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Music / Yumi Matsutoya

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Yumi "Yuming" Matsutoya is a Japanese singer-songwriter. While she is fairly obscure in most parts of the world, she is one of the legends of Japanese Pop Music in her native country, having been active since 1972 and having produced some of the country's most beloved pop songs of the '70s and '80s. As a songwriter, she was initially influenced by artists like Carole King and Joni Mitchell, as well as bands like Procol Harum. However, as her career has gone on, she has drawn from a vast array of musical genres, while still fundamentally remaining a Pop musician.


Yuming began playing piano at a young age, and became active as a studio musician and songwriter while she was still a teenager. In 1972, she released her first single under her maiden name Yumi Arai, and released an album annually from 1973 to 1976. Because of her fairly plain looks and just-good-enough vocals, she struggled at first to find an audience, but steadily grew a dedicated fanbase due to her excellent songwriting and sharp production. She eventually broke through to mainstream success in 1975 with the single "Rouge no Dengon" (ルージュの伝言, Message in Rouge), and has been a superstar ever since. After marrying her producer Masataka Matsutoya, she continued to grow in popularity, becoming perhaps the biggest name in J-Pop during The '80s, both setting trends and borrowing from them. However, no matter how "mainstream" her music has become, she has always maintained a high degree of creative control and an uncanny ability to craft brilliant melodies and insightful lyrics.


Outside of Japan, she is most famous for her work with Studio Ghibli; two of her most iconic '70s songs were featured in Kiki's Delivery Service and another was popularized by its usage in The Wind Rises.

Yumi Matsutoya's music provides examples of:

  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: Being Japanese, this shows up at times when she puts English words and phrases into her lyrics.
  • Answer Song: "Downtown Boy" is this for "Uptown Girl."
    • In addition, her songs "Nani mo Kikanaide" (Don't Ask Me Anything) and "Rouge no Dengon" act as two sides of the same coin, the former being from the POV of the other woman and the latter from the jilted wife. The two songs were featured on the same single and appear back-to-back on the album "Cobalt Hour."
  • Break Up Song: Has several.
  • Concept Album: "Pearl Pierce," which is themed around the experiences of a Tokyo Office Lady. Also, "Reincarnation" is loosely themed around the supernatural.
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  • Driven to Suicide: "Tsubame no You ni" (Like A Swallow) is about a woman who jumps off a building; "Compartment" is about a person overdosing on sleeping pills in a train car. Also implied at the very end of "12-Kai no Koibito" (On the 12th Floor).
  • Driving Song: "Chuo Freeway," about driving on the Chuo Expressway, is one of her most iconic tracks and is generally considered a J-Pop standard.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Quite a few.
  • Grief Song: "Hikoukigumo" (Vapor Trail), which she wrote at age 16 as a tribute to a friend of hers who died. A bit more hopeful than the average example.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: In one of her most popular songs, no less! "Rouge no Dengon" (yes, the one from Kiki's Delivery Service) is about a woman who discovers that her husband has been unfaithful, and goes to rat him out to his mother, after using her rouge to write a message in the bathroom telling him that she knows. Possibly intended to be a case of Black Comedy.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: While she's ultimately a pop singer through and through, she draws from a diverse range of genres and subgenres.
  • Power Ballad: Had a fair few in the '80s.
  • Promoted Fanboy: Was a fan of the band Procol Harum as a teenager. In 2012, she had the opportunity to perform with them, and even recorded a new version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with them.
  • Textless Album Cover: Quite a few. "Sakuban Ou-aishimashou," "Mizu no Naka he no ASIA," "No Side," "Delight Slight Light KISS," "Dawn Purple," and "The Dancing Sun."
  • Vocal Evolution: Her voice has gotten huskier and deeper as her career has gone on.

Example of: