Listening to Japanese Music — 2020 Recommendation Roundup Awards

It’s that time of the year <3

Welcome one and all to what is now the third annual Recommendation Roundup Awards! Thank you all so much for coming. Please grab a seat, make yourself comfortable, and we will begin shortly 😀

The Roundup Awards is a celebration of this past year’s Japanese Music, specifically those that got featured in the Monthly Recommendation Roundup, of which there were a grand total of ninety-three songs. Out of these ninety-three songs, we will be handing out ten unique awards that were then evenly split and further subdivided into two categeories; namely, Song Awards and Artist Awards. The winners were decided by none other than yours truly and thus do not hold any sort of significant bearing other than my own personal enjoyment of them (XD)

This is the culmination of a year-long journey, and I would like to take this time to thank each and everyone of you who have continued to tag along with me in this seemingly neverending ride of musical discovery. This year in particular would be one that I don’t believe a whole lot of people would look back to all that fondly in light of everything that has happened, but I do think that we should not allow that to hinder us from commemorating the things that cheered us up and made us happy especially in the times where we all might have been at our lowest.

The Roundup Awards is my way of thanking both you guys reading this now, as well as the artists that make the music we listen to. I sincerely hope the Roundup ended up being as fun and uplifting for you the way it was for me this year in that regard 🙂

With that, please enjoy the ceremonies!


バニラ/vanilla [January 2020]
by 青山幸子 (aoyama sachiko)

In the same manner as we have done so in the past two Roundup Awards thus far, the first award given will be for the song that had the best music video over the course of this past year. After having gone back to revisit all the songs I ended up featuring as part of the Monthly Recommendation Roundup, I realized that a significant portion of the PVs are actually animated to a certain extent. In hindsight, that does sort of make sense when you think about how often Doujin Music ends up on here. That said, as stunning as the visuals are from songs by the likes of ZUTOMAYO and Yorushika were, I couldn’t help but give this one to Aoyama Sachiko’s Vanilla. There’s just something about this retro-esque 3D pixel art style that is so eye-catching and charming to me personally, and on the whole I do feel it evokes a nice little sense of nostalgia.

Runner-Up – “Tousaku” by Yorushika [July 2020]
Because smashing instruments to the ground is always fun to watch


またここで/mata koko de (here, once more) [September 2020]
by Make With Music

I feel as though this is the award I continually have the most trouble giving out ever since I started doing this (XD) I mean, a lot of that is because I look for lyrics every time I decide to include a song as part of the Roundup, and more often than not I really am just listening to the songs without minding the words I’m not entirely familiar with. Not to sell myself too short however, as there are indeed times when my arguably serviceable level of Japanese comprehension comes through, and I feel as if I was able to connect just a little bit with that artist because of it. I had two very deserving candidates in front of me, but ultimately I felt like I had to give it to Make With Music’s Mata koko de, for reminding everyone about the plight that musician’s are currently still facing in lieu of the global pandemic that befell us all this past year.

Runner-Up – “Harukaze” by First Impression [June 2020]
A love letter to vocalist Takasago’s pet dog who had passed


ストリート・ストーリー/street story [January 2020]
by 名古屋ギター少女部 (nagoya guitar girls club)

Looking back, calling this next award “best instrumentation” is actually a bit misleading. Bands/Artists don’t have to necessarily be proficient in any sort of way with their instruments (I mean, far be it from me to pick apart a composition, lol), and instead it’s all about how enjoyable it is to watch and hear them perform with it, if that makes sense. I said as much when I first featured them as part of the Roundup, but I absolutely love Nagoya Guitar Girls Club’s band composition of having four acoustic guitars and an electronic keyboard. I dunno, just something about the setup is so endearing to me. C’mon, a Guitar Club for girls? It’s almost as if these guys are straight out of an anime! In all seriousness though, Street Story pretty much tells you what they’re all about, and I sincerely hope they stick to it.

