TOKIO: A Musical Experience

I couldn't think of a better title. LEAVE ME ALONE.

Anyway, I get lots of messages from all you guys about how you want recommendations for videos to watch and music to listen to, and while the former will take me a billion years (especially with the issues of subtitles), I figured I might as well try to put together a simple playlist of music to help newbies with venturing through TOKIO's massive 22 years of discography. In my opinion, these 15 songs are a good sampler to figure out what to expect from our five lovable morons, and I hope you have fun as you go along!



The first thing you notice about TOKIO (at least, as far as comparisons to their agency go), is the fact that they play instruments. And it's not like Kanjani8 where they play instruments and also do some boy band stuff on the side, no--TOKIO is 100% playing their own instruments no matter the occasion. Furthermore, unlike other Johnny's units, TOKIO has a lead singer who very obviously sings alone in most of their songs, while the other members usually just pick up the slack through back-up vocals.

Technically, TOKIO was previously a dance unit in their junior years, but when Johnny Kitagawa himself noticed Joshima and Yamaguchi capable of playing their own instruments and decided "YOU, make a band!", the rest was history. At first TOKIO was thought to be following in the footsteps of Johnny's previous band, Otokogumi, but whereas Otokogumi failed to achieve longevity, TOKIO's been alive and kicking for over 20 years to this day with an image of their own--separate from their senpai, and from everyone else in general. Right from the get-go, they're definitely different in terms of musical style and how they go about the actual musical process; watch a TOKIO concert and you'll see it's not got the same sparkling aura that people associate with idols, but rather the happy, family-esque feeling of any other band who just plays because they love music and for the people who come to see them.

But musically, TOKIO's had it rough. In fact, they still have it rough to this day. Other Johnny's CD sales go over 100,000 copies sold--TOKIO's latest single (circa the writing of this post being Ai! Wanna be with you...), however, sold less than 20,000 copies. Despite the low number, TOKIO has personally refused to go through what the agency always does to rank up the charts: make more versions of a release than an RE and an LE. While other bands will release up to 4 different versions of a single in order to boost their sales, TOKIO's kept a very elegant integrity about doing things the way they want and the way they envision it. For them, an RE and an LE--as is the way that all the other normal bands go--is enough. And while they want to sell as much as anyone else does, this choice gives off the impression that they don't want to chart because of multiple copies bought by their die-hard fans, but rather because a number of people from all walks of life like the music they make and decided: hey, let's buy it!

Given that they never did well in their first few years as a debuted group (and received a lukewarm reaction to their actual debut in 1994), Johnny's stopped pushing them. And when V6 and KinKi Kids debuted, and after them Arashi came out, TOKIO was pushed even further towards the back. It was because of this, however, that TOKIO decided to work even harder, and with Joshima Leader acting as their de facto manager along with their actual manager, TOKIO managed to stay afloat until their first hit single in 2001.

Being used to independence and having to do things alone, it was no surprise when TOKIO decided to stop accepting other songwriters' songs and to write and compose everything on their own. And while they admittedly aren't the best band in the industry, what they lack they more than make up for in their attitudes, their hearts, and their honesty. With TOKIO, what you see is what you get. After working their asses off for two decades, TOKIO's been through too much to try and be fake.

With this in mind, the following songs were chosen for these reasons: 1) they were written/composed/arranged by TOKIO as a whole, or certain members of TOKIO; 2) their lyrics speak volumes of what TOKIO feels and what their experiences have been and what kind of music they want to continue making; 3) they represent the kind of sound that TOKIO wants to make now that they're independent; 4) they're important pieces of TOKIO's history as a band and all the trials they've gone through; 5) they aren't motherfucking LOVE YOU ONLY, AMBITIOUS JAPAN!, or Sorafune.

I've prepared a playlist of songs here for you guys to listen to. Furthermore, every "LYRICS" by the title is a link to the translated lyrics of each song. Enjoy!


1. ASHITA O MEZASHITE! | 明日を目指して! | "REACH FOR TOMORROW!" (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2005, LYRICS)

Ashita o Mezashite! was released as a single in 2005, toted as TOKIO's first single where the titular song was 100% created by one of their members (in this case, vocalist Tomoya Nagase). Before Ashita o Mezashite! TOKIO'd already written and composed a number of songs, but all these songs were either additional songs in albums or B-sides in singles. Ashita o Mezashite!, therefore, was a huge push career-wise towards the TOKIO that we know today.

For fans of Tomoya, Ashita o Mezashite! aptly marks the beginning of his long-standing love affair with brass instruments and arrangements, and in the same way that he was young here (only 26 years old!), it's got a very young, very pure sound--sounding very much like the start of a journey. And after reading the lyrics, you'll see that maybe Tomo thought this was the start of something new, too.

2. MIAGEREBA | みあげれば | "LOOKING UP" (Lyr + Comp: Taichi Kokubun, 2014, LYRICS)

Miagereba is a B-side in the single LOVE, HOLIDAY., which is the first single TOKIO released following their announcement of no longer accepting songs from other songwriters. Taichi's always been a loud, energetic guy, but the quiet, simple sound of Miagereba shows the Taichi that we forget lurks beneath the surface. Yes, he's a happy person, and yes, he's always out to make people smile, but besides this, Taichi's also a perfectionist to the core.

The lyrics of Miagereba give the impression of the world being boring and nondescript: grey and slow. In TOKIO's earlier years, Taichi didn't even want to be a part of them (and their sloppy technique, and how it looked like nobody was taking it seriously, and how it was as if he was the only one working his ass off) and nearly quit the band. But as he grew up, his outlook on life changed, too, and while he's still too hard on himself and still got his perfectionism, he at least sees everything in a brighter way now--and he encourages everyone else to do the same.

As a side note, Taichi said the title is in hiragana instead of kanji characters because he wanted to keep it simple. I think it's a nice touch.

3. ...AS ONE (Lyr: Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Comp: Taichi Kokubun, 2012, LYRICS)

When TOKIO decided to make the 17 album in 2011, Taichi was assigned to make 3 songs. And because Taichi was too busy with all the details in the song he wrote and composed himself, he forgot about the two other songs and had to procrastinate. one is one of those songs, and because he only had time to make the composition for it, he asked Tatsuya to write his lyrics for him.

According to Taichi, Tatsuya is a lyrical genius. He creates images and phrases that Taichi could never in his life write, and the ideas he wants to convey are simple, but true. one talks about moving through life despite the obstacles; it says to bring only what's important and not what's expendable. And while one day everything you've done might become forgotten history, as long as you're fulfilled, then what's the harm in it? one rounds up with 'all five souls in one body' and 'our friendship will never die', and if this isn't a testament to TOKIO--and how TOKIO's music might not be legendary, but they'll always have each other and that's enough--then I don't know what is.

4. LOVE, HOLIDAY. (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2014, LYRICS)

LOVE, HOLIDAY. has no deeper meaning besides what it represents: TOKIO breaking free from the influence of other songwriters and moving forward with music that they want to write themselves. The fun sound of LOVE, HOLIDAY. coupled with the fun lyrics made for very fun performances with a very happy-looking TOKIO on stage, and it was personally a good thing to see. Tomoya's giant smile and Taichi jumping behind his keyboard and Mabo yelling LOVE LOVE LOVE HOLIDAY into his microphone are some unforgettable things--and remembering the fact that this is the first single marking their new life as musicians just makes that happiness swell even bigger.

5. ARCHIVE (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2012, LYRICS)

The first thing you notice about archive is the heavy guitar sound to it, which Tomoya made sure of when he was composing the damn thing (in the making of you can see him testing out different guitars to see which one made the sound he was looking for, and my plain ass literally couldn't tell the difference). Growing up, Tomo was always into hard rock, and with the 17 album being TOKIO's first foray into real heavy duty songwriting, he took that chance and went with it.

