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Best Japanese Albums of 2022

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best physical Japanese albums of 2022!

Ado – Uta no Uta
AdoUta no Uta
2022 was quite a year for Ado. In January, the young phenom released her first album Kyogen with the 2020 viral hit Usseewa that had already marked her as name to watch. Then in the summer came Uta no Uta, her electrifying soundtrack album from One Piece Film Red. As the singing voice for the diva character Uta, Ado performs eight songs created by an impressive lineup of producers, starting with the explosive "New Genesis" by Nakata Yasutaka. This dynamic track wrapped in driving beats and a free-spirited aura announces the arrival of a new era, with the booming new-generation voice to match. Ado's robust rock vocals deliver the raging spirit of Vaundy's "Backlight" and Sawano Hiroyuki's "Tot Musica" as well as the gentle strength of Hata Motohiro's soaring "Where the Wind Blows" and Orisaka Yuta's "The World's Continuation." Perhaps most impressive is how her sassy vocal performance sets the playful, chameleon tone for the funky and bombastic "Fleeting Lullaby" by Fake Type. It doesn't matter if you've watched One Piece Film Red or not – this album stands on its own.

AI – Dream
AI - Dream
AI's Dream is simply the embodiment of music that lifts you. There's almost a spiritual aspect to this album blending R&B, soul and ballad. In the beautiful Moriyama Naotaro-penned ballad Aldebaran, AI sings a prayer for the world, and her self-written Be With You joyously declares "we're gonna make a better world." Welcome Rain welcomes the rain that washes away the wounds of earth to reveal blue skies. First Time with RIEHATA takes pride in the glory of reaching your goals after fighting "a battle that nobody knows." In the Middle joins the impeccable voices of AI and Miura Daichi for an R&B duet that rouses your spirits and melts in your ears. Every song carries a meaningful and uplifting message of living strong and dreaming together for a better world.

Awich – Queendom
Awich - Queendom
The word "queen" may be thrown around a lot these days, but Awich owns that crown with a powerful and empowering major debut album. She opens with the deeply personal title track Queendom that shares her story of leaving Okinawa for Atlanta as a teenager and losing her husband to gun violence. The only female rapper in the Yentown crew, Awich injects bold poise and sexy confidence into aggressive rhymes and nimble flow over beats produced by Chaki Zulu. She's all ice-cold boss energy, whether she's going hard in the gangsta-rap-style Yacchi Mania or laid-back in the anthemic Link Up collab with KEIJU and ¥ellow Bucks. The silky Latin and R&B blend Doreni Shiyokana is dangerously catchy while repping and celebrating girls who break the mold. This album lives up to the title Queendom.

CAPSULE - Metro Pulse
CAPSULE - Metro Pulse
Nakata Yasutaka finally found time this year to bring back CAPSULE for the duo's 25th anniversary and first album in seven years. What else can the prolific producer bring to the electronic music game? How about a doubly retro combo of synthwave and city pop? Building further on the sound and feel displayed in last year's digital singles Hikari no Disco, Future Wave and Virtual Freedom, Nakata goes all in on that distinctive 80s city pop vibe with the playful gem Give me a ride, the easy-breezy Seaside Dreams and the sophisticated boogie Escape from reality, all performed in Toshiko's sweet, crystal-like voice. The slow and smooth Wonderland even rolls out a saxophone – and hearing the clarity and crispness of that sax solo really drives in how exceptional the sound quality of Metro Pulse is. Though Nakata is always around making music for various acts, CAPSULE just hits different.

coldrain - Nonnegative
coldrain - Nonnegative
Reaching their 15th anniversary benchmark this year, coldrain drops arguably their best album yet in Nonnegative. In many ways, Nonnegative is more of the same from the Nagoya band, but crafted with increased skill and unfailing consistency in a music market that seems to have fewer and fewer straight-shooting hard rock bands. Hitting the sweet balance of metal and melody, Nonnegative screams forward-facing positivity in the self-affirming Calling and the early-oughties-vibe Before I Go, while Rabbit Hole and Cut Me unleash rage and defiance. Help Me Help You and Here With You reach through the darkness with a supportive voice, and Paradise (Kill The Silence) loudly reverberates with the determination to pick up and reset. coldrain also surprises with a cover of No Doubt's Don't Speak that we didn't know we needed. If you like metalcore and post-hardcore, you can't go wrong with this banger of an album.

