• Life & Culture

How Popular is K-Pop in Japan?

Two South Korean flags pictured against a sunny sky and city background.

In recent years, we’ve seen a global explosion of South Korean culture — particularly K-pop music.


From PSY’s groundbreaking single Gangnam Style becoming the first YouTube video to achieve 1 billion views on the platform, to the introduction of the Best K-pop Artist award at the 2022 American Music Awards, K-pop has certainly become a global phenomenon. And a significant portion of its fanbase is located in Japan!


But how popular is K-pop in Japan, really? And what is it about the genre that has such an appeal with Japanese audiences? In this article, we’ll be exploring the impact of K-pop in Japan, and some of the reasons why it resonates so much with young Japanese people.

What is K-pop?

K-pop stands for Korean pop music — a genre of pop music, originating in South Korea, which has a global fanbase which appears to be growing each year. Although K-pop is a broad genre, encompassing styles of music and sounds from across the world, many modern K-pop artists are inspired by hiphop, R&B and rock music.


Again, though K-pop is a broad genre, common features of K-pop include elaborate choreography, lively stage performances, and stunning visuals which accompany the music and make it more appealing to fans. 


In fact, many feel that K-pop has transcended the label of a music genre, and is now more of a global subculture. It has a thriving online and real-life community, dedicated events across the world, and even its own slang terms. 


But before you’re ready to start collecting photocards of your ult bias, or come over all delulu, let’s find out more about the rising popularity of K-pop in Japan!

A mint green and white illustration of a person’s hand, making the K-pop heart symbol with their thumb and index finger.
Image by storyset on Freepik

How popular is K-Pop with Japanese listeners?

Although most K-pop is produced in South Korea, there is a thriving community of listeners right here in Japan. In the 2023 album sale rankings compiled by Oricon, 41 of the top 100 selling albums of the year in Japan were K-pop albums! Two K-pop acts, SEVENTEEN and Stray Kids, even made it into the top 10 albums of 2023 with the following titles:


  2. Stray Kids – “Social Path (feat. LiSA) / Super Bowl -Japanese ver.-“
  5. Stray Kids – “THE SOUND”

According to the Korea Times, Japanese K-pop sales amounted to an impressive $2.4 billion in 2022


K-pop artists have performed dozens of sold-out shows at the Tokyo Dome, which has an enormous capacity of up to 55,000. Tokyo Dome has hosted some of the most famous K-pop acts in the world, including BLACKPINK, BTS, and TWICE, with acts like NCT DREAM, IVE and aespa performing shows at Tokyo Dome later in 2024.


K-pop’s popularity in Japan is undeniable. But why does K-pop appeal so much to the Japanese market?

Why is K-pop so popular in Japan?

Whilst K-pop does have many features that have made it so successful on the world stage, both as a music genre and a subculture, there are a number of theories as to why it has become so popular in Japan. Here are just a few:

1. Similarities between Pop Music industries

K-pop isn’t the only music genre where fans display a kind of fervent admiration for members of their favorite band. Just look at Beatlemania in the 1960s! 


However, both K-pop, and its Japanese counterpart, J-pop, demonstrate examples of what is known as “idol culture”. Whereas for many western listeners of K-pop, idol culture is a new phenomenon, the Japanese market has long had idols as a part of its popular culture


The appeal of many K-pop bands lies in their respective members, many of whom fit the description of ‘idols’. Idols are celebrities that are produced within the music industry of their specific country, usually going through a highly structured training program before ‘debuting’ to their audience. 


The pop music industry in Japan and Korea have each adopted this system of manufacturing stars, sometimes even using elimination-style reality TV shows to do so (not unlike American Idol and other similar programs). Idols in Korea and Japan are held to a high standard of behavior, and expected to be role models to their young fans. They cultivate personas which are friendly, aspirational, and often extremely well-dressed! 


This idol culture is thought to be one of the reasons why K-pop has such a wide appeal globally, but particularly in Japan, which also has an idol culture of its own — amongst other industry similarities.

2. Appealing to Japan’s ‘Culture of Cute’

If there’s one thing which is prominent in Japan’s pop culture, it’s the presence of cute, or ‘kawaii’ mascots and visuals. 


From the worldwide sensation that is Hello Kitty (and the rest of the extensive cast of Sanrio characters), to the fact that each region in Japan has a dedicated mascot for each of its regions. Kumamon of Kumamoto prefecture, probably being the most recognizable to westerners.


One of the reasons that K-pop has such appeal to young women and girls, is that ‘cute’ is a tool that is certainly utilized in its marketing. 


From collectible photocards of their favorite idols which are included with album releases, to decorative photocard holders that can be adorned with stickers, K-pop fans (like many Japanese youth) find themselves drawn to the adorable. With many K-pop idols having cute appearances, and the popularity of aegyo behavior amongst idols (acting cutely as fan service), it’s no surprise that Japanese fans are drawn to this inherently adorable subculture.


Some K-pop bands have even created their own cartoon mascots for each idol, from BTS’s BT21 characters, to the cute, illustrated animals that represent Stray Kids (known as SKZOO). 