Runner-Up – “The Latest Number” by toe
Math Rock always gets a nod here


夜に掛ける/yoru ni kakeru (racing into the night) [May 2020]

This would be one of the more straightforward awards that we give out for the Roundup Awards but all the same, this goes to the band/artist who I personally believe displayed the best use of vocals in their songs that were featured here in this past year. Now, I would like to give a quick shoutout to the folks over at THE FIRST TAKE who I’ve been heralding as an absolute godsend of a YouTube channel for continuously showcasing some of the best that Japanese music has to offer. One of such standouts is YOASOBI’s Ikuta Lilas, who graces TFT with a stripped-down rendition of Yoru ni Kakeru that greatly outlines the beautiful details of her singing. To use a Kajiura Yuki analogy, her voice reverberates in the same manner as that of sounds made by a brass flute; gentle, clear, and sharp. I can’t help but fall in love with it really.

Runner-Up – “Dear Mr. F” by ZUTOMAYO [May 2020]
I honestly almost cried when I first heard this song


Champon [April 2020]
by 黒子首 (hockrockb)

In as much trouble as I’ve had with this award the last two times we presented it, largely due to how non-reflective it ends up being with songs I’ve actually listened to the most over the entire course of 2020, I believe this year’s winner is more clear cut this itme around. I must have listened to Hockrockb’s Champon close to, if not even over a hundred times ever since I came across it back in April as I definitely do feel like I listen to this song at least once every other day or so. I try to think back on what exactly about is it about Champon that has its hooks in me as far its sound is concerned and to me it really just boils down to vocalist Hori Ageha bringing in that AcoGui stylist sort of swagger and her being able to transpose that to a more traditional band setting, and it just meshes incredibly well for this song in my opinion.

Runner-Up – “Yakou” by Yorushika
Because Tousaku might very well be my might most listened-to album of 2020



If I had to name one genre that defined this year of Japanese Music for me, without a shred of doubt I’m going to say it’s Doujin. Yorushika and ZUTOMAYO are longtime staples of the Roundup, and 2020 in particular saw to even more names start to take centerstage, with the likes of TUYU and Kuuhaku Gokko making themselves known with some standout releases of their own. One name that sticks out to me though is yama who were silently making gaining traction with doing covers as part of the Doujin Music unit BIN, up until the explosive debut of her first original song Haru wo Tsugeru. From there her popularity in not just the Doujin Music scene but with Japanese Music in general all but skyrocketed, ultimately earning her a spot as a featured artist for TFT. Don’t sleep on this girl.

Runner-Up – Nagoya Guitar Girls Club
They recently signed under a major label so they’re definitely on the come up


羊文学 (hitsuji bungaku)

I’m of the mind that bands take some amount of time to find their groove. The time it takes is different for each band, some bands get a feel for it right away while others take a year or two of activity to come to fully develop, but I personally believe that a process of self-discovery is essential to the futher refinement of their own sound. It’s not so much a matter of needing to improve their skill (though that does help) than it is a bit of growing pains that come with being performance artists. Once they go through all that, you can for sure hear a difference, and the band that exemplified this the most for me this year is none other than Hitsuji Bungaku. I’ve been following these guys close to when they out their very first PV, and I can’t help but feel a little proud of how far they have since come.

Runner-Up – the peggies
These girls keep growing, both in the figurative and lliteral sense


クレナズム (culenasm)

This to me honestly ended up being the biggest surprise winner. Now, to be fair I don’t actively keep track of how many times I feature a band or an artist each and every month so I wouldn’t really know until I tally up all the featured songs myself but even then I thought I had a pretty good idea as to who might end up bagging the award for Most Prolific Band/Artist of 2020. I thought for sure some of the known Roundup staples like Yorushika or ZUTOMAYO would be taking it but in a rather unexpected turn of events, culenasm silently steals it this year with a record-breaking five (!!!!!) different appearances in the Monthly Recommendation Roundup (counting their collab work as part of Make With Music). I’ve had very high hopes for this band ever since I came across them, and I suppose this is definitive proof of that.

Runner-Up – Yorushika
Trailing not that far behind with four appearances this year


黒子首 (hockrockb)

I mentioned this in last year’s Roundup Awards but this still remains as my favorite (lol) award to give out, as it truly does embody what the Monthly Recommendation Roundup is for (or at least I would like to think so). The Roundup has always been about finding new bands and artists to listen to, whether or not they’re new to me or just new in general, and this award best celebrates that. Hockrockb is a band that I have personally come to enjoy listening to this year. After happening upon Champon back in April I went and grabbed their sole EP at the time and I couldn’t help but fall deeper in love with their sound. They are not a popular band, which does concern me a little bit, but Hockrockb has a certain charm to them that I do believe most people can appreciate if you give them a chance.

