I was reading past rankings of Japanese music charts such as Billboard Japan and Oricon, and I noticed that songs that are from Western pop music are generally written in katakana.

For example: シェイプ・オブ・ユー (Shape of You) - エド・シーラン (Ed Sheeran)

Most of the time songs should be written in katakana, exceptions being if the name of the artist or song isn't something meant to be written like that (e.g abcdefu or BTS)

But I came across this song and a few others with unfamiliar names: 「美しき生命」
This is a song by Coldplay (also was written in kana), and in English, it is called "Viva La Vida" (Spanish for Long Live Life). The direct translation of 美しき生命 means "a beautiful life" which doesn't really match the name of the song. I got curious and looked at the other songs from the album that this song was from, and I noticed that a few other songs have Japanese names with translations that do not match the English title, while the rest of the songs are written in kana or kept the same. These names are used on Wikipedia, music charts, DVDs in Japan, catalogs, as well as on YouTube when people post covers.

Some more prominent examples of this are:
「静寂の世界」is an album by Coldplay that translates to "A world of silence" but the real name is called "A Rush of Blood to the Head" (頭に血が上る). The translation is a lot farther off than other cases. Why would they rename the title of this album to something of completely different meaning?

「私たちは絶対に絶対にヨリを戻したりしない」is a song by Taylor Swift which this time literally translates to "We are never ever getting back together", unlike the last one, this translation is on point. But why did this one get translated if it means the same thing? Why is it not in kana? (There are songs with even longer names in kana, as well as this translation not necessarily shortening the length of the title either)

Why do we use these translations? How come they are not in katakana, or how come everything else doesn't get converted to a translated title? I do not know a lot about how Japan consumes Western pop music or contemporary radio.

1 Answer 1


There is usually no linguistic reason for this. Song titles and such may be translated, un-translated, or even changed completely, based purely on commercial requirements. If someone in charge of publishing thinks that a song will sell better under a different name, its title may be "localized" in whatever way they want.

If an English title is judged to be too difficult or misleading in katakana, it may be given another name. For examples, see 13 surprising Japanese translations of American movie titles.

That said, this kind of title twisting has been criticized and become less popular these days. I believe that most new songs are enjoyed in their original titles without translation or katakanization.

This is not a Japanese-only phenomenon. One notorious example is Sukiyaki.

In Anglophone countries, the song is best known under the alternative title "Sukiyaki", the name of a Japanese hot-pot dish with cooked beef. The word sukiyaki does not appear in the song's lyrics, nor does it have any connection to them; it was used only because it was short, catchy, recognizably Japanese, and more familiar to English speakers. A Newsweek columnist compared this re-titling to issuing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew".

And there are examples like this and this.

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