This article is about the phrase. For other uses, see Big in Japan.

Big in Japan was originally a scornful phrase applied to Western rock bands that failed to sell many records in the United States and/or the United Kingdom. During the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese pop culture was not yet considered very cool in the English-speaking world. Thus, though a band might have tens of thousands of Japanese fans, it was not considered truly successful: the band was only big in Japan.


Original usage

For example, Scorpions initially had only mediocre success in Europe and the United States[citation needed], yet were Big in Japan, as evidenced by their 1978 tour of the country and the double live album Tokyo Tapes.[3] Another example is The Ventures, a band formed in 1959 and touring Japan each year since 1965, having logged over 2,000 concerts there by 2006.[4] "Being Big in Japan turned into a positive sign of their closeness to the hearts of Japanese people, with the band embedded in national and local rock cultures."[4]. The phrase was used as the name of a UK punk band in 1977-82 (whose name inspired the title of a 1984 hit single by pop band Alphaville) and was the name of the lead track on the Grammy-winning 1999 album Mule Variations by Tom Waits. The mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap" makes fun of this concept with its ending in which the band gets out of its career slump by performing in Japan.

The phrase began to appear on several major Japanese foreign-rock magazines, especially on Music Life, in the late 1970s, and in most cases, the "big in Japan" artists became popular in Japan because of being featured by Music Life.

In the late 20th, notable "big in Japan" artists included several stadium rock bands from the United States of America, metal artists from Northern European countries such as Norway, Denmark, and especially Sweden and Finland, Eurobeat artists from Germany and especially Italy, and UK Rock[5] artists literally from the United Kingdom. Many bubble gum Eurodance artists from all over the European continent (from Portugal to Russia), especially from Northern Europe, who were not well-recognized in their homelands, became popular in Japan because of being featured in the likes of Dancemania and Super Eurobeat series.

Eurobeat's popularity in Japan, which has created several "Big in Japan" individuals such as Dave Rodgers and Andrea Leonardi, has been strongly associated with Para Para dance in the club scene. Even after the genre's popularity completely died out in the European market, some Italian record companies still maintain Eurobeat sections to deal exclusively with the Japanese market.

Some bands have used their popularity in Japan as a springboard to break into other audiences. Notably, the Illinois power pop group Cheap Trick, which had been known as the "American Beatles" in Japan for their appeal, achieved widespread success with their multi-platinum live album Cheap Trick at Budokan. The band had previously struggled to break into the mainstream American market with their earlier albums. Futhermore, like Cheap Trick, some bands have lost their "big in Japan" titles because of gaining popularity in their respective homelands. The most notable example is Queen, along with Bon Jovi.[1]

Other usage

File:Bob sapp yokota base japan 2005-crop.jpg

Since foreign music declined in popularity, and the magazine Music Life ceased publication due to low circulation in mid-1990s, there has been no reported case of "big in Japan" in the music industry.[6] However, some people in other industries, most notably Bob Sapp and Takeshi Kaneshiro, have been described as "big in Japan".


Many Thai kickboxers in K-1, most notably Buakaw Por. Pramuk who is also the most popular kickboxer among women in Japan[7], have been considered "big in Japan", as most of them are successful in K-1 but it is widely believed in Japan that their muay thai accomplishments in Thailand are usually not very good and therefore they are not well-recognized in Thailand.

Two successful Japanese-based Taiwanese celebrities Takeshi Kaneshiro and Vivian Hsu are often considered "big in Japan", because it is widely believed in Japan that they failed in the Taiwanese entertainment industry and therefore they needed to make their ways in Japan.

It is also used to describe Major League Baseball players who joined Japanese clubs at the end of their careers, for example baseballer Daryl Spencer.[8]

"Small in Japan"

The derivative phrase "small in Japan", originally used for AC/DC[9], has been used since early 1980s. In general, a small-in-Japan artist holds significant popularity in the Western world, specifically in the United States, and visits Japan many times to promote himself/herself, yet is almost unknown and unsuccessful in Japan despite being heavily featured by Japanese music media. Notable small-in-Japan artists in 2000s included Britney Spears, Beyonce, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Eminem, Lady Gaga, The Jonas Brothers, Amy Winehouse, Linkin Park, Lindsay Lohan, 50 Cent, The Libertines, Jessica Simpson, Connie Talbot, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.[10] On April 26, 2002 when Britney Spears made her 4th appearance on the morning news program Mezamashi TV, the anchorman Shin'ichi Karube introduced her as a "typical small-in-Japan singer who should get more attention", and described her as an "incredibly popular American singer, Aguilera's best competitor, America's young next big thing, whom the program previously introduced but still no one knows in Japan". The singer withdrew from the Japanese market in December 2003.[11]

From the Japanese point of view, the phrase "small in Japan", a.k.a. "big in kaigai" ("big overseas"), is also used to describe Japanese celebrities who are unknown, unsuccessful or "forgotten" in Japan but making their ways outside Japan. The phrase has been used to refer to certain musicians such as Dir en Grey, certain actors such as Ken Watanabe, certain professional wrestlers such as Tajiri and Yoshi Tatsu, certain fashion models such as Ai Tominaga and Tao Okamoto, and all the Miss Universe contestants from Japan, most of whom are former unsuccessful fashion models, including Kurara Chibana and Riyo Mori.[10]

In the same context, some mixed martial artists, most notably Anderson Silva, Yushin Okami, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida, who were unimpressive in Japan but won the titles after joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship, have been described as "big-in-kaigai fighters" by several major Japanese martial arts publications / TV shows such as Weekly Gong and MMA Kingdom.

In one exceptional case, Digital Arts Magazine used the phrase to describe Xbox 360, a videogame console that made a success all over the world with the only exception of Japan.[12]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Featured Artist : MR BIG (USEN) (Japanese)
  2. "Yōgaku" ("Foreign Music"), every music from an outer place
  3. Peter Buckley, Jonathan Buckley (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock.  Rough Guides. ISBN 1843531054, ISBN 9781843531050. p. 909
  4. 4.0 4.1 Shane Homan (2006). Access All Eras: Tribute Bands and Global Pop Culture.  McGraw-Hill International. ISBN 0335216900, ISBN 9780335216901. pp. 152-154
  5. The term "UK Rock" is an only-in-Japan term used for every rock music artist from the United Kingdom.UK Rock / BritpopAll About (Japanese)
  6. livedoor, "Dying foreign music : Former Big in Japan Jamiroquai appears on an one-coin noodle ad, screaming "I'm Hungry"" 2010-05-28 (Japanese)
  7. Sadaharu Tanikawa, the head producer of K-1 GBR News July 08, 2008 (Japanese)
  8. Matt Johanson, Wylie Wong, Jon Miller (2007). San Francisco Giants: Where Have You Gone?.  Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 1596701870, ISBN 9781596701878. p.1
  9. Barks : AC/DC visits Japan, after 9 years silence Retrieved 2010-07-14 (Japanese)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Artistic Jam : "Big in Japan" Retrieved 2010-07-14 (Japanese)
  11. (December 16, 2008) : "Britney Spears visits Japan after an interval of nearly 5 years" (Japanese)
  12. Xbox sales 'small in Japan' Retrieved 2007-07-11
sv:Stor i Japan (begrepp)

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