Mondo Grosso – Big World
Mondo Grosso - Big World
Osawa Shinichi's first Mondo Gross album in four years begins from the concept of searching for the heart's home in an ever-changing Big World. In this musical journey, the influential DJ/producer works with different vocalists for 12 ambient tracks that curl through a dreamy electronic soundscape. In a follow-up to Labyrinth, he collaborates again with actress Mitsushima Hikari who sings and dances for the airy and sensual In This World, which also features the piano of Sakamoto Ryuichi. Quite a few songs on the album make you want to sway to the beats, like the mesmerizing Forgotten with millennium parade's ermhoi, the trance-like ballad Overflowing with Nakashima Mika, and the chill club mix Crypt with Awesome City Club's Porin – this song's MV has Kikuchi Rinko as a dancing taxi driver! For songs that go on a journey of sounds, "Last Heart" with Yorushika's suis and "Lost People" with EGO-WRAPPIN's Nakano Yoshie intertwine clear, stirring vocals with a constantly transforming arrangement.

Snow Man - Snow Labo. S2
Snow Man - Snow Labo. S2
According to Oricon, Snow Man tops all Japanese artists in music sales in 2022 for the second consecutive year. Snow Man is undeniably getting bigger, but equally important is that the Johnny's group is getting better. Their last three singles – wintry love song Secret Touch, romantic dance pop song Orange kiss and the incredibly fun and funny Brother Beat – already indicate comfort in a range of styles. They experiment further in Snow Labo. S2 by having each member in charge of a different genre track, resulting in a good variety of jams including the house R&B dance plug Juicy, the reggaeton party tune Boom Boom Light, the city pop song Midnight Trendy and the emotional ballad Boku to Kimi to. There's also the cheeky and addictive Kitta Kittenai that has "tonchiki song" written all over it. Snow Labo. S2 is an album that keeps the Johnny's flavor while going beyond the standard Johnny's formula.

Soil & Pimp Sessions – Lost in Tokyo
Soil & "Pimp" Sessions - Lost in Tokyo
What a delight it is to be Lost in Tokyo with Soil & "Pimp" Sessions! The jazz band is in top form for this exceptional album that explores and evokes the city of Tokyo with funky and exuberant "death jazz" numbers. Following the title intro of atmospheric sounds, the mostly instrumental album strolls the streets of Harajuku in the jaunty and leisurely Meiji-Jingumae 'Harajuku' before winding through back alleys and cigarette smoke in the sultry City of Chimera featuring Sky-Hi. The album's other guest vocalist, Mukai Shotouku, also drawls out the tipsy nightlife scene in Pink no Onna. For more hints of thrill and excitement, The Valley of Light unfurls a dangerous swirl of piano, bass and percussion worthy of a spy movie, and Funky Pongi gets your feet moving with rousing trumpet. Finally, lose yourself in the spell of city jazz in the gentle, lulling closing notes of Lime's Dream.

Yamashita Tatsuro – Softly
Yamashita Tatsuro - Softly
Yamashita Tatsuro softly and surely does his thing with his first album in over a decade. Given the long wait for this album, it's hard to avoid Softly being mostly composed of previously released singles and tie-in songs – but those singles include Recipe, Reborn and the Mirai theme songs, all in new mixes. City pop has made a comeback in recent years, and Yamashita Tatsuro still does it better than anyone as evident in the updated yet quintessential Love's On Fire, which sizzles with sultry lyrics and danceable beats for a hot encounter. Meanwhile, the moody and bluesy OPPRESSION BLUES laments love lost with weeping guitar chords. Be it the newer songs or the older songs, the album's timeless sound and sentiments seem to fit any decade, which is fortunate because who knows when the singer-songwriter will release another album.

Yuuri – Ichi
Yuuri - Ichi
Yuuri's breakthrough came in 2020 and 2021 with the chart-dominating "Dried Flower," and his first album Ichi finally arrived in the start of 2022. Besides "Dried Flower," the singer-songwriter's first album is packed with singles dating from the indie era Kakurenbo and Kagome to SUPER RICH's super hit theme song Betelgeuse. Eminently listenable from start to finish, Ichi is a perfect balance of soft and hard, with heartfelt medium-tempo numbers like Mizukiri, Leo and Natsune alongside rousing rock tracks like Kachofugetsu, Peter Pan and Smapho Wars. This is an album that feels equally right for a quiet night in and a blast-out-loud driving playlist.

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Published December 28, 2022

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