buy cards for a year-long subscription for about ¥9800.
Pros: Alongside a plethora of playlists, Apple offers Beats 1 radio, featuring a nice variety of shows hosted by well-known artists. Apple Music also tends to get the biggest “exclusive” album debuts.
Cons: Slowly improving, but the actual layout of the platform can be confusing.
Japanese Music?: A lot! And they do a good job highlighting emerging talent, with a weekly “New Artist” feature.
Verdict: Great for J-pop fans and those seeking out new Japanese acts. For others…give the free trial a go.
Facts: From Sweden, it’s the world’s largest streaming service with over 40 million
Basics: At time of printing, still in beta mode and only available to select users. Will be available in a free form and a premium version
for ¥980 a month.
Pros: Playlists. All the playlists you could ever need, from songs to help you fall asleep to a set called “Power Gaming,” for all serious Playstation fiends. More importantly, you can make and share your own playlists.
Cons: The ads that interrupt you every few songs, though that’s remedied by shelling out for a subscription. So instead, let’s say the fact people can see what you’ve listened to recently (that Mariah Carey binge was private, thanks).
Japanese Music?: It’s there, but at the moment not really promoted. Fingers crossed for Japan-centric charts and playlists that don’t call Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra “fresh talent.”
Verdict: Could change in coming months, but best for those who love customization and can live without a surplus of J-pop.
Facts: The popular messaging service got into the market in 2015, before Apple
Basics: ¥1000 a month for unlimited streaming, though can opt for the ¥500 a month deal that’s capped at 20 hours of music if
Pros: It’s integration with the Line message app—it’s especially easy to share what you are
listening to with friends.
Cons: Designed primarily for mobile use, which means potential connectivity hiccups.
Japanese Music?: A lot of big names, alongside local curators such as electronic station Block.Fm creating playlists.
Verdict: If you listen to music primarily on the go, this is probably your best option.
Facts: The popular online retail site launched their own streaming service this summer.
Basics: ¥980 a month if you use a Rakuten ID Payment…but if you try Apple ID, add an additional ¥100 on to that. They also have a 20-hour-capped Light Plan for ¥500 (or ¥600 for Apple folks).
Pros: If you have a Rakuten account and you use it a lot, you can get a lot of points from joining with this service, alongside other benefits.
Cons: If you don’t use Rakuten, not much about this service stands out.
Japanese Music?: Good amount of big-name J-pop available.
Verdict: Heavy Rakuten users who like J-pop should jump on, everybody else would probably be better off elsewhere.
Facts: Biggie-sized company Avex’s foray into the streaming wilderness.
Basics: ¥960 for a standard package, though you can opt for a limited “Lite” plan for ¥360 or even go with a free option…though don’t expect to listen to much with that one.
Pros: So far, this has been the only Japanese platform to feature an exclusive album—Ayumi Hamasaki’s M(a)de In Japan—though it ended up on other services (and in stores) soon after. Still, fans of Avex artists might want to keep an eye on what AWA does.
Cons: Nothing specific—it just doesn’t offer anything that different from the rest of the pack.
Verdict: For those hoping to get more J-pop releases ahead of everyone else, AWA might possibly keep doing that.
Google Play Music
Facts: Every major tech player has to be in this business, so here’s Google.
Basics: ¥980 a month, but that also includes access to YouTube Red thrown in.
Pros: Besides the YouTube perk, Google Play Music allows you to upload up to 50,000 songs to their cloud, if you need to fill any holes from your library.
Cons: Ultimately very similar to Spotify, albeit with less social functions.
Japanese Music?: It’s there, and leans heavy on the big name J-Pop.
Verdict: Those looking to store their existing music—or who need an excuse to get YouTube Red—should look into it.