Tomo's the kind of guy who sits outside, watches people go about their lives, and then grasps songs through the experiences that he sees. archive begs people to break out of the mould that surrounds them--to reach for the sky, to look for what's beyond it, because surely there's got to be more. When we were kids, we were curious. We played. We saw everything as new and amazing. And for Tomo, that attitude is what we need now.

6. SUGAR (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, Arr: TOKIO, 2008, LYRICS)

In the same way that Ashita o Mezashite! was the first single titled after a song 100% made by a member of TOKIO, sugar is the first album titled after a song 100% made by TOKIO themselves. Earlier it was mentioned that TOKIO's concerts have this aura about them--a warmth, a feeling of family, of camaraderie and being together. And that's because to TOKIO, their fans are everything, so much so that they decided to write a love song just for them: and that's what sugar is.

Throughout their career, TOKIO'd been through a number of ups and downs, and it was usually the latter more than the former. sugar has the image of stopping suddenly in the middle of the crowd, thinking hard and remembering what it is you should do, and then moving forward with that goal in mind. For TOKIO, that goal is to keep going forward not just for themselves, but to reach the people who're waiting for them--the fans from all around who see things differently because they're so far away, but who are all that TOKIO can think about.

TOKIO says that sugar describes what it feels like for them during their tours and how far and wide they travel--how they do all of this because they want to meet with the people who've supported them throughout their trials and tribulations. It's uplifting and honest and beautiful, and the instrumental at the end especially sounds like a tribute to the people TOKIO owe everything to.

7. TOKYO DRIVE (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2015, LYRICS)

TOKIO's members have volumes to speak about Tokyo Drive, and that's probably because this is the sound that they've all been waiting for. It's a fun-sounding, cool-sounding, and manly song, and TOKIO had a whole boatload of fun recording and making it happen.

When the members of TOKIO were kids, there was a phenomenon in Japan called the Band Boom, where bands were coming out left and right and would perform on music shows in these amazing costumes. When TOKIO debuted, however, the Band Boom was coming to an end, and the image that Johnny's wanted them to portray was like the complete opposite of what TOKIO envisioned (hell, they sounded more like a pop band than a rock band!).

Tokyo Drive is their redemption. The music video itself shows TOKIO dressed the exact same way bands on music shows would in the Band Boom era, and it feels a lot like a 21 year old promise fulfilled.

8. FUTURE (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2013, LYRICS)

By now you must know Tomoya's trademark style of instrumentals, right? Heavy guitars are everything to him, and it really shows. Future is like the Ashita o Mezashite! of a Tomoya who's become eight years older. Tomo himself said that he only really managed to create music he can be proud of making when he was a little bit into his thirties, and Future is one mark of that.

Unlike Hontontoko, the other half of the titular Hontontoko/Future single, Future was not written with the thought of matching a drama in mind. And from the lyrics, the upbeat sound, and the generally happy/hopeful aura about it (albeit a more mature sort of hopeful from Ashita o Mezashite!), Future is the kind of song you listen to when you're down. Tomo's a huge advocate in the power of music and how much music can move or change a person, having been influenced himself since he was a kid by rockin' guitars and power chords, and Future feels a lot like him paying that debt back now that he's old enough to understand how things work--and how life can't possibly be as bad as you think it is.

9. LYRIC | リリック (Lyr + Comp: Tomoya Nagase, 2013, LYRICS)

Lyric was written as the theme song to Tomo's drama Nakuna, Hara-chan, and was actually his second attempt at making a theme song for it after he wrote a sadder one. While the lyrics are certainly very much the romantic words that they appear to be, Lyric itself marks an important part of TOKIO's career. It was TOKIO's last single to feature any extra songs written by other songwriters, and for a good reason: after Lyric, TOKIO decided that they'd become independent and do everything themselves.