Runner-Up – arne
Much like Hockrockb, I would absolutely love to see arne fluorish



This last award here felt like a no-brainer to me for a fair number of reasons, but perhaps most important of all being that this duo of Ayase and Ikuta Lilas here have yet to drop a full album release; something that I fully expect to happen come 2021. YOASOBI burst into the Japanese Music scene this past year coming off of their hit debut single “Yoru ni Kakeru”, the PV for which now currently boasts a whopping 132 million views on YouTube. Now, I know that viewcount sometimes isn’t the best barometer for things, but to put it into the perspective of the Roundup as it relates to Japanese Music, that’s almost double the current views that ZUTOMAYO’s Byoushin wo Kamu has (and we all know how much of a breakout star they are). YOASOBI has crazy momentum right now and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

Runner-Up – ZUTOMAYO
ZUTOMAYO’s coming out with a new album in Spring 2021. Get hype.

Aaand that’s a wrap! What are your thoughts on this year’s awardees? I don’t know about you, but I was honestly expecting a little bit more Doujin representation just going by what I have predominantly (lol) been featuring in the Monthly Roundups. Of course, that’s not as big of a surprise as Culenasm of all bands going out there and copping the most Roundup features in the year. I’m stil shocked (XD)

I’d also like to hear about which songs (whether or not they were featured on the Monthly Recommendation Roundup) you guys felt deserving of an award for this year as well, so please do so in the comments down below 😀

The Monthly Recommendation Roundup will be back for its fourth season starting in January so I hope to see you guys again here relatively soon. Speaking of things being that will be making a return in 2021 (!!!), I have since confirmed with Al from Omunibasu.Blog that the J-Music Exchange/Rate is still going to continue next year so stay tuned for that as well.

Alright then! I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! I hope you all had fun looking back at all these standout songs from 2020 as much as I did. Thank you so much for dropping by. Stay safe. Take care. I’ll see y’all in a bit.


9 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music — 2020 Recommendation Roundup Awards

  1. Love the list for this year!!

    Best vocals would’ve been a tough one for me to choose but I do respect your choice of YOASOBI. She killed it in “yoru ni kakeru” and I really did enjoy hearing more of her stuff this year (“Tabun” may have been my favorite track from her tbh). But yeah, the other artists you mentioned like Yorushika and ZUTOMAYO also sounded incredible! Hell, I’ll also throw in milet, and even Ainya, in the mix cause their vocal performances in 2020 were outstanding to me, personally.

    Also you reminded me to listen to more Nagoya Guitar Girls Club cause they’re certainly a cool little group. Seeing how they perform music was fun to watch, plus hearing them cover songs like “FLASH” and especially “Kimi to Natsu Fes” by SHISHAMO… just superb. I’ll definitely be on the look out for them next year 👍

    Again, great list! I enjoyed reading some of your recommendation posts this year and I’m especially thankful for you doin the J-Music Exchange/Rate segment w/ me. Always have a pleasure talking music with you and I’m excited to see what the new year brings in! 😀

    • Ayyy, thanks man, I appreciate it 😀

      There were definitely a lot of viable contenders for Best Vocals this year, even with just the artists you mentioned. suis and ACAね are standouts in their own right for sure, and milet and Ainya are absolute beasts with their singing prowess no doubt. Off the top of my head we also had yama, minami, Uru, Kamishiraishi Mone, and LiSA all make their own appearances in the Roundups for 2020. If I had to say what made YOASOBI’s Ikuta Lilas win it for me though, it was her going out and absolutely nailing “Yoru ni Kakeru” in one take, while also proving that her voice is not in any way “produced” in the slightest.

      It might be my AcoGui bias talking but Nagoya Guitar Girls Club are very much underrated in my opinion yep. The production value alone with them performing their covers in all sorts of picturesque places is such a nice aesthetic, and as you said, watching them perform is just fun with how much they seem to enjoy it. Love the way they sound too with their instrument lineup so yeah, I sincerely hope the best for these girls.

      Thanks as always for dropping by when you do, and thanks as well for indulging me in reviving (lol) the J-Music Exchange/Rate. It’s been a lot of fun for me, and I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it all the same 🙂 Likewise man, it’s a pleasure sharing this hobby with you, and yeah no, here’s to another awesome year of Japanese music! 😀

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