Its cute reputation certainly isn’t something that the K-pop industry shies away from!

3. K-pop Marketing in Japan

It’s difficult to say whether the K-pop industry’s targeted marketing efforts in Japan are a result of the music’s popularity, or one of the driving forces behind it. In any case, many K-pop acts and the management teams behind them have made it clear how much they value their audience in Japan. 


K-pop stars often make multiple stops in Japan during their world tours, often holding fan meeting events where they can interact with their fans in person, and share their gratitude for the support their Japanese fans show them. 


K-pop bands have even gone so far as to release singles, and entire albums, specifically for their Japanese fans. One example is Wake Up by BTS, released in 2015 as their second studio album, and featured Japanese versions of many of their hit singles. This album was also accompanied by their first Japanese concert tour, where they played six venues across Chiba, Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.

Other K-pop idols have taken steps to include and celebrate their Japanese fans. 


Stray Kids recently collaborated on the single “Social Path” with the Japanese singer Lisa, which was released on their third Japanese language EP, Social Path / Super Bowl (Japanese Ver.). Band member Lee Know is also proficient in the Japanese language, frequently taking the lead in interviews in Japan. 


Many other K-pop idols make the effort to study Japanese, in order to interact more with their fans.

4. The Korean Wave (Hallyu)

Another reason behind the popularity of K-pop in Japan, may be more of a global phenomenon. Since the 1990s, there has been an increasing global interest in all things South Korean, which has been dubbed the ‘Korean Wave’ or ‘Hallyu’. This was accelerated by pop culture exports such as K-pop and K-dramas, as well as cultural aspects of South Korea such as the fashion, cuisine, and lifestyle. 


People throughout Asia, Europe, and beyond just can’t seem to get enough of South Korea. 


It isn’t unusual now to see young Japanese people seeking out Korean skincare products, manhwa (korean comics), enjoying meals such as gimbap, snacking on kimchi, and trading photocards of their favorite K-pop idols. Social media trends have also kept the Korean wave flowing, with TikTokers trying out the Korean Fire Noodle challenge, or performing choreography from the latest K-pop release. 


K-pop users online are able to find a global community of fans, connecting them to people across the globe that share this common interest. The ability to make friends, trade photocards, and interact with people in other countries is a huge part of K-pop’s appeal in Japan.

Image by storyset on Freepik

Who are the most popular K-pop bands in Japan?

The Japanese album and single charts of the last year have demonstrated the success of a wide range of K-pop acts in the country, each of whom have their own style and aesthetic. From hip-hop inspired acts like SEVENTEEN, to the heavier sound of Stray Kids’ recent EP Rockstar, Japan’s taste when it comes to K-pop is extremely varied! 


However, the most popular K-pop bands in Japan, according to the Oricon 2023 End of Year round-up, are as follows:

Japan’s Top-selling K-pop artists of 2023

Based on the top-selling albums of 2023, we’ve determined the most popular K-pop acts of the year in Japan were:


  1. SEVENTEEN (Album: FML, selling 766,014 copies)
  2. Stray Kids  (EP: Social Path / Super Bowl (Japanese Ver.), selling 689,330 copies)
  3. TXT (Album: Sweet Tomorrow, selling 334,303 copies)
  4. V (Album: Layover, selling 247,826 copies)
  5. Jimin (Album: Face, selling 241,282 copies)


However, according to a recent survey by ZSOUKEN, it seems that K-pop girl groups might be rising in popularity with their Gen Z readership. Their top 5 ranking of bands by young Japanese listeners was as follows:


  1. TWICE
  2. IVE
  3. NewJeans
  5. BTS

Places for K-pop fans to visit in Japan

If you’re a K-pop fan who is visiting, or possibly even planning to live in Japan, here are some places you may like to visit to pick up the latest album releases or find your favorite K-pop idol’s merch. 

Moiza, Shinjuku City

This speciality K-pop shop is located in Shinjuku City, Tokyo and is a one-stop shop for all your album and merchandise needs! With items for collectors and new fans alike, you can browse their wide range of albums, as well as novelties like plushies, photocard holders, and more.

Shin-Ōkubo, Shinjuku

Known as the Korea-town of Japan, Shin-Ōkubo is a neighborhood within Tokyo which has a thriving Korean community. With a number of shops selling South Korean goods, including K-pop albums and merchandise, you can enjoy a shopping trip followed by some traditional South Korean street food.

Fan café pop-ups and events

Although these are not permanent locations in Japan, cafés in Shin-Ōkubo and Shinjuku shopping malls often host pop-up events where K-pop fans can socialize, purchase new albums or limited merchandise, and sometimes even meet their idols! 


Keep an eye out on your favorite band’s social media to see when these events are announced.


If you’re a K-pop fan, seeking fun and adventure in a new country, we hope that you’ll feel at home when visiting Japan. If you’re curious about ways that you can travel the world and build a career teaching English in Asia, you may also be interested in becoming an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan.


If you’re interested in living in working in Japan, you can check out ALT jobs with Interac here. Or, to learn more about life in Japan, feel free to browse the other articles on the Interac blog.

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.