Mabo calls Lyric a masterpiece; he calls it Tomo's greatest song. He also calls it a symbol of not only Tomo's maturity, but of TOKIO itself, and Tomo admitted that with Lyric, he wanted a mature sound that TOKIO hadn't yet achieved--a sound that wasn't idol-like, a sound that set them apart from the title of "idols" that they'd been given. Lyric is honest and real and true; Lyric is sung with feeling, is played with feeling, and Lyric was the catalyst with which TOKIO finally realised: we're ready to stand on our own, we've grown up enough to stand on our own, and so we're going to make our own music from now on.

Fittingly enough, after Lyric's release, Tomo became TOKIO's primary songwriter and composer, and according to Tatsuya and Mabo, it was because TOKIO'd realised that the music Tomo created was the music that represented TOKIO best.

10. HOME ~KONO BASHO~ | HOME ~この場所~ | "HOME ~THIS PLACE~" (Lyr + Comp: Taichi Kokubun, 2013, LYRICS)

We're taking a break from the guitar for now with a relaxing piece from Taichi--so relaxing that the main instruments for it come in the form of strings. In a way, if Tomo's guilty musical pleasure is brass instruments, then Taichi's is string instruments.

home is a simple song about... home. It's about a place you can find yourself again, a place where you can relax, a place where you can go when the world becomes too hard to bear. The quietness of the instruments coupled with the softness of Tomoya's voice makes a stunning effect: something that only Taichi can achieve. It also, in my opinion, is an elegant way of representing the side of TOKIO apart from the rock music they produce. Songs like home are rare to find in TOKIO's long career, but when they appear, you find a gentler version of this happy band; a mature, human side to them--an ordinary side that anyone can relate to. And honestly, you've got to listen to this side of TOKIO at least once, because it's awfully, awfully beautiful.

11. I BELIEVE (Lyr + Comp: Taichi Kokubun, Arr: Tomoya Nagase, 2015, LYRICS)

I believe comes from the Tokyo Drive single, and while Taichi jokingly said that "you guys shouldn't look into a deeper meaning for it!", it's really his perspective on the years that TOKIO's been through together as one band, one unit.

TOKIO wasn't always as close-knit as they are now. They had a huge number of creative differences, and in terms of work ethic, Taichi was always clashing with Leader especially. They'd fight and they'd yell and they'd lash out at each other almost all the time--going as far as fist fights--and it was a huge reason why Taichi nearly left the band entirely. In their earlier years, TOKIO wanted to be famous. They wanted it so badly they tried to be people they weren't, and in return, people called them drab and boring; uninteresting and plain.

But time passed, and TOKIO realised where they'd gone wrong. They realised there wasn't a point to being what they weren't, and they decided to be true to themselves. They didn't know if it was the right choice to make and they didn't know if it would help them, but they at least knew that being themselves and failing was better than being anyone else.

I believe captures all of it well, down from the "sparkling world" of fame TOKIO turned their eyes away from, and the "loud echoing of bells" heralding what might have been their disbandment that they shut their ears from. It's genius. And it's important.

12. SWITCH (Lyr + Comp: Tatsuya Yamaguchi, 2013, LYRICS)

You'll note I've recommended all the songs off the Hontontoko/Future single except Hontontoko, and that's because this single is just pivotal. It's the first single they released after Lyric, which we covered earlier, and it seems that after TOKIO'd decided they wanted to stick to Tomo's sound as a representation of who they are, Tatsuya'd gotten the message and made a Yamaguchi-esque version of it as a B-side for Tomo's single.

I could write essays about Tatsuya and his complexities, but I'll summarise it with this: he's been through a lot. All of TOKIO's been through a lot. And switch has this message of releasing everything you've been through--all the weight you've been carrying throughout life finally let loose in the wind--and that this act of release will make it easier for you to keep moving forward. And the further you go, the closer you'll get to finding it: a "rusty switch" to help you smile honestly again, from the heart.

If Future encourages you, and home tells you to find your own place of relaxation when the world gets too hard, then switch teaches you how to be free. These three songs being part of the Hontontoko/Future single one after the other gives a stronger message put together than set apart, I think, and it gives the whole single a healing effect.

13. THE COURSE OF LIFE (Lyr + Comp: Taichi Kokubun, 2012, LYRICS)

Taichi wrote this song with the express purpose of Tomo to sing it. Tomo texted Taichi after recording this saying: "Thank you so much for letting me sing your song." And Taichi, who's been through hell and back, broke down into tears after reading it.

Of all the members, I think Taichi has the most powerful feelings regarding the band second to Leader, especially the fact that after everything, TOKIO's still together, and TOKIO's become a family, and TOKIO loves each other and will be there for each other no matter what. The Course of Life is a song about walking down twisted paths together no matter what, about how you can never make it alone. With a powerful instrumental backing it up, and the strong, leading vocals of the boy TOKIO's said themselves has been pulling them along this journey, it represents a lot of things about how much TOKIO's matured and how far they've come, and how far they've yet to travel.

It's a song about being proud of everything they've done and about how they're proud of it together. And it's so important that when Tomo thanked Taichi for letting him sing it, Taichi couldn't stop himself from crying.

14. JIYUUNA NA NO MOTO NI | 自由な名の下に | "UNDER A FREE NAME" (Lyr: Shigeru Joshima, Comp: Taichi Kokubun, 2012, LYRICS)

Leader never minds being the butt of TOKIO's jokes, and these days TOKIO says that they're the ones taking care of Leader more than the other way around, but that's because Leader's worked so hard to keep TOKIO afloat that he deserves to be the one to relax now. To Leader, TOKIO is family. To him, TOKIO is such a big chunk of who he is, that without it he would just be Shigeru Joshima and not Leader Shigeru Joshima, and that's something he simply cannot accept.

Leader's the eldest in the band, and so he's watched everyone grow with something of a parental eye. Coming from a broken family himself (consisting of just him and his mother), TOKIO became a set of people for Leader to love and trust in a way that he couldn't really do before. He's protective of TOKIO, strongly passionate about his feelings for TOKIO, and while you could never tell he felt so intensely for them behind his lighthearted smile and his multiple puns, TOKIO has been woven so intimately into Leader's soul that he can't imagine himself anywhere else.

Jiyuuna Na no Moto ni speaks honestly of TOKIO's trials and tribulations in the same way I believe does, but from the perspective of someone mature who'd been through a hell of a lot in life already before TOKIO even came to debut. It speaks of the shit TOKIO went through, of all the pressure they were under, of all the scars they had; how finally they've found a cloud of their own whose shade they can rest under--the cloud of their name, the cloud named TOKIO.

They're comfortable with who they are and comfortable with where they've come. And more than that, they love what they've become together: TOKIO, a name of freedom.

15. LOVE YOU ONLY (TOK10 VER.) (Lyr: Tetsuo Kudou, Comp: Takashi Tsushimi, Arr: TOKIO, 2004, LYRICS)

I'm ending this list with a classic, except not quite the classic that you're all used to. TOKIO performs LOVE YOU ONLY all the time on music shows, but they never play the version they re-arranged for their 10th anniversary, which I honestly find a damn shame.

It's a running gag that TOKIO mentions how disappointed they were with the circumstances of their debut. They were told they were going to be a band playing instruments, like a rock band, but their debut song was immature and pop-sounding and they were so god damn sad about it. Now flash-forward ten years and TOKIO decided: to hell with it, why not make it sound the way we wanted it to sound? This is what this version represents, and that's what makes it so important.

The TOK10 version of LOVE YOU ONLY sounds way more mature than the song they debuted with, and is, for lack of a better word, a more "proper" love song. It also shows a huge change in the awkward kids that first took the stage in 1994 and the band who became more sure of themselves as they grew up together, and in that light, it feels like a good way to wrap up a long list of songs.

Some things change and some things stay the same. LOVE YOU ONLY is the same song they've been singing for years--except it grew up with them. And TOKIO isn't done growing up yet.
Tags: tokio info: music recs
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